Program Curriculum

Capstone Guidelines

General Overview

Capstone projects focus on a well-defined research question or problem in depth and with extended commitment (please see the box to the right for sample capstones). Capstone projects are expected to demonstrate proficiency with and intentional choices about methodologies and forms of presentation and/or documentation. The scale of the capstone varies from student to student. Some students choose to use this opportunity to create a larger “thesis-type” statement about their research agenda, others opt for a “term-paper” sized piece of work to exemplify their learning through the program. The final form of the project should meaningfully relate to your own question, issues, preferred methodologies, professional goals, collaborative partnerships, and intended audiences beyond the program. Projects may, therefore, culminate in a variety of ways: a performance; works of art; program or site creation; a classic, video, or performative auto/ethnography; or, any of a variety of other responses to new questions, interactions of methodologies, sites/locations, fields of inquiry, and forms of collaboration. With approval of the faculty, capstone projects may be completed collaboratively by more than one student (though each student will continue to be responsible for and assessed on the basis of their individual portfolios).

The Process

As is the case with the portfolio, a great deal of support for the capstone process is built into the MACS core curriculum, including writing workshops, peer review time, and presentation practice opportunities. Particular attention will be given to the development of capstone projects in BCULST 502 (Spring Quarter of Year 1) as well as in BCULST 510 and 511 when both the portfolio and capstone are centered for development.

The timeline below provides a fairly detailed outline of resources and key moments for the trajectory, but students should work closely with their advisors to develop and maintain a scope and timeline that makes sense for their projects. The PA and core course faculty (particularly in BCULST 502) will provide support for the development of the capstone pre-proposal and the identification of candidates for capstone advisor (see detailed timeline). Once the CA has been designated, s/he will discuss steps/work needed to move toward the formal capstone proposal and, when appropriate, identifying a capstone second reader. The optional capstone second reader should be someone who is qualified to evaluate some key aspect(s) of the capstone project. The second reader signs off on the capstone project, but does not serve as part of the final portfolio and capstone review. The development and refinement of the capstone proposal will also be facilitated in writing workshops and peer review in BCULST 510 and BCULST 511. Most students choose to present their capstone work in the Cultural Studies Conference in the Spring quarter of Year 2.

The capstone pre-proposal and, to a more developed and refined degree, the capstone proposal (due at the end of Autumn quarter in Year 2) will need to include thoughtful consideration of the following elements:


Once you have completed the proposal, you will need to prepare a concise abstract (150 words maximum) that covers the issue/topic/site, the main research question, the methods/procedures/analyses, and the point of your project.

Rationale and Literature Review

Start by explain why this project is worth doing in the first place (i.e. why it is important to you and why it might/should be important to others). Explain the basic ideas, problems, and questions examined by the project. Then offer a brief, critical review of the pertinent literature or theoretical background for the proposed project. Describe the intellectual/professional/social significance of the proposed project, including its value to scholars and other audiences with a stake in this work. How will the project complement, challenge, or expand relevant studies or projects in the field of cultural studies?

Objectives or Research Questions

What, specifically, is the project designed to accomplish? What are your main research questions?

Procedure or Methods

With what methods, materials, or tools will the objectives be met? Describe where the project will be conducted. If access to a particular location or institution is required for your research or project, state whether permission has been obtained (see section below about working with “Human Subjects”). Specify the level of competence in cultural sensitivity, languages, or digital technologies needed for the study.

Final Product and Dissemination

Describe the intended audience and the intended results of the project. What tangible format or “product” do you mean to create, write, display or produce? If relevant, explain how the results will be disseminated and why these means are appropriate to the subject matter and audience.

Time Schedule

Provide a rough schedule showing how the proposed research can be accomplished by the end of the Spring quarter of Year 2. Be realistic and give enough detail to help your advisor understand and support your progress.

