All MS students are required to complete a capstone thesis OR project during their last semester in the program. Essentially, the capstone is a required independent study whose purpose is to allow the student to develop substantial expertise in an area related to that student’s career or academic goals. Some students who want to go on for further graduate study may approach their capstone like a master’s thesis, a scholarly research project. Other students may treat their capstone as an opportunity to cultivate credentials and expertise directly relevant to their job. The capstone may take a variety of forms—for example, an original research paper, a critical case study, a survey of ‘best practices’ or in-depth analysis of a topic supported by existing literature. No matter what its form, a capstone always must demonstrate thorough understanding of relevant theories, sources, research methods, and literature.
The capstone thesis or project will be supervised by a full-time member of the STRC faculty (the MS program director can provide the names of qualified faculty members). Students have two options for capstone format.
Capstone thesis option (typically for students who plan to pursue doctoral study): Students who choose to pursue the capstone thesis will work with a capstone supervisor who chairs a capstone committee that has two other faculty members. The capstone thesis supervisor and student jointly decide on committee composition. At least one of these two other committee members must be on the STRC faculty full time. The third committee member may come from within or outside of STRC (e.g., a professional who has taught an MS course in the past). One result is a paper of substantial length, up to about 50 pages. Another result is a meeting/defense with three capstone committee members in which students present their results and discuss various aspects of their thesis with the committee.
Capstone project option (typically for students who seek to pursue an applied project to gain expertise in a specific industry): Students who choose to pursue the capstone project option will write a paper of substantial length, up to about 50 pages. Students will work with a capstone supervisor who navigates paper-writing processes and assesses the student’s final paper. The capstone supervisor will invite one other MS faculty member to also read and assess the student’s paper. The student DOES NOT select the outside reader. Another result is each student creating a poster presentation for Capstone Day where students will present their results and discuss various aspects of their project with attendees (faculty, other students). One Capstone Day for these presentations will be hosted at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters.
Further information about these and other aspects of the capstone is contained in the FAQs below.
- How do I get started on the capstone?
- Under what circumstances does my capstone research require approval by Temple’s Institutional Review Board?
- Do I have to complete all my coursework before taking the capstone?
- Is the capstone offered during the summer?
- Suppose I don’t finish my capstone during the semester in which I register for it?
- Who is my capstone supervisor?
- Who should be on my capstone committee (thesis option)?
- What happens during the capstone meeting (thesis option)?
- What should I expect my capstone supervisor to do?
- What should I expect my capstone committee to do (thesis option)?
- How do I create a poster presentation for my capstone (project option)?
- What do my capstone supervisor and committee expect from me?
How do I get started on the capstone?
By the time students reach their final semester, they should have a few ideas for possible capstone topics. Students may begin by discussing these possibilities with a STRC MS faculty member in a particular area of interest, possibly someone with whom a student already has taken a course — but not necessarily.
First, students should determine whether they will pursue the capstone thesis option or the capstone project option. Next, after defining a capstone topic, students should write two items. The first is a brief (1-2 page maximum) overview of the proposed capstone thesis or project that clearly defines the topic and the purposes or goals of the thesis or project. This is called a prospectus. For example, past capstones have explored “best practices” in employee communication; compared attitudes of publics inside and outside the U.S. toward crisis communications by U.S. companies; and proposed marketing plans geared toward social media. In addition, the brief overview should state the major theories that underpin the capstone research and describe the research method in detail – specifically, how students plan to collect data and conduct the research.
The second item students should produce at the beginning of the capstone thesis or project is a timeline that extends through the final capstone meeting (thesis option) or Capstone Day presentation (project option). When doing this timeline, students should keep in mind the following:
- Most capstones require about three drafts before the supervisor considers them ready to go to the capstone committee (thesis option) or one other MS faculty member (project option).
- The supervisor needs two weeks to read each draft; the capstone committee (thesis option) and one other MS faculty member (project option) needs two weeks to read the final draft before the capstone meeting (thesis option) or Capstone Day presentation (project option).
- Capstones that require primary research with human subjects must go through the Institutional Review Board, requiring an additional 3-4 weeks (sometimes longer, depending on the IRB’s workload).
- The capstone meeting (thesis option) and Capstone Day (project option) will take place at least one week before final grades are due (the SCT Graduate Office knows precise dates each semester).
