Field Based Learning
Independent Projects - formerly called Field Studies - allow second-year HBS students to receive academic credit by completing projects that address an organization's real-time challenges. A faculty member advises students during their work on a project of strategic importance to the organization. Independent Project teams ideally range from 3-5 people, although a team of 2 or 6 may be supported, or a student may work solo with a faculty supervisor. Each team or individual is expected to conduct research in the field, carry out thoughtful analysis, prepare a report, and make a final presentation-supported by concrete findings and recommendations-to the advising faculty and, if appropriate, the sponsoring organization. Students find and develop independent project ideas in many ways. If your organization would like to learn more about posting an independent project for fall or winter term for student consideration, please see the detailed information below.
Fall Term Independent Project
- Mid-August: Post an organization-sponsored Independent Project Proposal
- Late-August: Students return to campus; those interested in field-studies will approach a faculty advisor and will contact organization directly *
- Mid-December: Term Ends
Winter/Spring Term Independent Project
- Early-December: Post an organization-sponsored Independent Project Proposal
- January: Students return to campus; those interested in field-studies will approach a faculty advisor and will contact organization directly *
- Late April - Early-May: Term Completion
* Unfortunately, not all proposed projects will materialize. Students will respond directly to the organization contact if they are interested in discussing the opportunity. A team will then find a faculty advisor, confirm participation directly with the organization, and register for credit. If you wish to proactively promote a independent project to relevant students, you can forward the project description to a relevant student club in addition to posting it below.
Independent Projects enable students to engage with immediate and important challenges facing organizations that require team members to apply what they have learned in the classroom and prior experiences. Faculty members enjoy working with small groups of highly committed students and participating in intensive learning relationships with small groups, while extending their own research efforts. Organizations benefit directly from the student interaction and deliverable. While students are unpaid, organizations are encouraged to subsidize project expenses and reimburse students for project-related travel.
Past successful projects include:
- Creating the strategic plan for a new department including the product roadmap, architecture, budget, staffing, product pricing, and additional resources
- Assisting in building a business case and competitive analysis for an expanded role in the multi-billion dollar Bank/Broker-dealer back office segment
- Helping the CEO determine how to manage the business and political issues around the pricing and marketing of prescription drugs
- Analyzing the appropriateness of an organization's current price positioning for the North American market, conducting a contribution/break-even analysis of its product lines, and presenting strategic recommendations
- Working with a non-profit organization that focuses on expanding access to financial services for low-income families, in exploring and suggesting a strategy for interactive media as a tool for educating clients
- Next Steps
Independent Projects are developed in many different research areas. If you already have a group of students in mind, you can propose a project to them and encourage the students to seek a faculty advisor in time for term registration. If you have a project idea that you would like to promote to HBS students, you can "Propose an Independent Project" below. You will complete a short online form, including a description of your organization and your project. These details will be posted on the field-based learning Intranet site, and students can contact you if they are interested in your project.
- Making the Most of the Experience
While the final success of the project lies with the team, a faculty supervisor commits to providing guidance and direction throughout the course of the project and a sponsoring organization provides crucial components.
A student team and faculty advisor will create a "learning contract" ahead of time that outlines field-work requirements, frequency of team meetings, and parameters for evaluation. Sponsoring organizations will want to discuss the timing and scope of the project, and have a clear understanding of the final deliverable.
Each sponsoring organization will need to designate a senior manager to serve as the student team's liaison. This person is expected to provide access to managers and information relevant to the project and should maintain a close connection with the team throughout the process.
The sponsoring organization and the student team should develop a work plan ahead of time that outlines the expectations for time spent on-site. Please keep in mind that students are not allowed to miss classes in order to travel for projects.
A budget and method for reimbursement for appropriate project expenses should be agreed to by the organizations and the student team before the project is underway. While students are not compensated for independent projects, sponsoring organizations may reimburse students for expenses such as travel, duplicating, typing, telephone, and the purchase of specialized publications, as appropriate. Since students often operate on very limited budgets, we suggest that organizations arrange to pay directly for air travel and hotels, if possible. Students are responsible for tracking and documenting all expenses as proof to the sponsoring organization. Students undertaking a Social Enterprise independent project with a non-profit organization are eligible to apply for limited grants for reimbursement of project expenses. Students are expected to maintain the highest ethical standards. If you are concerned about issues of confidentiality, you may want to ask your student team to sign a non-disclosure statement prepared by Harvard Business School. Any potential conflicts of interest between the student and the organization must be fully disclosed to management before the project begins. If students will be conducting research in the field on your organization's behalf, they are required to disclose to any third party from whom they may solicit information that the research they are conducting is for the benefit of the organization, even if they don't identify the organization by name. The faculty supervisor must keep a copy of the final written report on file for one year, but any confidential information included in the study will be limited to "instructor use only" and held in the strictest confidence.