HBS students may have the opportunity to experience faculty-supervised, field-based learning during their MBA Program. The following policies apply to all members of the HBS community involved in field-based learning activities, including faculty, students and staff, and are intended to:

  • Uphold HBS Community Values in field-based learning,
  • Protect the privacy of all participants in field-based learning activities conducted as part of the MBA Program,
  • Ensure confidentiality of all information collected, created, and shared during field activities,
  • Clarify ownership rights and non-disclosure agreements for students, faculty, and company sponsors in company-sponsored field-based learning projects.

The policies governing Field Based Learning/Independent Projects include Standards for Integrity, Protection of Privacy and Confidentiality in Field-Based Learning and MBA Student Non-Disclosure (see below). Field-based learning activities covered by these policies include field projects conducted as part of a course in the Elective Curriculum (EC) and also Independent Projects in the EC. Students must also adhere to all HBS Academic Policies in conducting fieldwork for academic credit.


Independent Projects (IPs) may earn 1.5, 3, 4.5, or 6 credits, depending on the size and scope of the project. If this is a team project, each team member must earn the same credit total for the IP. Each credit represents 30 hours of work for each team member. The team and faculty supervisor can decide on a work plan and appropriate credit based on this time expectation. Credit requirements for graduation are detailed in Section 1.6 Degree Requirements, including the maximum limit of 9 non-classroom credits in the year and no more than 6 IP credits in either term.


Independent Projects will receive a grade of Pass, Low Pass or Fail. “Pass” represents satisfactory performance and will not figure into honors calculations. For the purpose of evaluating academic performance, a “Low Pass” on an Independent Project will be treated as a Category III grade and a “Fail” grade will be treated as a Category IV grade.

Online Independent Projects

Students may enroll in a preapproved online learning course or set of courses as an Independent Project (IP) in Online Learning for up to the equivalent of 6 credits. Credit earned from the satisfactorily completed course or courses are considered as both cross-registration and non-classroom type credit and applied toward the MBA degree requirements accordingly. Among the 15 maximum combined IP and cross registration credits for an EC student, 6 may be through IP Online Learning credits.

Students pay up front for the cost of enrollment and will be reimbursed by HBS once the student provides a verified certificate confirming the successful completion of the course. The Late Drop Policy and deadlines apply to Online Independent Project enrollment. Students will not be reimbursed for the cost of enrollment in the case of a late drop or unsuccessful completion.

Potential Risks

While the benefits of field-based learning are significant, the nature of fieldwork also exposes students and companies to certain categories of risk. These include:

  • Risk of harm to the status, the reputation or financial standing of a company, or to HBS.
  • Risk of harm to the status, reputation or employability of individuals interviewed during a project and to those conducting the interview.
  • Risk of criminal or civil legal action from failure to protect the confidentiality of sensitive corporate or individual data.

Standards for Integrity

Compensation, Gifts, and Expense Reimbursements

  • Students may not receive compensation for projects performed for academic credit through the HBS field-based learning program. Compensation includes cash (including cash gifts), stock options or grants, and all merchandise, services, and vacations, with the following exception: company logo merchandise (e.g., t-shirts, baseball caps, pens) valued at $25 or less may be accepted as a gift if offered by the company. Under no circumstances may students ask for company logo merchandise.
  • Students may be reimbursed by the sponsoring company for expenses directly related to the completion of a field-based learning project (for example travel to a company site, photocopying of materials, long-distance telephone charges for interviews). These expenses should be included on the Field-Based Learning Project Plan and should be approved by the company sponsor and faculty sponsor prior to the expense being accrued.
  • Questions about the appropriateness of a company logo merchandise gift or any other issues concerning compensation and gifts should be directed to the MBA Program Office or the Faculty Head of Field-Based Learning.

Conducting Company-Sponsored Field Research

Students must avoid deceptive practices and obtain informed consent from all individuals interviewed as part of a project. When conducting interviews or performing any other work for company sponsors, students must not withhold information about company sponsorships or the identity of company sponsors unless they:

  • Obtain prior approval from the faculty sponsor of the project.
  • Inform the interviewee that the project is sponsored by a company and provide a brief description of the type of company (e.g. industry segment, product/service type) and their interest in the information.
  • Provide the participant with an opportunity to ask questions about the nature of the project and the rationale behind the decision to keep the company sponsor name confidential.
  • Offer the participant an opportunity to withdraw from the project.

Informed Consent for Individual Interviews

Informed consent must be obtained in advance from all individuals interviewed as part of a project. Informed consent includes the following:

  • At the start of the interview (or on the cover sheet of a questionnaire), students should notify the individual of the nature of the project, how the information will be used, and who will receive the information. It is especially important to notify the individual whether his or her name will be attached to any specific information shared during the interview or through the questionnaire. If specific information can be traced to an individual, prior written permission should be obtained before the information is shared beyond the faculty sponsor and HBS student team members. For example, interviewees may be sent copies of quotes they have made or data they have provided with a request to confirm by e-mail or in writing that they give permission for the information to be shared in a specific form (e.g., written report, case study, presentation) or with specific individuals (company name and specific individuals).
  • No information that can be linked to a specific individual should be divulged to anyone, at any time and in any form, without prior written consent.
  • Permission for electronic recording of individual information (audio or video) must be obtained from the individual in advance. As stated above, the interviewee should be informed of how the information will be used and who will have access to the information as it is being transcribed and stored.
  • To ensure informed consent, follow all procedures outlined in the Policy on Protection of Research Participants (log-in required) from the Division of Research & Faculty Development.

Protection of Privacy and Confidentiality in Field-Based Learning

Protection of Privacy and Confidentiality of Company Information

  • Private information on individuals and organizations must be labeled as such, stored in such a way as to prevent unauthorized access, and destroyed when no longer needed.
  • Informed written consent must be obtained for any information that is not available through public sources but is disclosed as a result of the project. For example, if a project results in the development of an HBS case study, the standard HBS case release process should be followed.

Protection of Intellectual Property Rights of Others

  • Special care must be taken to ensure protection of company trade secrets, intellectual property, and patents.
  • Appropriate citation of the sources of information should be included in all written reports and presentations and must follow HBS correct citation policies.
  • Written permission from the author must be included for all tables or figures (e.g., graphs or diagrams from an analyst report) reproduced in a report. If modifications have been made to a figure or table, written permission is not required, but correct citation policies must still be followed.

Insider Trading

  • While working in the field, students must refrain from trading stocks if, in the course of their work, they have access to insider information that would enable them to derive personal gain from such trades. This applies not only to trading stock for the company in which they are conducting the field study but also trading stock of other industry participants.
  • Students may not disclose insider information to a third party for the purpose of enabling another party to trade stocks to derive personal gain.

Information related to other common confidentiality and privacy issues can be found at:

MBA Student Non-Disclosure Policy

  • Student teams in the EC working on an Independent Project sponsored by a company are encouraged not to sign company-generated confidentiality documents. RC students should consult relevant faculty with any questions.
  • All non-disclosure agreements are between the student and the company—not between the company and the School/University or the student and the School/University. As such, correspondence with the company should be sent on student stationery.
  • Students are encouraged to check with their own legal counsel if they are concerned about entering into a non-disclosure agreement.
  • In lieu of company-generated forms, and in situations where a company requires a non-disclosure agreement and the students are willing to enter into such an agreement, students may consult the sample NDA template provided on myHBS and include the Policy on Protection of Privacy and Confidentiality Statement as Exhibit B.
  • Student teams may contact the MBA Program office if they have any questions concerning the MBA Student Non-Disclosure Policy.