Precapstone Tutorial

ENVR 598 Precapstone Tutorial

The semester prior to capstone enrollment (no earlier), you register for the noncredit ENVR 598 Sustainability Precapstone Tutorial. The purpose of the tutorial is to help you craft a high-quality capstone proposal. You'll receive guidance and mentoring while you iterate on your individual capstone proposal until the document reaches a satisfactory quality.

You need to submit the required prework in order to remain registered for the tutorial. The prework demonstrates that you have done enough prior reading and research on your topic to begin the capstone proposal process.

Prework: Create a document that answers all the following points, in detail. Then send the document by email to with “ENVR 598 Precapstone Tutorial” in the subject line. This is your first draft. If accepted in the tutorial, you'll be revising and rewriting this document multiple times over the course of the semester. Submit the prework by the required deadlines, see Timeline.

In three to four pages (not including references) respond to the following requests for information:

  1. List your full name, prior education, and current employment. If you work or have worked in the field of sustainability, please elaborate.
  2. What is the working title for your proposed work? 

  3. What key, underlying question frames this research study?
  4. What research methodology is to be utilized? How will you find the answer to your research question?
  5. What do you hope the project will accomplish? 

  6. Why might this topic, approach, or result have particular merit or relevance? Why is the research important?
  7. How has your sustainability coursework prepared you for this undertaking? Be specific about what you’ve learned and how you will leverage this information in your research design.
  8. List references, familiar to you, providing contexts for the proposed topic and research method. Ideally 10-16 complete citations from professional journals, books and websites suggestive of the depth and breadth of your approach and its applications.

Works cited: You need to begin a working bibliography as soon as the topic is approved. Eventually, this document will become your final bibliography, which will include all sources that you use during your research. It is helpful to use bibliographic software like RefWorks, EndNote, and others (free research tools are available from the Harvard Libraries: see Research Support, then Research Tools).

While drafting your prework, please also consider the following six essential questions. These are the questions that any critical reader of research will have in their mind, so it is important that you address all concerns to garner credibility and support for your project.

Six+ Essential Questions for Capstonians

  1. “So what?”  Why might your idea or approach be (or become) important?
    1. To whom?  (Who are the stakeholders your work could impact?)
    2. Where is the “high ground” or previously unknown perspective your work could attain?
  2. Who will you [need to] be in the matter of this research?  
    1. What deepening of your current knowledge & skills base will be needed to enable this role?  (What is your current “value proposition” within this area?)
    2. To what extent do you propose building upon your current expertise vs. “starting from scratch” within an entirely new (sub-)discipline?
  3. What categories of assumption presently exist within your proposal?
    1. What’s readily allowable?
    2. What must be removed/resolved/worked around to ensure viability?
    3. To what extent are your system boundaries realistic? Defensible?
  4. What metrics will evaluate your results and test your hypotheses?
    1. How might these be better calibrated?
    2. How do these behave across varying spatial (regions, echography’s) and temporal (weeks, decades) scales?
  5. How are you focusing your “Eyes on the Prize?”
    1. Can you envision what a critical page (e.g. figure, table, modeling prediction, assessment, etc) looks like, that will provide the core of your capstone?  Where is the biggest “bang for the buck?”
    2. What’s likely to be the “deliverable” here (technical journal article, handbook, magazine article for general populace, action plan, policy briefing for governmental regulators, etc.)?
  6. How might your current approach be modified to enable success (e.g.)?
    1. Longer (half-)life for your findings (i.e. prolonged relevance)?
    2. Increased social/environmental/economic impact?
    3. Further advancement of your career?

Passenger to Pilot

Once the tutorial is complete and you move on to the actual ENVR 599 Capstone, you will present you proposal before the whole class, receiving their feedback along with specific advice from the course instructor during the first two weeks. You will then fine-tune this work before submitting it for grading as your fully-developed capstone proposal.

Acceptance of your ENVR 598 proposal for the capstone is analogous to receiving approval to board your flight at the ENVR 599 airline gate.  A passing grade on your ENVR 599 proposal (during the first two weeks of the capstone) is akin to receiving control tower permission for your research flight to takeoff with one critical distinction: through this process, you will have formally morphed from “passenger” to “pilot.”