Planning For Your Capstone and Graduation

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Capstone Project

What is a thesis or independent study course? How is it different from a regular class?

Both a thesis and an independent study are different from a regular class in that they take place one-on-one with a professor. An independent study is for one semester, while a thesis is for two semesters. 

The goal for both options is to delve into a project that allows you to engage deeply with a subject of particular interest, to build a collaborative relationship with a faculty member, and to contribute original scholarship to an academic discipline or disciplines. 

Note: A thesis is required to be eligible for departmental honors for the IIM. After your thesis advisor and other readers have read your thesis, they will recommend whether your work merits one of three degrees of honors.

What is the difference between a thesis and an independent study?

One of the biggest differences is the amount of time spent on the course itself. A thesis is a two-semester commitment, whereas an independent study lasts for one semester. The size and scope of the projects should reflect this difference. For instance, one who undertakes a thesis typically spends the majority of the first semester conducting research in preparation for writing in the second semester. For an independent study, the research and writing take place in the same semester.

If you are considering a thesis, it will be helpful to look at the guidelines for the department which most closely aligns with your major or the department of your primary advisor. For example, if your capstone advisor is in the Sociology department, review the departmental guidelines for theses on the Sociology website. Discuss with your advisor how your IIM procedures and standards will be similar or different from those of the advisor’s home department. 

When should I start planning my senior capstone?

Whether you are planning to do a thesis or an independent study, it is best to plan at least a full semester in advance. Talk with your IIM advisors about who might be the best fit as the advisor for your capstone and brainstorm possible topics for your capstone.

How do I add the independent study or thesis course?

These courses are not automatically added to your schedule. To add either course, you need to complete a paper add form and to turn this into the registrar’s office during the registration period at the beginning of the semester.

An independent study requires a “98” add form while a thesis (numbered “99”) requires a regular add/drop form. Both forms can be found on the registrar’s office webpage.

Note: For the thesis - you need to add the course both in the fall and the spring (it will not automatically be added to your schedule during your second semester of the thesis). 

The Senior Honors Thesis webpage outlines more about the thesis process.

What are the parameters and expectations of the capstone?

It is expected that you will be in touch regularly with your advisor for your capstone while you are completing it. You will want to talk with him/her about the following details: 

  1. How often you will meet during the semester, and what is the best way to communicate with your advisor
  2. What work is expected and when. Establishing checkpoints throughout the semester can be helpful so that you are maintaining progress and getting regular feedback
  3. How the work will be evaluated
What are some examples of capstone projects that have been done?

Projects vary widely, especially given the nature of the IIM program and the unique focus areas of each major in the program. Many independent studies take the form of a research paper. Others have been performative - for example, culminating in a presentation or theater production. 

Some recent examples include::

  • Architectural Studies - senior thesis focused on social media’s influence on modern design
  • Urban Studies - independent study focused on a case study of present-day New Orleans, culminating in a research paper
  • Writing for Performance - senior thesis. Co-wrote and performed a play on campus
  • Social Justice Social Policy - independent study focused on the history of a former psychiatric hospital in Waltham and the treatment of people diagnosed with mental and physical disabilities; culminated in a presentation


What is a diploma ceremony?

A diploma ceremony takes place during the commencement activities and is for a specific department or a group of departments. You would receive your diploma at the diploma ceremony of the department of your major.

Which diploma ceremony should I attend?

Given the diverse range of IIM topics as well as faculty, the IIM program does not have a diploma ceremony. Unless you indicate otherwise, your diploma will be at the ceremony of the department of your primary IIM advisor. If you wish to attend a different ceremony, please notify the Registrar’s office.

How will my name and major be called at the diploma ceremony?

Your name will be called with the department of your IIM primary faculty advisor. The title of your IIM would be read aloud and would be written on your diploma.

For IIM faculty advisors

What are the expectations for the thesis? Does the student need a thesis committee?

It is usually the case that the IIM student will follow the thesis guidelines of the department that most closely aligns with the thesis project or that of the thesis advisor. Most departments outline guidelines for the thesis on their website. Please discuss these guidelines and expectations with the IIM thesis advisor, if this person is not you, and the number of readers expected, and the student’s or advisor’s role in identifying second or third readers.

How/when do I verify completion of the major?

Primary IIM advisors will receive a checkout sheet for any IIM majors on the day all of the checkout sheets arrive prior to commencement each spring. These will need to be completed and delivered to the Registrar’s office to verify completion of the major. If you need a copy of the student’s course list for the major, please contact the IIM Coordinator. 

If the student completed the thesis, how/when do I recommend their level of honors?

On the check-out sheet, there will be a place to indicate whether a student is recommended for honors in the major, and at what level.