Surviving Capstone 101
Tips and Tools from My Personal Experience
April 9, 2018
Capstone is right around the corner for rising seniors, and speaking as someone who successfully completed the course, I know how stressful it can be.
I remember April 2017 when I was wondering what my project would be or if I was capable of completing a project of this magnitude. I had heard the horror stories from fellow BCA students about Capstone and let me tell you; they are wrong.
For my Capstone Research, I researched how genes and gender affect a potential cure for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). For my project, I made informational pamphlets and spoke with women at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Women’s Conference.
I’ve put together some helpful tips and words of wisdom on how you can survive Capstone.
Do something you care about. Picking your research topic is the most important part of the class, so make sure you take the time to pick a good one. Your teachers will stress this, and it’s because they’ve seen what can happen when students’ have a lack of interest. If you’re not passionate about your topic, your lack of investment will be reflected every step of the way.
Admittedly, I was a little stressed at the lack of guidance you get in this area but realized because the teachers really want you to find what’s best for you. You will be told to “not start with the end in mind” meaning pick your topic to research, not to do your project on. This will make writing your paper easier because more than likely the direction of your research will change, and you don’t want to be tied down to one thing to “make your project work.”
Think of your impact. I know I just told you to not start with your project in mind, but it is important to consider how you will make your impact when writing your research paper. I did not do this, so when it was time to find a project, I struggled.
Logistically, I was not going to cure lupus, but that’s the direction my paper lead me. I did not think about how I could leave an impact from my research, and this left me in a less than ideal situation. From my experience, people who were able to impact Blackman or Rutherford County in some way developed the best projects because they had more resources to leave a bigger impact.
Accept and overcome challenges. At some point along the way, something will go wrong. No one will not have a completely problem-free research/project/trifold, etc. To have the best experience in Capstone, the earlier you can accept this, the better.
In my class, someone had to redo their entire trifold the night before they presented to the panel. When you write your evaluation in the end, the focus is on your obstacles and how you overcame them. Overcoming challenges is also where you learn the most.
It’s not about the grade. Like most people in BCA, my grades are important to me. When I entered Capstone I was terrified of it ‘tanking my GPA,’ but I soon learned that grades aren’t the “important” part of Capstone. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to try, or that you’ll still make an A, but it does mean grades aren’t the only measure of your success.
Always have a backup plan. I also learned that the biggest issues that arise involve relying on others. As bad as that sounds, I had to email over 30 people to try and find a professional mentor, and only got two responses: both telling me no. I was fully prepared for rejection emails, but I was surprised to learn that most people don’t bother to answer at all. Make sure to send lots of emails and call several places because it is better to have too many options than having none at all.
Use your resources. I cannot stress this enough. Whether it is your professional mentor, your teacher mentor, your Capstone teacher, your peers, MTSU, the library, and so on: use them, talk to them, and get to know them!
They can make this experience so much more manageable. For example, I read and revised my paper so many times that I couldn’t tell if it was the best or the worst thing I’ve ever written, so I asked my teacher mentor to grade it, and she helped make nearly every sentence better in ways I never even considered. Her feedback was also encouraging and gave me a boost of confidence, and all I had to do was ask.
You’re also required to use the MTSU writing lab, and they helped me understand APA citations. Even if you don’t think you need help, or don’t want to bother someone, trust me: it helps. Don’t try to do everything by yourself.
OneNote is your best friend. If I’m being honest, I never liked OneNote. It was confusing, but in Capstone, it is a necessity. Your due dates, assignments, forms, and more are all in OneNote. Personally, I like to write things down, so on the first day of class, I went into OneNote and put every due date in my agenda. I incorporated OneNote into what I’m used to, and I never got behind.
Organization is essential in Capstone, and even if you’re naturally organized, having one place with all of your paperwork is helpful.
Trust yourself. In the end, the most challenging part of this class wasn’t the grade: it was trusting myself. You have mentors to help with specific questions, but you are very much on your own.
Most BCA students are perfectionists, myself included, and having to write a ten-plus page paper or design and execute a trifold with no “check-up grades” or teacher revising your work is difficult when it’s the complete opposite of everything you’ve done up to that point.
I had to trust myself every step of the way that my research paper, portfolio, project, presentation, trifold and more was up to my own standards, not my teachers.
The experience you are about to embark on seems daunting, but I truly gained a lot from Capstone. The connections you make are invaluable, and participating in Capstone created conversations that differentiated me from the pack at my college interviews.
[NOTE from her teacher mentor: Not only did Morgan learn about lupus, but she also learned much about herself. She stretched herself, and in doing that, also gained awareness of personal strengths and limitations.]