A Letter to those embarking on a Master’s Capstone

Dear Master’s Candidates,

You’re about to embark on a year-long inquiry that will test your mastery of communication. It will be challenging, arduous, frightening, and highly rewarding. You can expect to read volumes of research and to spend hours upon hours thinking and writing and discussing your work. You will probably have dreams about your project – the “Oh No! I forgot to wear clothes to my presentation!” kind of dreams – and between dreams, you will likely lose sleep over some minutiae or trivial detail. You will be busy. You will be stressed. You will be energized.

For the record, I’m going to lose sleep over your projects, too. I already have.


My job at this stage of the process is of utmost importance for you. First, let me tell you what my job is not. My job is not to approve your concept. It is not to steer you toward my research agenda or to dictate your research methodology. If you’re creating a campaign or a media exhibition, I won’t be serving as creative director or executive producer. If you’re writing a thesis, I won’t be filling in as your transcriptionist, data analyst, or statistician.

My job is to challenge your thinking.

In these early days, my supporting role is to make sure that you are asking the right kind of questions that can get your study moving.

I want to be sure that you know not only what you want to study but also how you plan to study it and implement it.

These are some of the types of questions I think you should be concerned with today:

  1. What is the central phenomenon I plan to study?
  2. How have other people studied this phenomenon?
  3. What methodologies have been used to study this phenomenon?
  4. Am I familiar with any other types of methodology that I could use to study this phenomenon?
  5. If I use a particular methodology, how does that dictate the selection of participants or texts for analysis or production?
  6. What do I want my end product to be (thesis, media project, communication campaign, applied/action-oriented strategy)?

To answer these questions, you should be reading or viewing around 15 texts each week (books, articles, media artifacts, campaign materials) . You should be keeping notes of your findings and the ideas that are sparked by each. You should have a list of the concepts that spark your interest and the connections that you make between ideas. Really. Keep a list. Put it on your iPhone, in a notebook, or on your arm.

You’ll find new things each week that can add to your research and alter your thinking. And your project will change. And change is okay.

Compile the information you need. Curate it. Think about it. Write about it. Talk about it at dinner.

And talk about it with me. I’m ready.

What are your thoughts?

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