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Research Opportunities

Independent research in English often begins with outstanding performance in a curricular course. The student then takes the initiative to coordinate and collaborate with the professor to build on that coursework thematically, historically, theoretically, or creatively. With a willing advisor and a spark of inspiration, an English major can take on a unique project in research and/or writing that culminates in a piece of original scholarship or artistic achievement.

Some faculty members in English, especially those in Linguistics, conduct social research and fieldwork and model and analyze data. For more information about these opportunities, consult the Research Assistantships section below.

Independent Study

Independent Study in English (ENGL 480, 1-3 credits) and in Creative Writing (CRWR 482, 1-3 credits) give accomplished students the opportunity to undertake a semester-long tutorial on a topic agreed upon by the student and instructor and approved in advance by the departmental Undergraduate Program Committee. Normally an Independent Study may be taken only once.

Applications take the form of a proposal that is due the Friday before the start of the semester during which the independent study is proposed to take place. Students must draft a well-written, concise (2-3 page) proposal that states why they want to undertake this project and what specifically the project will produce (e.g. 3 short stories at 10 pages each; a 20 page research paper, an annotated bibliography, etc.). The proposal must contain a reading list/bibliography and a general outline of the readings and meeting times. Proposals must be read and approved by the Independent Study advisor before submission. 

Independent study in English is normally open only to majors who have completed at least 18 credits towards the major and have at least a 3.0 GPA in English. Independent study in creative writing is normally open only to declared Creative Writing minors. No particular course or sequence of courses is required.

Academic credits for these independent study courses vary based on the number of pages of writing completed, which students declare on applying: at least 7 pages for 1 credit, 14 for 2, and 20 for 3.

Previous independent study projects have included the works of Robert Frost and his indebtedness to earlier American poets, an analysis of how American literature reflects transformations of social relationships under capitalism, and the beginnings of a collaboratively authored young-adult novel. 

Research Assistantships

Becoming a research assistant to a faculty member in the English Department allows you to participate in ongoing, cutting-edge research, and to pick up some useful skills that will enhance your resumé. You might even see your name on a publication one of these days.

A number of English faculty members enlist students as paid research assistants for ongoing projects (e.g., developing a new course, conducting research for a new book). Currently the department takes on only a handful of research assistants each year.

Research assistant duties vary by professor and by project and might involve assembling scholarship, building bibliographies, comparing textual editions, combing through archives, transcribing interviews, handling publication permissions, or basic clerical support tasks like copying and filing. Research assistantships do not confer course credit. 

If you are interested in becoming a research assistant in the English Department, please fill out this form.

Summer Research Scholarships

Through departmental scholarships and W&M-wide programs, English majors can obtain funding to conduct independent research over the summer. These projects do not carry course credit.

  • The John H. Willis, Jr. Scholarship is awarded at the end of each academic year to support a student’s academic enrichment through experiences such as honors research, archival travel, and study abroad. All eligible students may apply.
  • The Concord Traveling Scholarship for Creative Writers was established for rising sophomores, rising juniors, or rising seniors to encourage projects that involve travel and writing. One merit-based scholarship is awarded at the end of each academic year, and the scholarship recipient gives a reading during the following fall semester. Applicants submit up to 5 pages of poetry or up to 20 pages of prose by the end of March to the English Department’s office manager.
  • The Paula Blank Student Opportunity Fund in English, established in memory of Professor Paula Blank, who was on the English faculty at William & Mary from 1992-2016, provides professional development support for English majors studying early modern literature, either through coursework or an independent project. For example, the fund could pay for attendance at conferences and workshops, travel for research, participation in internships, or attendance at, or production of, performances of early modern drama. You may apply for money from the Paula Blank Fund at any time. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and grants are made as funds allow.
  • The James Monroe Scholar Program and various Charles Center Summer Scholarships are open to English majors, either by invitation or by application. Additionally, the Student Research Grant Program pools funds from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (any subject), the Reves Center (research abroad), and the Lemon Project (race and racism at William & Mary). Deadlines and procedures for these programs are administered through the Charles Center.

Many students in the English Department complete internships over the summer, or sometimes during the regular semester. If you want, you can receive course credit for external internships, by enrolling in ENGL 498 (1-3 credits). Internships tend to confer practical experience and build résumés, as opposed to being research-oriented. Most common have been those related to writing, publishing, librarianship, or issue advocacy. Our students have interned at magazines, literary agencies, TV networks, and publishing houses. Some have also completed internships that involved marketing or journalistic skills. If you have found an internship you want to do, and you would like to receive academic credit, discuss your idea with a supervising faculty member, to whom a final report on the internship experience is submitted. 1, 2, or 3 credits are awarded based on the number of hours worked per week or per semester.

Applicants for internship credit must have fulfilled at least half of the requirements for the English major and have at least a 3.0 major GPA. Applications must be submitted no later than one week before the start of the internship or of the first semester during which the student will receive credit, whichever comes first.


Outstanding students can undertake an intensive year-long project in the study and/or practice of literature or creative writing under the close direction of a faculty advisor. Many Honors theses revise and extend work conducted in an independent study or for a summer research scholarship. Students who complete the thesis receive 3 credits in ENGL 495 (Honors, Fall) and 3 in ENGL 496 (Honors, Spring).

Students pursuing a senior Honors Thesis in literary criticism develop their own reading lists and choose their own critical frameworks. Previous theses in criticism include a study of rage in Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich, and one on pro-slavery responses to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Students pursuing a senior Honors Thesis in creative writing develop their own plots, characters, genres, media, and themes. Creative writing senior Honors theses can take the form of a collection of poems, a book of short stories, or a short novel. Previous theses in creative writing include an intergenerational story about Catholicism and trans people, and a screenplay about a Vietnam veteran’s summer job at an amusement park.

For more information, consult our Honors webpage.