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Capstone Project Guidelines

Currently, there are three ways to fulfill the capstone requirement for the Master of Arts with a concentration in International Development Studies:

  • a thesis
  • a grant proposal for a development project
  • a comprehensive exam.

Program guidelines for each option are listed below.

M.A. Thesis Guidelines

The M.A. thesis consists of original research on a topic relevant to development studies. Thesis guidelines are published by the Center for International Studies (CIS) and must be followed by students wishing to complete a thesis in any program at the CIS.

For additional information, it is imperative that students download the CIS' Guidelines form. Download the form [PDF].

The M.A. thesis must conform to University and Center for International Studies requirements found below:

  1. Committee. According to university rules, a thesis requires a three person advisory committee that includes a primary thesis director and two other faculty members. Often, one of the members of the advisory committee will be the Director of International Development Studies. The thesis director should be a faculty member with interest and expertise in the area to be researched. Students are responsible for identifying committee members and securing their agreement to serve in this capacity. Please note the students must have a tentative committee selected by the end of their second semester of study, generally spring semester of the student's first year. Although the committee members may be changed later, this is a CIS-wide regulation.
  2. Proposal. A proposal for the M.A. thesis outlining the problem, theory, and methods, must be approved by the student's advisor and committee prior to undertaking the research. The exact format of the proposal will be determined by the research director, but minimally should include a problem statement, literature review of past and related research, relevant theory, proposed methods, significance, timetable for conducting research and completing the thesis, and list of references. The decision to do a thesis should be determined during the first year of study, and a proposal should be approved by the student's committee by the end of the second semester and no later than the third semester of study.
  3. Human Subjects. All research that involves human subjects in any way, whether in the U.S. or abroad, requires prior Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. See guidelines under the University IRB website ( for details.
  4. Dual Degree Option. Students must complete the capstone requirements for each of the two degree programs.

Grant Project Proposal Guidelines

Students who are not planning to continue their education at the doctoral level may opt for a more practical educational experience. The grant proposal track allows students to prepare to enter the workforce by developing a submission-quality grant proposal that may or may not be submitted to an actual organization. A committee of two or three faculty members must be chosen by the end of spring semester of the student's first year of study.

Grant proposals submitted to fulfill the capstone requirement must follow the guidelines below:

  1. Approach. While there is no one correct approach for a grant proposal, students are strongly urged to develop a proposal that is responsive to a real world development issue, request for proposals (RFP), or agency priority. The most desirable approach is to work with an agency or organization to write a proposal that will be submitted to a funding agency. Alternatively, students are encouraged to search for and respond to an RFP, following proposal guidelines. If a student opts to develop a project proposal that does not have an immediate sponsor or potential funding source, then the proposal must identify and follow a standard proposal format.
  2. Format. Proposal formats vary, and following the specifications of the RFP or the funding source is the primary requirement. However, all proposals, regardless of whether the guidelines specify these components are expected to minimally contain a problem statement, a relevant literature review, a methods or work plan, a budget, a timeline or timetable, and a qualifications section. If these components vary drastically from the specified format, prior approval to deviate must be secured from the Director. All proposals will be expected to have a literature review that considers relevant and related projects, research on the topic and project, and information about the setting of the project. There is no absolute page limit, but it is expected that the narrative (excluding tables, appendices, budgets, and other supplemental material) for a typical proposal will not exceed 25 pages, double spaced.
  3. Topic. The topic must be discussed, submitted in writing, and approved by the program director prior to completing the proposal.
  4. Guidance. Students are strongly encouraged to work closely with faculty familiar with the topic, methods, region, or approach in proposal development. The final proposal must be read and approved by three faculty or individuals with expertise in the area. These typically would be the Director of International Development Studies and two other faculty member or a development specialist selected with consent of the Director. All must sign the cover sheet of the final proposal.
  5. Presentations and Timetable. Completed proposals are to be presented to Development Studies students, usually during the fourth semester of study. Proposals cannot be scheduled for presentation until approved by the Director. Approval is secured by submitting hard copy of the completed proposal to the Director. Expect at least 2 weeks for the Director to read and respond to the proposal. After approval, and at least one week prior to proposal presentation, the student will send it by email attachment or by posting it on the program website to all students in the program. It is the student's responsibility to adequately plan work to meet deadlines and scheduling requirements. Presentations will take approximately 20 minutes, including time for the formal presentation and questions and discussion. All IDS students are expected to attend and critique presentations.
  6. Credit Hours. With permission from the faculty grant proposal chair, the student may enroll for up to five hours of independent study per semester; however, no more than a total of 5 independent study hours may count toward concentration electives. Grades of PR (progress) will be submitted until the project is completed; normally, a grade of CR (credit reported) will be given, but the committee does have the option of awarding a letter grade.

Comprehensive Exam Guidelines

IDS students have the third option of taking a comprehensive exam. This option is especially appropriate for students pursuing dual degrees, students wishing to complete the program in three semesters. Permission from the Program Director is required in order to fulfill the capstone requirement by means of taking a comprehensive exam.

The comprehensive exam consists of three focus areas corresponding to the International Development Studies curriculum:

  • development core
  • methods core
  • concentration.

Note that professors for foundation courses (such as Pro-Seminar on Development and Economic World Geography) may be excellent choices for development core advisors. The following procedures outline the steps necessary to take the comprehensive exam:

  1. The comprehensive exam will be offered in each semester in which students in the program have indicated they want to take it during that specific semester. Generally, it will be given during the tenth week of the semester, with a total of four hours allotted for the exam.
  2. Students who intend to take the comprehensive exam must:
    1. Select three faculty members who will provide guidance, a reading list, and exam questions. Faculty should be experts in the focus area for which they are responsible. The student and his or her comprehensive exam committee should fill out the Comprehensive Exam Faculty Selection form by the end of the spring semester of the first year.
    2. Submit a Comprehensive Exam Intent Form to the International Development Studies director during the second week of the semester in which the exam will be taken.
    3. Verify that committee members have submitted questions to the director before the fifth week of classes of the semester in which the exam will be taken.
    4. Appear at the designated time and place to take the exam.
  3. Comprehensive exam faculty will each prepare an interdisciplinary essay question that attempts to draw connections between the student's area of concentration and the faculty member's exam focus (development core, method core, or concentration). The faculty will submit their essay questions to the International Development Studies director by the fifth week of classes in which the exam is going to be taken.
  4. The International Development Studies director will prepare the comprehensive exam using the submitted questions. The student will generally be expected to respond to three essay prompts, including a two-hour concentration-focus essay, a one-hour development-focus essay and a one-hour methods-focus essay.
  5. Faculty members will comment on answers to their own questions, giving the student either a satisfactory or an unsatisfactory grade.
  6. The International Development Studies director will assign one of three outcomes:
    • Pass : If the student receives a satisfactory for all three sections of the comprehensive exam, he or she will receive a pass grade.
    • No Pass: If the student receives an unsatisfactory in one or more sections of the comprehensive exam, he or she might receive a no pass grade. The student may retake the sections he or she did not pass one time only, at a date determined by the exam committee.
    • Fail: If the student receives an unsatisfactory in all three sections, he or she will receive a fail grade. After completing additional remedial work determined by the examining committee, the student may retake the exam one time. Failure to pass the reexamination will result in the student being dropped from the program