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EIU Department of Master of Arts in Political Science

Capstone/Thesis Information

Capstone projects should be the culmination of all the work that you have completed throughout the classes you have taken as part of your graduate degree program at EIU. Typically, these are more practical in nature than a traditional thesis. What that means is you can focus on a very specific topic that is relevant to your future employment interests. Do you want to work in economic development? Write a capstone about TIF districts or home rule taxes. You want to be a fire chief? Write about how firefighters' pensions impact municipal budgets or what is the optimal fire protection district size. We want this project to be a great springboard for you to enter the job market or move up in your chosen profession.  

There is a specific process to follow for capstones.  

Step 1 - Course Requirement Spreadsheet

 You must complete the required courses spreadsheet for your respective program. It must indicate that you have at least 24 hours of credits already completed. You must email the spreadsheet to Dr. Burge before you sign up for capstone hours. This is to ensure there will be no problems with your graduation application. These spreadsheets are attached to the emails sent out about course registration each semester. 


You can also download them here: 

  • The spreadsheet for online students is here
  • The spreadsheet for face to face students is here
  •  Instructions to complete the spreadsheet are here.

Step 2 - Getting an advisor, getting registered, getting a plan in place

  • Reach out to a political science faculty member, asking them if they would be your advisor for your capstone project.  
  • When they agree to supervise your work, complete this form:
  • Meet with your advisor to discuss clear expectations and deadlines for completing the work.  

Step 3 - Write, Revise, Organize a Committee

  • Begin work on the project. Once a draft is completed, send a copy to your advisor.  
  • Go through proofreading and editing with your advisor. This may take multiple rounds of back and forth.  
  • Once they have given you the green light, you can reach out to two additional faculty members who you would like to serve on your defense committee.  

Step 4 - Present

  • Send the latest draft of your project to all three members of your defense committee and begin coordinating a time to schedule a presentation.  
  • Prepare a 10-minute presentation that will lead off the process. Once you have completed the presentation, the committee will spend a few minutes asking questions.  
  • You will receive one of three outcomes: your project is accepted without revisions, your project is accepted with revisions, your project is not accepted. 

Step 5 - Format (if necessary), Graduate

  • If you wrote a thesis, you will then need to format your paper to conform with the graduate school guidelines. Those can be found here: 
  • If you wrote a capstone, no additional formatting is needed.
  • Once the final product has been signed off by your advisor you are done! 


Frequently Asked Questions 

Who should I choose to be my advisor?  

It’s wise to choose someone who you have taken a course with during your graduate studies. That way you have become acquainted with their expectations and the faculty member has a sense of your interests and abilities. It’s a good idea to pick an advisor who has some familiarity with the topic you would like to write your paper about, as well.  

When should I contact a potential advisor? 

I would recommend that a week or two before registration opens up for the semester in which you want to take your capstone, you approach your potential adviser. That will give them time to work through their schedule and think about their course loads. If you wait too late, their schedule may already be full and they might not be able to take on any additional capstone projects.  

How developed should my proposal be when I contact a potential advisor?  

We would appreciate it if you had just a paragraph or two that would give us a sense of what you want the final product to look like. It would be ideal to provide us with two things: the question that you are going to try to answer and what kind of methodological tool(s) that you will be using to answer that question. We can then begin thinking about how to refine your question, tweak your methods, and potential roadblocks that you may encounter as you work through your project.  

How often will I be in contact with my advisor?  

That’s 100% up to you and your advisor. Some students send a weekly email or stop by during office hours to chat. Other students don’t have any communication until a draft of the entire capstone is done. We trust that you are all responsible for your capstone project at this point. Most of us will not reach out to you, but we will be very helpful if it ever looks like you need assistance. So, good communication will only make the process smoother for all parties.  

How long should my paper be?  

That question should be clearly addressed with your capstone advisor. I will say that the median length for projects over the last year has been around 25 pages of text. That does not include citations, table of contents, title page, etc. But, your advisor will let you know their expectations..  

How long does it take for the average student to finish the capstone project?  

That is highly variable. If a student really buckles down and puts a lot of effort into their project, there’s no reason that it cannot be completed in a semester. However, we have had students take longer than that. As part of the graduate school’s guidelines you cannot take more than six years to complete the program. Although it’s fair to say that if your capstone drags on, the chances of you completing the project decrease with every semester.  

Can I see examples of a good capstone paper? 

Yes! We have provided four examples of good capstone papers on the Political Science Graduate Student Orientation D2L course. They are located under the Content tab. Click on: “Thesis, Capstone, and Writing” section. Then there’s a subsection called “Examples of Recent MA Capstone.” There are many papers that can be viewed in that section. 

How many credits is the capstone worth? Will I get a grade on the capstone? 

A capstone is worth three total credits. It can’t be more than three or less than three. The only grade you get for a capstone is recorded as CR, which stands for credit. It’s just a mark of completion and has no effect on your GPA.  

What if I can’t finish the capstone in the same semester I registered for the credits?  

Not a huge problem. We will register you for a non-credit capstone course in the subsequent semester. That course has no fees and it keeps you in the EIU system so you can still utilize your Panthermail and the library’s resources. However, don’t forget that you still have the six-year time limit.  

Can I finish the project without a presentation?  

No, you cannot. Every capstone has to end with a presentation. That is part of the learning objectives of the course. Please don’t worry about these presentations. They are very low key affairs that are typically done in less than 30 minutes. The worst possible outcome is that we ask you to make some edits to your paper before we sign off on it. It’s never tense. You should consider this an opportunity to talk about something that you have studied in depth for the last few months.  

 What is the structure of the capstone presentation? 

They consist of two parts. The first is a presentation where you briefly outline the work you completed for your capstone. This is done with a PowerPoint presentation that should be between 12 and 15 minutes. Once you are done, each member of your capstone committee will then ask a question or two about the work that you have accomplished. These are never “gotcha” type questions - they are focused on facilitating a conversation about your topic. Often, the Q and A session turns into a more free flowing discussion. This portion lasts about 15-20 minutes. Usually the whole thing is wrapped up in 30-40 total minutes. 

What happens after a successful capstone presentation? 

There may be some edits and clean ups that need to happen with your capstone paper. Your committee will let you know what they need you to do. Once all those edits have been completed and your capstone advisor gives it their approval, Dr. Burge will enter that change into our degree tracking system. Dr. Burge will then complete the Certificate of Comprehensive Knowledge (CCK) - you probably have seen this term on your degree audit from the graduate school. Once that form is completed, that portion of your audit will be finished up. 

When should I schedule my capstone presentation? 

I highly recommend that you do not wait until the last minute to schedule a presentation. The busiest point in the semester for your committee is the last week of classes along with final weeks. That’s also the time when lots of students want to present their capstone papers. The downside to waiting so long for the student is that oftentimes it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a time when the presentation can take place. The ideal time to defend is early to mid November in the fall semester or early April in the spring semester. There’s less rush and a lot more flexibility.  

What if I can’t be on campus for the presentation?  

That’s not a problem. We often conduct these presentations via video chat. Many times one of the members of the committee will be on a video chat themselves. So, don’t feel like you have to book plane tickets to central Illinois.  

Can I take the capstone before I am done with coursework?  

The simple answer is yes, but it’s advisable to take the capstone when you have completed nearly all your coursework. Some students take the capstone along with one more traditional course to meet the 32 hours of the degree program. It’s a good idea to not take it if you don’t already have at least 25 credits.  


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Contact Information

Department of Political Science

Eastern Illinois University
600 Lincoln Avenue
Charleston, IL 61920
Fax: 217-581-2926

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