Capstone timelines should reflect these time constraints.
The topics of capstones completed by other MS students are available here.
Sample capstone timelines are available here.
Sample capstone thesis and project prospectuses are available here (link under construction).
Under what circumstances does my capstone research require approval by Temple’s Institutional Review Board?
Everyone—faculty or student—who conducts primary research with human subjects must have the research plan and instruments approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) before the research is conducted. Students contemplating this type of research should discuss IRB requirements with their capstone supervisor and should acquaint themselves with the required process and forms (a good place to start is at the following url: www.citiprogram.org). In addition, students must pass the full IRB research compliance course (see the following url: www.citiprogram.org). None of this is difficult and should not deter students from undertaking human subjects research, but it does require some time, care, and advance planning.
Do I have to complete all my coursework before taking the capstone?
No. The capstone must be taken in a student’s last semester; some students may finish up other remaining MS coursework during that last semester. STUDENTS WHO HAVE PREVIOUSLY TAKEN AN ‘INCOMPLETE’ FOR THE CAPSTONE MUST BE REGISTERED FOR AT LEAST ONE CREDIT DURING THE SEMESTER THEY COMPLETE THEIR CAPSTONE THESIS OR PROJECT. Students should keep in mind that the capstone genuinely requires 3 s.h. of work with 5-6 hours of independent work per week on the capstone thesis or project—fully equivalent to taking a regular three-credit classroom course. Therefore, students with a lot of other demands on their time are encouraged to wait to take the capstone, making it their only coursework during their last semester. International students on visas are encouraged to very carefully consider the capstone process and time they will need to compete their thesis or project — since they may or may not be able to extend time frame via an “incomplete” option.
Is the capstone offered during the summer?
No, only in Fall and Spring semesters. That is because a seven-week summer session is considered too short for the intensive and demanding research that a capstone project requires. In addition, faculty may not be available during the summer months.
Suppose I don’t finish my capstone during the semester in which I register for it?
As with other courses, students can take an “Incomplete” (or “I”) in a capstone course. When they have completed the capstone, that grade will be changed to a final letter grade: A, B, C, and so forth. However, students should keep in mind that an “I” in the capstone is treated like an “I” in any other course. That is, they must complete the capstone by one year from the end of the semester in which they registered for the course, or the grade will default to “F.” In order to receive an “I,” students must complete an agreement with their capstone supervisor using the form which you may download here in PDF form.
Who is my capstone supervisor?
MS students choose their own capstone supervisor. A student’s capstone supervisor may be any full-time STRC faculty member who teaches in the MS program. Part-time MS instructors cannot supervise a capstone, although they can serve as one member of the capstone committee (thesis option). The capstone supervisor does not have to be the same person who was assigned to be a student’s academic advisor when accepted to the program. Instead, students should choose as a capstone supervisor someone who shares the student’s interests in the capstone topic and someone with whom the student enjoys working closely. Students unsure as to whom to ask to serve as capstone supervisor should ask the MS program director.
Students should also keep in mind that, as with all independent studies, capstones are add-ons to faculty members’ regular teaching and administrative responsibilities. Since capstone supervision is voluntary and discretionary for faculty, specific faculty members may be unavailable to supervise a student’s capstone thesis or project during times when faculty have a great many extra duties — no matter how interested they are in the topic.
Students and their capstone supervisor should mutually select the other two committee members who will read and assess the capstone thesis when it is complete.
What happens during the capstone meeting (thesis option)?
Generally, the capstone meeting/defense lasts from one to two hours. They are held in a conference room with all three members of a student’s capstone committee, although others may be invited at attend (e.g., friends, faculty, family). At the beginning of the meeting students will be asked to give a brief (no more than 10 minutes) presentation in which students hit the highlights of the capstone thesis, discuss what inspired the study, and present the implications or recommendations or next steps provided in the study. Students are required to explain how the capstone experience enabled them “to demonstrate substantial expertise in an area related to the student’s career or academic goals.” Some students prefer to talk from notes; others prefer to use a platform like Powerpoint. Either choice is fine, but students should prepare carefully since the presentation is part of a student’s capstone grade.
