All political science majors must complete POSC396 Senior Capstone Project. Although our senior project (POSC396) serves as a SAGES capstone, and hence meets the SAGES requirement, a senior project has always been a political science major requirement. Therefore, even students completing a capstone in another major must complete POSC396 for the political science major.

The senior project is essentially an independent study, resulting in a paper and an oral presentation. Students should think about topics that they would like to learn more about, and should meet with various POSC professors to discuss possibilities of supervising a capstone in those topics. The best capstone topics are likely to explore further questions arising from your previous or current POSC coursework. Once students find a supervisor for a topic, they and the professor must agree on a plan of work. This should include at a minimum:

  • Identification of the topic and the research question
  • What written work will be required, and by which dates
  • An overview of how the research will be addressed (that is, the means or methodology)

Required project plan: This work plan should be written as a Senior Project Prospectus. A copy of the prospectus form can be downloaded Department of Political Science Independent Study Prospectus. A copy of the prospectus, signed by the student and the supervising faculty member, must be filed with the Political Science department office. Department rules as stated in the General Bulletin say the prospectus should be filed with the department office no later than the drop/add date of each semester (Friday of the second week). The intent of this rule is to ensure that the prospectus is filed in time for the student to register for the course. No instructor for a senior project should issue a permit for a student to register for POSC396 until the faculty member and student have drafted the prospectus.

Each member of the faculty will have his or her own expectations of projects. All will expect some significant writing. Faculty are also expected to require completion of some work by the middle of the semester, and to reflect any failure to deliver work in the midterm grade report. Beyond those requirements, there are many forms of senior capstone projects. Some students will collect and analyze primary data. Other students will write critical literature reviews. Some faculty members, such as Professor White, are willing to have a project in which the students begin by learning about a subject more generally, prepare reports on what they are learning, and then focus on a more precise paper topic towards the midpoint of the term. Others expect a more more structured approach; still others require capstone work concerning a falsifiable research hypothesis. Regardless of the individual faculty member, the most important foundational components of a successful capstone project are 1) finding a faculty member, enthusiastic about the capstone topic, with whom the student can work well, and 2) crafting a clear agreement between the faculty member and the student about the project requirements.

Oral presentations: As part of the requirements for a SAGES capstone, all projects are presented in a public forum. The political science department employs a format modeled on our disciplinary academic conferences, with formal presentations of work in progress, followed by questions and discussion.

The Department schedules the capstone presentations during the penultimate weeks of each semester. The sessions begin in the late afternoon, and last between two and three hours. Under normal circumstances, we provide a buffet dinner for all participants. Students are organized into panels based on their topics and their supervisors (generally, three or four panel sessions of four to five presentations).  Individual student presentations lasted approximately15 minutes, including the student’s oral presentation (c. 8-10 minutes), with the remaining time reserved for questions and comments from the audience, and student response.

Because this format is modeled on our disciplinary academic conferences, we expect students to participate fully as members of the audience, as well as presenting their own work. The faculty are also present for all presentations. We regularly invite all junior and senior majors to attend these presentations, and presenting students are welcome to invite their friends and family members, as available, to attend their presentation session and the dinner.  

Students present their work in progress and are not expected to have their final capstone paper ready for presentation. Nonetheless, students are expected to have advanced their work sufficiently to be able to give a coherent and interesting talk. One of the reasons for scheduling the presentations during the penultimate weeks of classes is to give students time to think about comments made at the presentations as they finish writing their final papers. Again, this is similar to how political science disciplinary conferences work. At the American Political Science Association meetings, for example, most participants present papers that they hope to submit to journals, and they use the feedback on their paper presentations to help them determine how to improve their paper for submission.

Finding a Project Supervisor: Students are responsible for finding a supervisor for their topic. Students’ academic advisor and the department chair are available to discuss students’ interests and to explore which of their colleagues might fit those interests.  The Department strongly encourages students to discuss their capstone ideas with multiple relevant members of the faculty and to consider a range of possible topics and capstone directors.

Students enroll in POSC396 by requesting permission in SIS from the faculty member who has agreed to supervise their capstone.  Note that no member of the political science faculty may supervise more than five senior projects during any term; POSC396 has an enrollment cap for every supervising professor.  This provides our faculty members with the necessary time and space to provide expert supervision to our capstone students, and ensures equity of effort among our faculty.  In short, planning ahead is a very good idea.  Registering ahead is not necessary (as long as you register before the drop/add date).

Students are advised to pay close attention to the schedule of sabbatical and/or research leaves for our faculty.  We cannot guarantee that any specific faculty member will be available to supervise capstone work in any specific semester, and faculty who are on sabbatical and/or research leave are not able to provide capstone supervision.

Moreover, no member of the faculty is required to supervise any particular topic or student. No faculty member is appropriate to supervise all capstone topics, and no student works perfectly with every faculty member.  We strive instead to find good matches across students, faculty, and capstone topics. If a member of the faculty is reluctant to supervise a particular capstone topic, he or she is obligated to supervise the project, even for a student he or she knows well. Similarly, if a student has done previous work with a professor, they should not feel compelled to continue work with that professor on their senior project. Again, we strongly encourage students to discuss their capstone ideas with multiple members of the faculty and to consider a range of possible topics and capstone directors.

For examples of capstone projects and their supervising faculty members, see here.