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Customized Academic Learning: Research, Internships, and Independent Study


What is Customized Academic Learning (CAL)?

Effective Fall 2023, Hopkins transitioned to using the term “Customized Academic Learning” in place of the term “Independent Academic Work” (IAW). One’s approved Research, Internship or Independent Study courses all fall under the umbrella title of Customized Academic Learning. Please bear with us as we update forms and websites transition to the new CAL term.

How many total credits may I earn for research, internship, or independent study?

You may earn up to 6 credits of “independent work” per academic year. The academic year begins in the summer, and you can register for up to 3 credits of independent work in the summer, fall, intersession, or spring terms until the 6-credit limit is reached. Internships for credit earn 1 credit per term and count toward the 6-credit maximum of independent work per academic year. There is no limit on how many independent work credits you may use toward your total credits required for graduation.

How do I register to receive credit for research, internship, or independent study?

You must submit an “Independent Academic Work Form”. The form is available in SIS/Online Forms. Please refer to these instructions before completing the online IAW form. You will be required to have a faculty sponsor (see directly below). The Registrar’s Office posts the deadlines to apply for research, internship, or independent study on their Undergraduate Registration page.

What is a faculty sponsor?

A faculty sponsor is a full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member in KSAS or WSE or another ASEN faculty member specifically designated to serve as a faculty sponsor. Your faculty sponsor is responsible for determining the appropriate academic product you will submit for grading and will submit your grade and award credits at the end of the term. The academic product you will produce is determined at the time of registration, not after you have completed the experience.

I did some independent work over the summer but I was not registered for it and I was not paid. Can I add it to my fall schedule?

No. Independent work is just like a class; you are expected to register for it and do the work during the term you are registered. At the end of the term, you must submit an appropriate academic product for grading so that credit may be awarded.

Do I have to pay to register for independent work in the summer?

No. You are not charged tuition for registering for research, internship, or independent study credits during the summer. During the fall and spring semesters, part-time students do pay for the credits they earn through independent work.

How much work do I have to do to earn credits for independent work?

The amount of work you do should be proportional to the amount of work you would be expected to do for a regular course of similar credit. For example, to earn 3 credits for research or an independent study, you should expect to do the same amount of work (and spend a similar amount of time) that you would on a regular, on-campus 3-credit course.

Can I register for more than one type of independent work in a given term?

Yes, but only for a total of 3 credits.


Research is the systematic investigation of a particular topic to learn facts and draw conclusions. Research is work to acquire new knowledge. Research is a careful inquiry. A science professor may define research in terms of the scientific method. A philosophy professor may define research in reference to a particular philosopher. Regardless how you define research, it’s an experience many undergraduates hope to obtain.

When an undergraduate student engages in research, it can mean that the student has defined an independent project that they may work alone on or that the student becomes part of a large research team working on a long-term project. In either case, to earn academic credit for the project, the student will need to complete an academic product for grading during the time frame in which the student is registered.

Some undergraduate majors, such as neuroscience, molecular and cellular biology, and biophysics, require students to complete research to complete major requirements. These departments have guidelines for students doing research and students should consult their departmental materials for more information.

How do I find a research position?

Finding a research position requires time and energy. The best way to find a research position is in fact to do some research. Faculty members respond best to students who demonstrate active interest in their work and who reflect qualities such as curiosity, discipline, enthusiasm, and focus that will make them good researchers. You can show these qualities by your approach to finding a research position with a faculty member. Be informed, prepared, and entrepreneurial.

A student who emails 20 faculty members and writes, ” I’m hoping to work in a lab next semester and wonder if you have any openings?” will be less successful than a student who writes a targeted message that says, “I’ve read several of your papers and am intrigued by your work with protein energetics. We did a fascinating laboratory experiment related to this in cell biology last semester, and it was my favorite part of the course. I wonder if I could come and see you about becoming involved in your research team.”

The Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR) can also help you find a research position. See the question below.