After the presentation, the three capstone committee members will ask the student questions about the capstone project. They may ask for clarification of specific points, suggest different ways to interpret the data, or press students to extend conclusions and recommendations. This discussion takes most of the time during the capstone meeting. Again, students should be prepared to answer possible questions to the best of their ability, since the quality of the discussion is part of the final capstone thesis grade.
After the discussion ends, students will be asked to leave the room for a few minutes while the three capstone committee members discuss the thesis and student responses during the discussion in order to determine the capstone thesis final grade. Then students will be invited back into the room. Generally the capstone supervisor will summarize the gist of the committee discussion. Occasionally, students may be asked to make revisions in order to bring the capstone thesis up to par before graduation. Most often, the capstone thesis is not revised, but the study’s strengths and weaknesses are reflected in committee comments and the grade.
What should I expect my capstone supervisor to do?
Students work closely with their capstone supervisor throughout the entire project. Once students have signed on with a capstone supervisor, that person will review the student’s proposed topic, check the student’s timeline, and read student paper drafts (capstones always go to more than one draft, and often three or four drafts). This is true for both the thesis and project options. The capstone supervisor will at every stage provide student feedback, suggesting ways to refine the initial topic and sources to read. The supervisor will serve as Principal Investigator if a capstone needs to the approved by Temple’s Institutional Review Board. The supervisor will read each draft and make suggestions for improvement, and the supervisor will decide when the project is ready to be given to the other members of the capstone committee (thesis option) or one additional MS faculty reader (project option). Only after the supervisor informs the student that the capstone is ready may the student distribute copies to the other committee members and set up the capstone meeting (thesis option).
What should I expect my capstone committee to do (thesis option)?
In most cases, the capstone committee comes on at the very end of the project, only to read the final draft. At least two weeks before the final capstone meeting, students will give everyone on the committee a final draft of the capstone thesis paper. During the capstone meeting, all three members of the committee will ask follow-up questions about the project and comment on strengths and weaknesses of the thesis. At the end of the capstone meeting, the three capstone committee members will decide mutually what grade to give the capstone thesis.
How do I create a poster presentation for my capstone (project option)?
The Capstone Day presentation is based on a paper written for the capstone faculty advisor (and one extra faculty reader that the FACULTY ADVISOR SELECTS.) In the paper, students are required to include at least one paragraph in the paper or as part of a cover memo to anecdotally explain how the capstone experience enabled them “to demonstrate substantial expertise in an area related to the student’s career or academic goals.” Students should think of their performance on Capstone Day as an opportunity to demonstrate their presentation talents and to showcase the hard work involved in bringing a capstone project to fruition. Fellow students, MS faculty, and any guests that students invite certainly will appreciate viewing poster presentations that are creative and contain information that is easy to assimilate.
Overall, students are encouraged to prepare for Capstone Day in two ways. These criteria will be considered when the capstone project grade is assigned.
First, students should anticipate questions from participants and come prepared with good answers. By the completion of the capstone project, students should be more than willing to engage participants in an informal conversation about their work. Questions may range from “This seems very interesting. Tell me about what you did” to “What challenges did you encounter along the way” to “Tell me more about what you might do with this work in the future.”
A word about professionalism. The way that you dress will reflect on your poster presentation. Business attire or business causal attire are acceptable. Jeans or sneakers are not appropriate.
Second, students should prepare a professional-looking poster. Students should not simply paste their capstone project paper to poster board, as this is neither interesting nor particularly informative. It should look like graduate student level work and not something haphazardly put together in haste.
An easel will be provided to support each student’s poster. The size of the poster may range from 36″ x 48″ to 56″ x 34″. Unfortunately, Temple University’s Instructional Support Center does not print posters for students. However, many commercial office supply stores offer printing services. Check with them well in advance to discover their requirements, lead times, and costs.
All posters should be mounted to foam core. POSTERS CANNOT BE TAPED TO THE WALL. Students who do not have their poster properly mounted for display on an easel will be invited to leave Capstone Day. Their final grade will reflect an inability to follow instructions.
Elements to consider including on the poster are:
- Statement of purpose
- Explication of communication problem/opportunity that your project sought to address
- Theoretical underpinning (optional)
- Research questions or hypotheses
- Research method(s) used
- Graphs of data
- Illustrations (e.g., stimulus materials used)
- Models used and/or created
In terms of designing the poster, students may consider the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages’ (TESOL) useful document titled Preparation Guidelines for Poster Sessions (.pdf).
