The Final Countdown Continues: On Planning Your Culminating Project

     So, all throughout my tenure here at Hack Library School, I have emphasized the importance of preparing for graduation throughout your time in graduate school. In November 2019, I even explicitly discussed planning for graduation in your first semester; and emphasized similar points before that in May 2019 with my discussion of the importance of planning ahead in your graduate studies even from the moment you are accepted into your graduate program. This may seem daunting to tackle so early in your graduate school career, but I can ensure you it is not. Starting early allows you to plan towards graduation incrementally versus cramming everything in towards the end of your degree program; which is especially helpful amidst ongoing current events because, honestly, who needs any extra, unnecessary stress right now? No one, absolutely no one; especially when graduate school, across all fields, is so expensive and time-consuming.

All throughout my time as a MLIS student at San Jose State University, preparing for graduation as early as possible was emphasized right from the literal beginning as everyone in my program was required to take a 1-unit, credit/no credit introductory course designed to act as not only an orientation for new students, but as preparation for graduate-level work so everyone has the best chance to succeed in the program. This course, INFO 203: Online Learning, serves as a roughly month-long introduction to the different tools, technologies, and standards the program requires students to incorporate and use in their online studies; with one of those tools being the Student Success Planner. This tool, which utilizes Microsoft Excel to run, provides students with a platform for which they can visualize and track their short- and long-term goals while in their graduate program, their current and planned courses and the competencies they fulfill, any advising notes they may need to be mindful of in planning their degree program, their career planning checklist, and, lastly, the evidence they plan on utilizing in completing their e-Portfolio.

As someone who is currently about a week away from completing their e-Portfolio (and celebrating every step of the way), this particular tool has been incredibly helpful in smoothly completing my e-Portfolio as it helped me determine early on which courses I have taken or wanted to take fulfill which competencies students are required to fulfill during their time in my current program. In my graduate program, the e-Portfolio is one of two options students have to choose from for their culminating project with the second option being completing a thesis. Thus, during the e-Portfolio completion process, students who choose this option are required to write essays for each of the program’s 14 core competencies detailing our understanding of each competency, research that supports our understanding, and at least 2 to 4 pieces of evidence we have completed that satisfy each competency either in class or as part of extracurricular work, including, but not limited to, student leadership positions, internships, or on the job at work; which is incredibly difficult to complete if you are not organized and have not saved all of your assignments, their instructions, any feedback you may have received, and notes from group projects detailing your contributions.

     Thus, as I have worked towards completing my e-Portfolio, I have learned many lessons that I feel can be universally applied to all culminating projects, regardless if you are in my program or not. I understand that all graduate programs have their own culminating projects that may or may not be structurally similar to the e-Portfolio that San Jose State University requires students who elect to not complete a thesis to complete, so I want to make sure that my reflections here provide everyone with at least some food for thought they can apply to their own culminating project.

So, first, I want to emphasize again the importance of planning ahead as early as you realistically can. In writing my competency essays for my e-Portfolio, I have included pieces of evidence from prerequisite courses I took in my first semester in my graduate program onward, which would have been difficult to do if I had not saved the instructions for and my notes from those assignments to provide context I otherwise I would not have as, after completing two years of continuous work, trying to mentally keep track of what I did when and how in terms of producing work that followed my professors’ instructions is almost a Herculean task. So, if you have to complete a culminating project similar to mine, I emphasize the importance of approaching each assignment you complete as part of your graduate program as a potential piece of evidence you may want/need to include to demonstrate your competency. Meanwhile, if you have to complete a culminating project that is not similar to mine, I emphasize the importance of using each assignment you complete in your classes as exercises in determining what you may or may not want to focus on in your culminating project as you never know where you may find inspiration; while also emphasizing for both the importance of researching your culminating project’s requirements early on so you are not surprised later and lose precious time to plan.

     Next, I want to emphasize the importance of planning to anticipate setbacks. In writing my competency essays for my e-Portfolio, I have experienced quite a lot of writer’s block, especially in the beginning before I found my groove and created a template of sorts that has made writing so much easier in the time since I created it. Additionally, I have also had to take time for myself as not only do I have more going in my life than just my culminating project like anyone else, but I am not a machine, nor is anyone. Thus, taking time for myself has been essential to my completing my e-Portfolio as I cannot present my best self in my writing if I am not taking care of myself. I have emphasized in much of my previous writing the importance of prioritizing self care and mental health, which is true here as well. So, for everyone, I emphasize the importance of creating a realistic time frame for which you can complete your culminating project that also includes enough time for you to take breaks, take care of yourself, and take care of everything else in your life.

In turn, I want to emphasize the importance of planning to ask for help when you need it. In writing my competency essays for my e-Portfolio, I have often turned to the examples my advisor has provided to my class to refer to see how recent alumni approached their e-Portfolios, which has been helpful in preventing me from overthinking my competency essays (which is easy to do). Additionally, I have connected with peers from my program who are also completing their e-Portfolios over social media and have found community in those connections since being an graduate student completing their program entirely online can, as I have discussed before, get a little lonely. So, for everyone, I emphasize the importance of seeking out others in your graduate program online via social media or within your department so you can get the help you need when you may need it as completing your culminating project is not a small, nor easy, feat, regardless of how much you may plan ahead of time.

Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of planning to celebrate. In writing my competency essays for my e-Portfolio, I have learned to celebrate every competency essay I complete as each essay I complete is taking me one step closer to graduation; which, I will admit, has been an emotional process. While it is somewhat daunting to review absolutely every assignment I have completed as part of my graduate program, it is also fulfilling as I quite literally have been reminded of just how much I have accomplished in the last two years – which is a lot. So, for everyone, I emphasize the importance of taking time to celebrate yourself as, with every term, class, assignment, and, finally, part of your culminating project you complete, you are working your way towards graduation; which is no small feat. So, be sure to celebrate the small things as you work your way to completing the very big thing that is your culminating project. I can say from personal experience that this mindset helps make the whole process a little less daunting and a little more fun; which is definitely something to appreciate. In turn, I wish you all the luck in completing your culminating projects as I complete mine!

Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

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