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Independently Designed Major/IDM

Applicable for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Independently Designed Major/IDM Website

Advisor; Aaron Stoller

Students who wish to pursue a major other than an existing disciplinary or interdisciplinary major may propose an independently designed major (IDM). This option for a major requires considerable initiative and self-discipline from students who elect it. Students pursuing the independently designed major must have the independence to work outside the support and curricular framework ordinarily provided by established departments and programs. The independently designed major is fundamentally interdisciplinary. The course of study within this major must be supported and approved by two faculty sponsors from two different departments/programs. It permits students working with a major advisor and associate advisor from different departments/programs to design special interdisciplinary concentrations according to particular interests and needs.

  1. The independently designed major (IDM) must be interdisciplinary in its conception and as rigorous, in terms of both depth and breadth, as any departmental major.
  2. Students who develop an independently designed major must submit their applications for consideration to the Dean’s Advisory Committee before the end of the second semester of the sophomore year. A student wishing to apply for this major after the sophomore year or to change from another major to the independently designed major must present persuasive evidence that such a proposal is educationally advisable and that circumstances make it possible to design and complete a compelling major.
  3. The application should include a description of the proposed concentration of the major with a program of courses. Each course in the proposed program of courses should be listed by course number and title. The student should include a statement about how each course relates to the description of the major and how courses within the major correlate. The description of the major and proposed program of courses should be accompanied by a rationale that articulates the cohesiveness of the proposed program of courses.
  4. In order to propose an independently designed major, a student must obtain the approval of two faculty advisors — a major advisor and an associate advisor — from different departments or programs for a tentative program of courses for the final two years of undergraduate study. Each faculty advisor is expected to write a letter of support for the student’s proposed program. In their support letters, faculty advisors should: [1] indicate their evaluation of the student’s past academic performance; [2] discuss the student’s ability to carry out the program of courses; [3] comment on the student’s ability to complete the program of courses with an unusual amount of independence and responsibility.
    • The major advisor works closely with the student in constructing the initial proposal as well as reviews and approves changes to the original proposed major in consultation with the associate advisor. Students should have taken a class with the faculty member they ask to be the major advisor before they begin work on the thesis in the spring semester of the junior year. This ensures that the major advisor has had previous experience working with the student proposing the major and lays the foundation for the major advisor and student to develop an effective working relationship. It is essential that the student work closely with the major advisor. The major advisor can serve as a reader for the senior thesis when appropriate. If the major advisor does not serve as a reader for the senior thesis, she or he helps the student identify the appropriate first and second faculty readers for the thesis.
    • The associate advisor reviews the initial proposal, providing critique and revision suggestions. The associate advisor may also serve as a reader for the student’s thesis when appropriate.
    • IDM applications involving English faculty supervision will have to be approved by the entire department before they are submitted to the Dean's Advisory Committee for final approval.

It is expected that the student will meet at least twice a semester with both the major advisor and associate advisor during the junior and senior years to discuss the progress of the major. At the end of the senior year, the faculty advisors will submit a report to the Dean’s Advisory Committee, evaluating what the student has accomplished in the major.

Please use this application form

And be sure to refer to the IDM guidelines

Major Requirements

  1. Students proposing the independently designed major (IDM) must fulfill the appropriate all-college degree requirements as listed in the catalog. A minimum of 12 units or a maximum of 15 units may be counted toward this major. Students proposing the independently designed major must explain in their applications why the proposed goals of the major cannot be achieved through a departmental major or through outside courses taken in addition to the requirements of a departmental major.

  2. Prerequisites for more advanced courses should not be counted as a requirement for the major in most cases. The committee reserves the right to deny any major that does not meet the guidelines as stated.

  3. Up to four units at the 100 course number level can be counted toward the major. (Language courses at the 100 level cannot be counted as part of the major). At least 10 and no more than 13 of the units designated as constituting this major must be above the 100 course number level. A student should select courses that achieve the objectives of the major. The courses above the 100-level courses required for the major must achieve both breadth and depth in the major as described. Courses should be progressively more rigorous and complex (200-, 300-, and 400-level courses). Prerequisites for advanced courses should not always be required in the major and can be listed as complementary to the objectives of the major. One or two of the units for the major may be general studies thesis courses: GS 400, Senior Thesis I; GS401, Senior thesis II.

  4. Thesis Preparation and Proposal: A student declaring an independently designed major should work during the spring semester of the sophomore year and fall semester of the junior year, in consultation with his or her major advisor, to identify potential thesis topics as well as the courses that will prepare the student to write the thesis. In particular the student should address which courses will provide the methodological and theoretical skills to write a successful thesis on the anticipated topic. 
    • A student pursuing an independently designed major must submit a written thesis prospectus, approved by both the first and second thesis readers, by the end of the junior year.
    • A student pursuing the independently designed major should, in consultation with her/his major advisor, identify a first and second reader for the senior thesis by the beginning of spring semester of the junior year. (The major advisor for the IDM major can serve as one of the readers for the thesis. A student may also identify faculty other than the major advisor and associate advisor as thesis readers because of their expertise in the thesis topic the student is developing.)
    • Students may take an optional thesis workshop adjunct course (GS 399) during the spring semester of their junior year or fall semester of their senior year.
    • The thesis for the independently designed major must be completed and turned in to the first reader for the thesis no later than the last day of Block 7 of the senior year.
    • The first reader for the thesis, in consultation with the second reader, determines the grade for the thesis.
    • If the thesis involves human subjects research (interviews, surveys, focus groups, participant observation) the student works with the IRB ( to ensure that the research is carried out in an ethically and legally acceptable way. The student should contact the IRB chair as soon as she/he determines that such research methods will be used, and completes an IRB proposal (reviewed and approved by the IRB chair) as soon thereafter as possible. Research cannot begin until this proposal has been approved by the IRB chair and the major advisor informed of IRB approval.

5.  The registrar will designate courses on the student’s transcript that constitute the independently designed major.