How to Excel at Capstone

With April comes Capstone, the hallmark group research project that closes out a CGS student’s sophomore year. While the project, which includes a 50 page research paper and oral defense, might feel daunting, there are many things you can do to ensure you’re prepared to succeed. Natalie Seara (CGS ’20, COM’22) shares her top pieces of advice for tackling Capstone during the Learn from Anywhere era.

Plan, plan, plan by creating a flexible schedule

The six weeks of Capstone will fly by, so it is crucial that teams plan ahead. Start by working with your team to create mini due dates for different stages of the project and outline your team’s goals for every week until the oral defense. An absolute must is to have a weekly team meeting to ensure you are staying on schedule. You’ll also want to carve out extra time for meetings with professors or additional help from resources like the Writing Center. Be sure to leave plenty of time in your schedule for editing and preparing for the oral defense, and stay flexible in case your team needs to adjust its timeline.

Assign roles

One way to ensure the project runs smoothly is to assign roles to everyone in your team. Break up the paper into different sections and assign everyone a portion to write. While you all will want to know the material thoroughly, having particular people be experts in different aspects of your topic can be helpful in addressing questions during the oral defense. In addition to writing assignments, you may want to assign people to different tasks, such a point person for communication and document submission, a scheduler to host and plan Zoom meetings, someone to lead formatting of the completed document, and someone to verify that sourcing is done correctly.

Keep in touch

Particularly when your team is connecting virtually, clear communication is key. Each team should agree on one main platform for communication. This will make it easier to coordinate meetings and answer quick questions. Be clear on what the communication expectations are up front. For example, how quickly will members be expected to respond to messages, and does every message require a response from every team member?

Schedule your own work time

Just as it is critical to schedule group time, it’s as important to schedule your own personal work time to ensure you’re meeting deadlines. Consider how much time you’ll need for any elective classes and other responsibilities, and plan your Capstone work into that schedule. If you’re having trouble with any of your individual parts of the project, talk them through with your group or schedule an appointment with the Writing Center. It may also help to create a running citation document with your team so that you don’t need to worry about not being able to properly cite a source at the last minute.

Be confident and prepared for your oral defense

The oral defense is a two-hour session with your professors where they will go over the paper with your team and ask questions. Before going into your oral defense, create a list of possible questions that they could ask and make notes on those answers. Your team may want to run through a practice session together to ensure everyone is prepared to answer questions. When the time comes,  find a quiet place with stable WiFi and a nearby outlet to charge your device. Have water handy as you will be speaking a lot and have the paper accessible, whether it is printed or on your device.

Capstone is the culmination of your CGS career. While it may feel intimidating, having a plan, communicating with your group clearly, and preparing thoroughly will help ensure your team does the best it possibly can and finishes out the year strong.

— By Natalie Seara