In my program, like many others, graduation is contingent on completing a culminating project. At the University of Texas, that is called a “Capstone experience.” The overwhelming majority of students choose an internship or semester-long project with a library, archive, or local business or nonprofit. At the end of the semester, the student creates a poster detailing their specific project and what they learned/contributed/etc. The idea is for us to synthesize the 4 or so semesters of learning into one final deliverable.
I love the idea of a capstone project. The experience gives soon-to-be professionals the opportunity to network, fill out their resumes, get hands-on practical experience (which, ahem, our programs sometimes lack) and create and present a poster to the iSchool community. There is, though, a second option: A Master’s Report. A report differs from a thesis in that it is completed in only one semester. A report differs from a capstone project (always referred to as “the capstone”) because instead of an internship, the student writes about a 40 page academic paper on a topic of his or her choosing.
I am a rare student who has chosen to write a report. Why? Since grad school started, I’ve had an internship as a researcher at the Texas Education Agency and as a social media intern at Austin Public Library’s bookstore. I am currently employed with two part-time internships: one, as a youth librarian at Austin Public Library, and another in a graduate student position in the reference department at the main library at UT. My resume is bursting with internships. Simply put, I just don’t need (nor do I have the time for) another one. Between these positions, I have enough reference, outreach, and instruction experience for the types of entry-level positions I’m looking for.
Secondly, I just plain like writing academic papers. As Rose aptly noted, the end-of-course research papers often feel unfulfilling. I don’t usually feel like I’ve really learned enough about the course topic to do a research paper justice. Similarly, when all my courses require end-of-course papers, I can’t dedicate as much time or energy into one kick-ass paper as I’d like. Researching and writing get my juices flowing and it’s refreshing to get an entire semester to spend on one paper.
So, if your program requires a Capstone in some variety and offers a report option, I say take it! If you need more compelling reasons, here are some reasons why it may be more fun than you think:
- Master’s reports are, ideally, of publishable quality—for many types of positions, having something published or near publishable before entering the profession is quite advantageous.
- As librarians, it’s important to stay on your research game, so to speak. Of course we’re researching for course papers during our academic careers, but engaging in the kind of long-term projects (some of) our patrons do gives us a better appreciation for the art of research.
- It’s rewarding! No, really. After a capstone project, you’ll have great, tangible experience. After writing a report, you have a 40-ish page paper you can return to for future research, presentations or papers, and will give you ammunition when your family members ask, “Are all of your classes about the Dewey Decimal System.”
- Most importantly: You become a mini-expert in the topic. Because of the relatively short duration we’re in school, there are not of opportunities to take highly specialized courses in specific topics. For example, I’m writing my paper on developing comprehensive, environmentally sustainable weeding policies. While UT offers a course in Collection Development which covers weeding, it’s not terribly in-depth. At the end of the semester, I will have done enough research to speak comfortably and confidently about collection development, weeding, and developing trends in environmental sustainability to just about anyone.
So, what say you? Does your program offer a capstone experience? How do you feel about reports and theses?