Tips for finding a position:

  1. Talk to a faculty mentor. Your mentor can help you determine how to ask a faculty member for a position and may know if a colleague is looking for an undergraduate student researcher.
  2. Utilize the ForagerOne website as a resource to find and contact researchers.
  3. Talk to fellow students who are doing research about how they found their position.
  4. Read departmental websites to learn about the research interests of faculty. This is the easiest way to learn what topics faculty members pursue in their research.
  5. After identifying a short list of faculty members you’d like to ask about research opportunities, look at their publications to learn more about what they study. This allows you to refer to specific topics that interest you when you initiate contact with them. You don’t need to become an expert, but you should have some knowledge of their research area.
  6. Prepare your resume. The Life Design Lab can help. Do not assume that what you used in high school will work. Reach out to your Life Design Educator or the HOUR staff to assist with reviewing your resumes, personal statements and proposals.
  7. Commonly, students email faculty members to inquire about a research position. In your email you should address why you are specifically interested in working with them and any background or skills that you have that may help them. Be brief in this email and be sure to ask for an interview. HOUR staff strongly encourages follow up emails every 3 – 4 days if you do not receive a reply.
  8. When you do have an interview, treat it as if you are interviewing for a job. The Life Design Lab offers advice on interview preparation. While students do not typically dress formally for these interviews, it is appropriate to dress business casual.

What is HOUR?

HOUR is the Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research. The staff of HOUR:

  • Guides students to find opportunities
  • Shares research programs at JHU and beyond
  • Provides students venues to share projects
  • Showcases events across JHU
  • Highlights JHU’s great resources
  • Celebrates student research successes

Office hours are held Monday – Friday from 3 – 4pm ET via Zoom. You may also contact HOUR staff at [email protected] or schedule a 1:1 through the HOUR Undergraduate Research Community on Hopkins Groups.

I am planning to conduct research at the medical school (or another Hopkins institution). Can that faculty member serve as my sponsor?

No. Even if you have a supervisor at the medical school, you must still have a faculty sponsor.

Can I get credit for research that I plan to conduct someplace besides JHU?

Yes, but like research done here at JHU, you must have a JHU faculty sponsor. If you plan to do this research during the summer, regular summer session registration deadlines must be followed.

How will I be graded for my research?

Research can be conducted either for a letter grade or for S/U. Some majors have requirements for research and may define specific rules for any research used to complete a major requirement. You must have an academic product at the end of the term that can be evaluated. Again, check with your major department or your faculty sponsor for more details. You should be clear about this expectation when you register for research.

How many hours do I have to work on my research project to earn credit?

Research can be done for 1 to 3 credits and the amount of credit to be earned is determined by the scope of the proposed project and expectations of the academic product to be submitted for grading.


How do I find an internship?

The Life Design Lab has numerous resources to assist you.

Can I earn credit and be paid for a Fall or Spring semester internship?

Yes, students are permitted to earn both academic credit and pay for an internship. For more information on the policies concerning internships please refer to the Academic Catalogue.

Can I earn credit for an internship in the summer?

Yes. Regular summer session registration deadlines must be followed.

How will I be graded for my internship?

Internships may only be taken on a S/U basis.

How do I earn my S/U grade if I’m not sure what I will be doing in my internship?

Credit can be awarded for internships only if there is an academic component and a tangible academic product is produced. Arrange this with your faculty sponsor before beginning the internship.

What is an academic product that I might turn in to earn credit for my internship?

An academic product is like an assignment you might do for a traditional class. It might be a research paper, speech, multimedia presentation, annotated bibliography, lab report, or other assignment typical for the subject area.

Independent Study

An independent study is when you pursue a topic of special interest that is not covered in regular course offerings. You must initiate the process. The content and expectations are formalized in negotiations between you and the faculty sponsor. The credits assigned to an independent study cannot contain an internship component, though it is acknowledged that an internship experience may inform the academic product(s) of an independent study.

How will I be graded on my independent study?

An independent study may be taken for a letter grade or S/U.

Can I do an independent study in the summer?

Yes. Regular summer session registration deadlines must be followed