Identity Capstone: Bridging Research and Practice (SSCI E-599B)

Richard Martin photograph"The identity capstone sequence introduces students to the vibrant worlds of applied research and research-based practice. This track focuses on producing and using knowledge to address real-world problems. Urgent issues in the study of identity – from racial injustice and ethnic or religious conflict to class-based inequality to discrimination based on gender and sexuality – appear in concrete contexts, with real-world stakeholders who seek not only understanding, but also change. Capstone-track students help produce change through understanding. An exciting and important feature of this capstone is that students will work with – and be accountable to – real-world stakeholders in the problems they tackle. They take on applied roles as researchers, designers, consultants, or advocates, and produce projects developed to improve the lives of others. In doing so, they learn how they, as social scientists, can have an impact, and can how their skills can be put to good use both within and beyond academia.

— Richard Joseph Martin, Faculty

Overview of the Capstone Sequence

In the pre-capstone semester (SSCI E-597b), students propose a project. In the capstone semester (SSCI E-599b), they develop it.

Pre-Capstone Semester

In the fall, students achieve fluency as critical consumers of social scientific research. We review qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods studies on various topics related to the study of identity, and we work on both synthesizing literature and applying literature to help solve practical, real-world problems. We explore applied research and consider the various roles available to scholar-practitioners, including researcher, designer, consultant, and advocate.

Students each choose a topic of interest to them and identify sites and stakeholders. They review scholarship related to their topic and develop the rationale for a proposed project. Projects build on specific interests of each student and are developed in consultation with the instructor. These specialized projects allow students to seek a practical application of existing research on identity, while developing their skills designing research-based practice and engaging stakeholders.

There are many possible projects, because there are so many topics related to the study of identity!

But, for the sake of example, say a student was interested in addressing the problem of bullying in schools. In this case, their capstone project might take any of the following forms 1) create an experiment to measure the effectiveness of one or more programs designed to combat bullying OR 2) design an original anti-bullying program OR 3) draw on existing resources to create an anti-bullying program for proposed implementation at a particular site OR 4) develop resources that could be used to petition state legislators or local school boards to make changes to reduce bullying in schools. In any of these options, students will need to draw on social science research and apply that research (as well as principles of anthropology and/or psychology more generally) to solve the real-world problem they have identified.

And, again, bullying is just meant as an example – the potential topics are endless! The key is that capstone projects are all in the realm of applied research or research-based practice, taking on the role of researcher, designer, consultant, or advocate.

Capstone Semester

After successful completion of the pre-capstone course, which culminates in the project proposal, students embark on the capstone course, in which they develop their projects. The project includes two components: the project prototype and the academic report.

The prototype is the specific product designed to address the real-world problem identified in the fall semester proposal. Prototypes can take two different forms. First, they can apply research to design a project to solve or address a real-world problem experienced by stakeholders. Second, they may communicate scholarship to specific audiences who would benefit from knowing the information (for example, producing advocacy resources in the form of a publishable article or a website explaining current research to non-academic stakeholders).

Along with the prototype, students complete an academic report. This report includes three components. First, students explain how their prototype is informed by existing research on their topic. This portion of the project draws substantially on the literature reviews created as part of the proposal during fall semester. Second, students explain how their project incorporates core principles of anthropology or psychology (depending on the student’s field of concentration). Here, students draw more substantially on work completed throughout their degree programs, demonstrating competence in the field. Third, students reflect on the process of developing their project in conversation with actual stakeholders, including their incorporation of stakeholder feedback into their revised prototypes.

For many students, this may be the first academic project in which they are accountable to someone other than their instructor, and this exercise will no doubt be useful for future work (e.g., with clients or other constituents). The capstone project culminates with a formal oral presentation of the students' projects.

Capstone Faculty

Richard Joseph Martin, PhD, Preceptor in Expository Writing, Harvard University.

Cynthia A. Meyersburg, PhD, Lecturer in Extension, Harvard University

Course Links

Precapstone Course: SSCI E-597b Identity Precapstone: Theory and Research
Capstone Course: SSCI E-599b Identity Capstone: Bridging Research and Practice