You will need to be proactive and self-directed about anticipating practical considerations that may affect your timeline (e.g., securing rehearsal and performance or studio space, establishing entry to sites, archives, or community organizations, investigating the need for and securing Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, acquisition of necessary equipment, texts, or other materials). While many of these negotiations will be addressed in core courses and supported by staff and faculty, you do need to take the initiative in engaging faculty and advisors, in formulating questions for (and responding to) feedback.

The Capstone Advisor

Your CA works with you to bring the capstone project from initial conception to completion and public presentation. Following the assignment process in Spring Quarter of Year 1, the CA will meet with you to review the pre-proposal, any materials and relationships needed or in place for the research process, and any plans for work over the summer. The CA can, for example, help you assess: (1) the clarity of your initial research questions and objectives; (2) methodological choices and their appropriateness to the research question/objectives; (3) the feasibility of the project and its timeline; (4) resources required and their accessibility; (5) whether specific concerns—performance/rehearsal space, Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, further ethnographic/setting immersion preparation, or textual investigation—need to be addressed before moving forward.

Remember, the MACS program is interdisciplinary and practice-based, and there is also considerable variation among students in terms of interests, methodologies, and goals. Because of this, it is hard to establish a precise checklist or timeline for the capstone. Nonetheless, at each step of the process, the CA can help you anticipate difficulties and strategize with you to address them; the CA can also work with you in maintaining a reasonable pace of progress and with the intellectual/creative expansion of your project.

Over the course of Year 2, significant guidance and structure will also be provided by faculty and other students in the sequence of capstone and portfolio courses. However, in Winter and Spring Quarters the CA should become very actively engaged in assuring successful completion of the project and helping you to prepare for its presentation. It is assumed that all graduate students are self-directed scholars and that they will move toward greater intellectual/creative independence over the course of the program. Based on this assumption, the CA is there to provide guidance, advice, and consultation; it is not his/her role to play director or supervisor.

Nomination and assignment of CAs in Year 1

In conjunction with your PA and core course faculty, you should begin exploring the interests and availability of various MACS faculty. Don’t leave this until the Spring quarter. However, realize that the process of identifying possible advisors will happen more or less quickly for different students, in part because it is so bound to the formulation of initial ideas and directions for the capstone project. In Spring Quarter, you will be asked to submit the Capstone Pre-Proposal and Advisor Nomination Form (a shortlist of potential advisors and a short pre-proposal/abstract) to the Graduate Office. Although your ranking is heavily weighted for consideration, two other key factors will be considered in final assignment of your CA: (1) current faculty availability and advising loads, and (2) the assessment of “goodness of fit” between faculty research interests/domains and student project/goals. If it turns out that your existing PA becomes your CA, then the Graduate Office and faculty Coordinator will make arrangements (usually in consultation with you) to assign a new PA. It is strongly advised that you nominate potential CAs from among MACS faculty. However, there may be particular circumstances in which a student feels strongly that a faculty member from outside MACS would be the best advisor for their capstone work. In these cases, students need to petition for a specific “external” advisor with the following information: (1) the capstone pre-proposal, (2) the candidate’s name and contact information, (3) the student’s rationale for the choice, and (4) some form of written indication from the proposed capstone advisor that s/he understands the nature of the commitment involved and is willing to undertake it.

Working with “human subjects”

Questions related to research methods and ethics are central to MACS. Some capstone projects will be required to go through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval process; others will not. Capstone and portfolio advisors will help students in determining whether they need IRB approval for their research and in navigating the approval process in a prompt fashion, if they do. It is important to know that the question “Do I need to go through the IRB process?” cannot be answered until you have a clear idea of your research methods and the nature of the relationships involved in your research. You should consult with your advisors as your thinking about these questions develops. If you and your advisors determine that submitting an IRB application is necessary, you should prepare the application according to the instructions available on the Human Subjects Division website After you have prepared the application, your capstone advisor has reviewed it, and you are ready to submit it to IRB, the MACS Director will review it and sign off as “chair, director, or dean”.