Capstones and academic degrees: dissertation, thesis, research/ project paper

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BY itself, capstone means “culminating,” “a crowning achievement,” designed to bring “reflection and focus” on what a person learned in an undertaking. Commonly used nowadays, a capstone refers to a culminating requirement that integrates significant knowledge and skills in the major field learned by a student pursuing a degree. Dissertations, theses, research/project papers – all these serve as forms of capstones for doctoral, masters, graduate certificates and baccalaureate degrees. Once a student satisfies all course requirements of the degree pursued, the student takes the comprehensive examination or its equivalent. Upon passing the comprehensives, the student officially becomes a candidate for the degree pursued and begins to work on the required capstone. Whatever form it is, a capstone has to undertake careful editing for grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling besides consistency, following the standard terminology of the discipline of which the capstone is a requirement.

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Let’s begin with what a dissertation is. A dissertation is much like a thesis; hence the chapters are similar (introduction, review of related literature, methods, findings and interpretation, conclusion/s and recommendation/s). Like the thesis, it is a critical and scholarly investigation of a phenomenon or phenomena. Compared to a thesis, the dissertation has a more comprehensive coverage and is with much more depth by examining relationships among related factors (variables). It is expected that its developed theory or its application can apply to a wider context than can, a thesis. If it is the capstone for a doctor in philosophy, it usually deals with theory development. If it is for a practitioner’s doctorate, it usually is testing the application of a theory or theories under specified contexts. Based on the findings, its final chapter is usually an evidence-based intervention anchored on its findings.

As regards a thesis as a capstone, the Wikipedia (free Encyclopedia) describes it as “a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author’s research and findings.” The Oxford online dictionary defines a thesis as “a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it.” Description of a masters thesis in official websites of most universities here and abroad focus more on the process of thesis-writing. This hyperlink <http://socialwork.lakeheadu.ca/? display=page&pageid=2> gives a definition of a thesis as “a systematic investigation,” of a question or problem statement/s; “a critical inquiry of a research problem/question” that typically leads to empirical investigation, or theory-testing, through established quantitative and/or qualitative methods. Its emphasis is “on the development of a research question or theory which is situated within a tradition of existing knowledge and research and which is then rigorously investigated following procedures from established research traditions.” The same source adds that the emphasis for the thesis is “more theoretical, to rigorously test the effectiveness of a proposed intervention.”

Given that a clearly identified issue has been formulated by the candidate, he/she describes the significance of the research undertaking, reviews relevant literature, identifies and justifies the sources for and methods of gathering information, analyzes the information or data, presents and discusses results, and offers a conclusion and recommendation” http://oregonstate.edu/ dept/grad _school/mais/thesis.html.

And how is a research paper or project paper different from a thesis? The CHED typology Handbook 2014 requires a research paper or a research project as capstones for graduate courses. Compared to a thesis, the research paper or project paper generally presents a working deliverable that is also a significant scholarly effort (http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ grad_school./ mais/ thesis.html). It has various forms such as: writing a typical research paper or a novel or short stories by a candidate for a master’s in literary genre or literature; designing a website or developing a database by a masters in Information Technology candidate; developing an action plan for an organization for a candidate of an Executive Masters; developing a course or an instructional manual by a candidate in Educational Administration or Management. Other capstone research projects are film production or photos/ paintings display for a creative arts masters. All projects, regardless of the form, should include, either as part of the work or as a separate document, a discussion of the works, their significance, objectives, methodologies, and theoretical grounding. See more examples in this link: http://www.cis.gvsu.edu/degrees/cis/projectversusthesis.

For the past two decades, new post-baccalaureate and post-masters courses have evolved from the traditional graduate and postgraduate degrees. For instance, there are doctoral programs known as practitioners/professional doctorates. Students are executives with masters degrees and who are usually position occupants or understudies such as vice-presidents, deans, chairpersons and program directors and their counterparts in business, industry, non-profit, and other organizations. Very likely their capstone requirement would be a research project that can be utilized by their organizations. Similar programs are also available for the masters degrees.

Graduate certificates in Japanese and Australian universities may require research or project papers as capstones. During the pre-CHED years, the then Ministry of Education and Culture (1978-84 renamed DepEd by virtue of RA 9155, August 2001) would accredit the graduate certificate to a full masters provided that the student completes course requirements of a MEC-recognized and appropriate masters degree in a Philippine HEI. The student rewrites the research paper as a thesis and defends it successfully. Appropriate means, if the research paper is on science instruction, the degree would be a Master of Arts in Education, major in science education/teaching.

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.

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