The Fletcher faculty has made some changes to what used to be the thesis requirement for all degree programs.  Going forward, the requirement will be for the production of a capstone project.  For some students (and their professors), this represents no change whatsoever.  They arrived at Fletcher looking forward to writing a traditional academic thesis, and that’s what they’re going to do.  For other students, this marks a welcome change.  In some fields, a thesis is not the project format that best lends itself to the presentation of two year’s worth of learning.  Here’s a little of the email Academic Dean Peter Uvin sent to students to explain the change.  (Note that this was an email sent directly to students, not an official document, hence the casual language.)  He starts by saying that, in fact, little (beyond the name of the project) has changed.

First, all degree programs always had to write a thesis, which was understood to be a traditional research project.  Now we are changing that title a bit (“capstone project”) and we are giving students more flexibility in terms of their final academic piece of work.  Over the years, many students have found the research thesis a very useful and rewarding experience, and they can continue to do this with all the professors at Fletcher.  But other students have felt that a thesis was not a particularly useful exercise, given what they would be doing after Fletcher.  We now officially allow for a broader range of choices to accommodate those students.

Second, students used to develop their thesis topics in many different ways, and this will also continue, though we will be more explicit about the need to associate the thesis writing with a course credit.  Here are the choices for how a capstone project can be developed:

◊   Students can continue to build their capstone project off a course paper;
◊   A number of professors have decided that their courses are set up in such a way that their required final product is really an excellent preparation for the capstone project. This may be because they offer a lot of methodology, or because they require a product that is very labor intensive, or because they help students develop research proposals, etc.  Those classes will now be called “incubator courses.”  Students are not obliged to take incubator courses for their capstone projects; it is simply an option.  Also: you can take these courses even if you do not want to write your capstone project through them!
◊   Students can also continue to use an independent study in order to write their capstone project.
◊   Often professors look for student assistance with research projects.  The innovation here is that we encourage professors and students who work together in this way to use that work as the basis for the capstone project.

This is all new and a work in progress. It is important to have clear discussions with your capstone supervisors to understand exactly what s/he will be looking for.  Some are going to be traditional and only want an academic thesis, whereas others are thrilled to be able to accept something else.  Some see their courses as incubators, whereas others do not.  Just talk to them.  It will all work out.  This is designed to make life more flexible and easier—not more stressful!

Our current second-year students will be the pioneers for the Capstone Projects, and I look forward to hearing about some innovative project formats.

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