International Development Studies

Capstone Seminar and Research Essay Requirements

This capstone seminar is designed for students who are completing the Minor in International Development Studies and is intended to (1) give students an opportunity to process and integrate their field experiences with what they have learned in the classroom, (2) provide students with guidance and support in writing their capstone research essays, (3) help students contextualize their studies and experiences in the larger context of field of international development and (4) encourage students to synthesize what they have learned throughout the minor.

Fall 2022
IDS Capstone Seminar 
Instructor: Abby Cordova. TTh 5:05 - 6:20PM
IDS 43000 – CRN 12986

What are the options for the MIDS capstone essay?

MIDS students are required to write a capstone research essay in which they present and discuss their fieldwork experience and findings. Typically, the capstone essay is 30-35 pages in length [12-point font] and may take one of two forms:

  1. Disciplinary Capstone Essay: A disciplinary capstone essay is focused on approaching a substantive research question from the perspective of a particular discipline [e.g., anthropology, architecture, biology, civil engineering, economics, political science, sociology, finance, marketing]. This essay may include analysis that is either qualitative or quantitative [or both] in nature, but should seek to further knowledge and, based on findings, propose directions for future research. For example, a disciplinary essay coming out of the social sciences and or biological sciences may address a question like, “What explains why some people in village x use anti-malarial bed nets properly and some people in village x do not?” The essay might test a hypothesis or two based on previous research on the topic or observations made prior to the fieldwork by the author herself. After presenting the results, this type of essay would discuss these results in light of the previous research and suggest policy implications. The essay would conclude with questions for future research on the topic.
  2. Organizational Capstone Essay: An organizational capstone essay is focused on the effectiveness of a particular organization at realizing its human development-related goals. It typically assesses an organization’s theory of change, strategies, practices, and effectiveness in realizing its goals and tries to draw lessons and insights based on that assessment. For example, an organizational essay may focus on a question like, “Does organization x effectively educate people about the importance of purifying drinking water?” The essay might relate the methods organization x employs to current research on the best ways to promote the purification of drinking water. It might then assess whether organization x’s methods are effective in promoting the goals that organization x has set for itself. The essay might then present and discusses the results and make recommendations or draw lessons for how organization x might more effectively realize its goals.

How does a capstone essay relate to a senior thesis? Can I do both?

Many students write both a capstone essay for the MIDS and a senior thesis. The capstone essay may be related to, but must be clearly distinct from, a senior thesis. For example, a student may write a capstone essay that attempts to explain the variation in the use of anti-malarial bed nets in village x and write a thesis that attempts to understand and explain the variation in the prevalence of malaria-related deaths across sub-Saharan Africa. The senior thesis is typically a much larger product than the capstone essay. The thesis must addresses a different question from the essay, but the question addressed may be related to the question addressed in the essay. Assuming the circumstances for each student are to some extent unique, students who have questions about this should see the capstone seminar instructor to discuss the difference and the various ways of making the capstone essay a distinct product. It is recommended that the student meet with the capstone essay adviser and thesis adviser together to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

What are my responsibilities as a student in the MIDS capstone seminar?

The student is responsible for securing a faculty advisor with relevant expertise on the research question upon which the student would like to focus in the capstone essay [NOTE: The faculty advisor should be secured at least one semester before fieldwork, which is typically the BEGINNING of the spring semester of junior year.].

During the semester of the capstone seminar, the student is responsible for discussing his or her capstone essay with and soliciting guidance from the advisor. During the course of the capstone seminar, a student’s responsibilities are as follows:

  • Attend all seminar meetings having read any assigned reading and completed any assignments as indicated on the syllabus.
  • Meet with faculty advisor at least twice during the course of the seminar [See points 3 and 4 below]
  • By the second week of the capstone seminar [the deadline will be clearly indicated on the capstone syllabus], the student must prepare a 2 to 3 page research report that addresses the following questions: (1) What have I a learned in my fieldwork? (2) What are the questions that I have not been able to answer through my fieldwork? (3) What kind of assistance do I think I need to write a strong research essay? The student should share this document with the faculty advisor in the first meeting mentioned above.
  • By the fifth week of the capstone seminar [the deadline will be clearly indicated on the capstone syllabus], the student must develop a literature review to submit to the capstone instructor.
  • By the eleventh week of the capstone seminar [the deadline will be clearly indicated on the capstone syllabus], the student must develop an abstract and a first draft of the capstone essay. The student must submit the abstract and first draft of the essay to the capstone instructor for feedback.
  • On the due date clearly indicated on the syllabus [typically during finals week], the student must submit an electronic final draft of the capstone essay to the capstone seminar instructor.

What is the role of the faculty advisor?

The faculty advisor is to provide advice and guidance that helps the student to 1) design a feasible research project and 2) write a research essay that makes the most of the data obtained by the student during fieldwork.

The student is expected to make appointments with the advisor. By the semester of the capstone seminar, the student and faculty advisor will have spent a significant amount of time working together discussing the research grant proposal and fieldwork results. During the semester of the capstone seminar, the student and advisor will ordinarily meet at least twice. These meetings may be characterized as follows:

  • The student is to meet with advisor early on in fall semester of the capstone seminar to review the fieldwork report.
  • The student is to meet with the advisor by at least the eleventh week of the semester to review and discuss the abstract for the research essay.

NOTE: It is NOT the faculty advisor’s role to evaluate the capstone essay. The capstone instructor will be responsible for evaluating [grading] the capstone essay.

What is the role of the instructor of the capstone seminar?

The capstone instructor is to 1) help the student to process his/her fieldwork experiences through classroom discussions and written assignments, 2) compliment the work of the faculty advisor in working with the student to make the most of the data obtained during fieldwork, 3) provide feedback and guidance in writing the capstone essay, 4) evaluate the final draft of the capstone essay, (5) help student’s synthesize what they have learned through the minor, and (6) evaluate the capstone essay.