Here is a sample poster format, courtesy of Dr. Deborah Cai (pdf). Sample Poster Format
What do my capstone supervisor and committee (thesis option) expect from me ?
Capstone supervisors expect students to stay in touch throughout the process. It is up to students to contact the supervisor as each stage of the thesis advances; capstone supervisors should not have to get in touch with students or remind students about deadlines and requirements. It is not advisable for students to limit contact with supervisors to the beginning and end of the semester; supervisors should be involved throughout the process.
In addition to staying in touch, students are responsible for meeting deadlines established in the capstone timeline. It is especially important for students to give supervisors and committee members enough time to read drafts. Generally, that means two weeks for each draft.
Clearly, the overriding expectation is that students will produce capstone work that meets the high expectations of the MS program. That expectation for professional performance includes not only the capstone paper itself but also the capstone meeting (thesis option) and Capstone Day presentation, where faculty expect students to have a presentation prepared and to be able to respond thoughtfully to questions about the thesis or project.
Criteria for grading capstone theses and projects are similar to those for any MS course. The student’s supervisor may have additional expectations, but generically, the criteria are described below.
C grade: The thesis or project merely fulfills basic capstone requirements. Specifically, for a grade of C, the work will:
- be completed according to schedule
- meet the objectives laid out at the beginning of the project
- include all the elements proposed for the research (e.g., literature review, primary research, etc.)
- demonstrate reasonable directness, competence, and strategic judgment
- be free of serious grammatical, punctuation, syntax, or word usage errors
- cite all words or ideas drawn from the work of others
- be summarized in an oral presentation at the meeting with the entire capstone committee
At this level of performance it is possible that the capstone committee (thesis option) or capstone supervisor and additional MS faculty member reader (project option) might ask the student to rework some portions of the paper before accepting the work.
B grade: The terms of the thesis or project have been fulfilled thoroughly and thoughtfully, with some evidence of originality and creativity. Specifically, for a grade of B, the work is good and will include all the qualities of C level work, plus:
- demonstrate originality and depth of thought
- include thorough and exhaustive research
- display clear organization and professional presentation
- demonstrate skillful presentation both in writing and orally, at the meeting with the entire capstone committee (thesis option) or at Capstone Day presentations(project option)
- display thoughtful consideration and a reasonable command of the subject when asked questions at the meeting with the entire capstone committee (thesis option) or at Capstone Day presentations (project option)
A grade: At this level, the capstone thesis or project goes well beyond fulfilling the terms of the original plan: it shows evidence of original, creative, analytical, and interesting thought. Specifically, a grade of A will include all the qualities of B level and C level work, plus:
- constitute a true contribution to the knowledge of the reader or audience (e.g., advance or refine specific theories, produce information that has not been previously known through data collection or analysis)
- demonstrate fluency and polish that strengthen the impact of the research
- show professional-level written and oral presentation quality
- display an exceptional command of the subject and ability to think on one’s feet when asked questions at the meeting with the entire capstone committee (thesis option) or Capstone Day presentations (project option)
Below-average work (grade of D or F) should never happen if the student stays in touch with the capstone supervisor. However, if it did occur, such work would have major deficiencies, and would not meet expectations for upper-level master’s work. It might show severe writing problems, poor research and data-gathering, and/or discussion and recommendations that do not match the evidence. At this level of performance the capstone committee (thesis option) or capstone supervisor plus one MS faculty reader (project option) would certainly ask the student to rework major portions of the paper; the thesis or project would necessitate heavy reworking to be acceptable.
Bottom line: What do MS students particularly need to keep in mind as they do their capstones?
- Stay in touch with your supervisor
- Adhere to the agreed-on timeline
- Don’t expect to complete the project in one or two drafts
- Don’t expect capstone committee members (thesis option) or supervisor plus one MS faculty reader (project option) to read drafts in less than two weeks
- Keep your writing concise (more pages do not mean better quality); use plenty of subheads; write strong topic sentences for all paragraphs; use clear illustrations; provide clear guideposts to let your reader know where the argument is going
- Prepare carefully for the capstone meeting (thesis option) or Capstone Day (project option) since that is one important component of the capstone final grade
- Above all, be prepared to treat the capstone thesis or project as requiring at least as much time, effort, and thought as any other challenging 3-credit classroom course.