Give us an opportunity for independence

By Eli Haims

I spent my summer in a plasma physics lab at the University of California, Los Angeles. On the first day of work, I was given a computer and an instrument used to measure light and essentially told to make it work.

With no programming experience and not formally working with anyone, I was daunted by the task at hand and very surprised at the independence and responsibility that my professor gave me.

Along with this independence came a very flexible lunch hour, which allowed me to spend a good deal of time with friends who were also interning in labs.

I can’t even count the number of people who told me that all they did was follow a graduate student around or do busy work for hours at a time. I was very glad (and somewhat lucky as well) to find a lab where I was given so much autonomy.In fact, I think that I accomplished more given this level of independence than I would have if I were just give a step-by-step checklist that I had to have completed by the summer. Experiencing frustration when I couldn’t get something to work and satisfaction once I finally did get it to work unparalleled.

Few times before had I ever felt so accomplished and had such a significant level of personal growth. Unfortunately, Harvard-Westlake doesn’t do much to encourage independent study during the school year.

Yes, we do have a Senior Independent Study program, but it seems like it is not taken advantage of. Last year only eight seniors participated. It seems that the requirements for this program are so restrictive that not many people are able to take part. Last year, I considered taking part in the SIS program.

One of the requirements is for a student to find a faculty member to sponsor him or her. Faculty members already take on a large workload, and mentoring a student poses an additional time commitment, including weekly meetings and grading at the end of the semester. Many students would also have to drop a class in order to take part. Students are only allowed to take seven periods of classes per semester and the SIS program counts as one of these periods. 

The students who are interested in an SIS seem to be very self-motivated, the type who pack their schedules with as many classes as possible, leaving no room for an SIS, especially second semester, if they had not previously considered it.A second independent study program, designed not for a grade but for a student’s own benefit, could solve this problem.

Instead of producing 40 page papers, students could produce 15 or 20 page papers. Instead of weekly meetings with teachers, there could be biweekly or monthly meetings. Instead of it taking a class period like the SIS program, it could be up to the student to find time.

This way, the student would be able to gain from an independent study while not having to meet all of the requirements of the current system.