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Students reflect on experiences pursuing independent concentrations

Independent Concentration program enables students to ‘leverage their unique interests’

Most IC proposals are not approved the first time they are submitted, according to the CRC website. Some students spend more than a year on their proposals.
Most IC proposals are not approved the first time they are submitted, according to the CRC website. Some students spend more than a year on their proposals.

Have you ever thought about concentrating in Disability and Design? What about Storytelling in the Museum?

Rishika Kartik ’26 and Christina Miles ’25 are pursuing these degrees, respectively, through the Independent Concentration program, which allows students to create their own interdisciplinary concentration in fields that Brown does not offer as a standard concentration.

Between 16 and 32 independent concentrators graduated from Brown annually from 2019 to 2023, and more than 35 students are currently pursuing independent concentrations at Brown, according to the program’s website.

The Independent Concentration program “allows students to leverage their unique interests and backgrounds in a very focused way and supports the ethos of the Open Curriculum in the truest of senses,” Kartik said.


Kartik’s concentration explores intersections between disability and design through lenses such as policy, entrepreneurship and community engagement.

“I feel like I’ve been simultaneously able to gain very precise expertise in my area of interest, which is accessible design, but also consider it from lenses I had never thought of before,” she added. “I’ve been taking classes in public health, sociology and anthropology, and the degree has included so many more humanist elements than I thought it would.”

Miles, whose concentration explores museum exhibition design and label writing, explained that “putting certain objects in certain locations (in museums) to tell certain stories creates understandings of the past or our world.” 

Students interested in completing an independent concentration must complete a detailed concentration proposal for approval by the College Curriculum Council. 

Completing an IC application “can be somewhat of a long process, but it really helps you reflect on what you want to do with your four years” at Brown, said Jay Gopal ’25, who is pursuing an independent concentration in Computational Neuroscience. The Herald previously reported that the University hopes to launch Computational Neuroscience as a standard concentration by spring 2024.

Proposals are evaluated against a rubric that asks students to articulate “exactly what your goals are, how the classes will help you accomplish those goals and how each class fits into having a holistic understanding of something that you care about,” Kartik said. 

Completing the application “provided opportunities for me to really work on my writing skills, my proposal skills and helped me hone in on, ‘Okay, what am I interested in?’” Miles said. 

Most IC proposals are not approved the first time they are submitted, according to the CRC website. After their first proposal was rejected, Miles spent “over a year” working on their second draft, which was ultimately approved. 

To expedite the approval process, prospective independent concentrators are encouraged to discuss their ideas with CRC peer coordinators and Peggy Chang, the director of undergraduate studies for independent concentrators.

Advising can help prospective independent concentrators “reflect on how their learning goals may be better suited to a standard concentration,” Chang wrote in an email to The Herald.


Peer coordinators act as a “sounding board” to help potential applicants revise their proposals and “give people the best chance of getting through (the College Curriculum Council) and advocate for them,” Myles Ringel ’25 said. Ringel is a peer coordinator for the program and is studying Empathy in Practice as an independent concentration.

Sierra Bornheim ’24, another peer coordinator, said that the application process for independent concentrations is thorough because they are “held to the same standards that any other concentration is.” Bornheim is pursuing an independent concentration in Human Evolution. 

Bornheim hopes to “help other people get through the process,” she said, noting that she “never would have gotten my IC approved without the coordinators that came before me.”

In completing their proposal, students must identify at least one faculty advisor who would be able to provide relevant academic support, according to the program website. The faculty advisor must submit a letter of support for the student’s proposal to the council. 

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Because independent concentrators select their advisors, they get “a lot more flexibility in terms of what you want to get out of your advising,” Kartik said. But she noted that some independent concentrator faculty advisors’ areas of expertise might not align exactly with students’ fields of interest, depending on the specificity of the concentration.

In their senior year, independent concentrators are required to complete a capstone project. Miles said the process of developing the project — which they will complete next year — has taught them the skills needed to create a museum exhibit. 

“It is very telling and impressive when you’re applying to graduate schools to be able to point to a curriculum you’ve made in order to fulfill specific interests and be able to say, ‘I know what I want to do. I know what I’m interested in,’” Miles said.

Gopal, who is part of the Program in Liberal Medical Education, believes that pursuing an independent concentration “helps in ways beyond what you can imagine.”

“Not only does it help you with transferable skills, but (also with) pursuing interests in addition to the pre-medical courses, that might give you certain experience and knowledge that will help you connect to other people, connect to patients (and) connect to families,” he added.

But there are some challenges in pursuing an independent concentration. Ringel noted that developing an “inherent community” within your concentration is more difficult in the IC program because “our commonality is that our interests are different.”

“I’ve always found myself wanting for the familiar faces in every class,” he added. “There are so many people I don’t know because I’m not going through every class with everybody.”

Kartik emphasized that because few others may have “complete knowledge of your (field of study), sometimes it’s hard to make decisions and figure out where you’re going next,” she said. 

“There’s less of a definable path for internships or what you want to do, so you have to put in more work on your end,” she added. “But I would argue that that also teaches you self-advocacy skills and allows you to leverage opportunities that you might not have” if you pursued a standard concentration.

Not having an established track of study by junior year was “definitely anxiety-inducing” for Miles, who added that another drawback of an independent concentration is “trying to make people believe that what you're doing is useful and is an actual field of study.”

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