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Glasscock School of Continuing Studies

MLS Capstone

Course Policy

The final course will be a capstone course designed to help students utilize the knowledge gained in the previous courses and to demonstrate mastery of the intellectual skills required for a Master of Liberal Studies degree.  Therefore, the capstone course must be taken after all core and elective courses have been successfully completed. All students are required to attend the Capstone Workshop prior to submitting a capstone proposal.  Beginning Fall 2015, all new students are required to attend at least 10 capstone presentations over the terms prior to their capstone.  Each student is responsible for his or her own record of attendance and this falls under the Rice Honor Code.

The capstone course will culminate in an extensive written paper (or original creative work such as poetry or fiction) and an oral presentation to MLS faculty and fellow students.  Above all, the capstone course paper must be exemplary of the quality typical of Rice University graduate research projects and theses.

The capstone course will be a designed, independent study course (MLSC 700/701) that the student will plan and carry out with the help of an MLS faculty member (capstone course advisor) and second reader, each of whom agrees to work with the student.  The course may involve independent reading and a research project on a topic chosen by the student and approved by the capstone course advisor. The paper should include an original analysis or critique of work found in the literature or data taken by the student. In other words, a goal for the paper should be the creation of a new perspective or new knowledge on the research topic. The paper must have a logical, well-ordered structure and should include references in an accepted format.  The paper should meet Rice University graduate thesis standards but may be shorter in length than a typical master’s thesis.

Alternatively, the capstone may be a creative work such as an original short story, novel, book of poetry, memoir, or creative non-fiction; again with the guidance of a capstone advisor and second reader. In the case of a creative work, along with the creative content the paper should include a scholarly analysis pertaining to some aspect of the work or the genre. For example, in the case of poetry the paper should include a discussion of some aspect of the methodology of the creation of the work; e.g. a discussion of meter etc.

The student will be expected to provide to the MLS Director, in writing, a proposed topic with a short description approved by his or her prospective capstone course advisor and second reader by the deadline stated in the MLS Academic Calendar for the term in which the student plans to register for MLSC 700 or MLSC 701 (April 15 for the fall term, September 15 for the winter term, and January 15 for the spring term).  Evidence of the capstone course advisor’s and second reader’s approval of the topic and description of the project must be provided with the presentation of the topic to the MLS Director. The student should consult, in person, with his or her capstone course advisor on a regular basis as the work progresses.

The paper will also be read by a second faculty reader who will consult with the capstone course advisor on the details and academic quality of the paper. In order to allow for adequate input from the second reader, he or she should receive regular copies of drafts of the paper as early as possible.

In lieu of a defense of the capstone paper before a faculty committee, as in the case of a traditional master’s thesis, the capstone paper will be presented to an audience consisting of MLS students, graduates, and MLS instructors. Friends of the student are also welcome. The audience will be given time to ask questions and challenge the presenter. Normally, the presentation will be video-taped for the course archives. A preliminary draft of the full paper must be in the hands of the capstone advisor and second reader before the presentation. 

A final version of the paper, including any supplementary materials, must be submitted to the MLS office in electronic form. The capstone course advisor and the second reader must approve the final version of the paper.  This approval may be in the form of an email to the MLS director accompanying the final paper or a signature (electronic) on the title page. The paper must be suitable for submission for publication in Confluence, The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies.

The capstone course will be graded by the capstone course advisor and the grade used to compute the student’s cumulative MLS grade point average for graduation with the same weight as the other MLS courses. A grade of B or higher is required for the capstone course in order for the student to graduate.

In the event that the grade in the capstone course is below a B, the student may petition the MLS director to retake the capstone course.  The petition will be heard by the MLS Faculty Steering Committee.  Only one petition with one retake will be considered. There is no guarantee that the petition will be accepted.

The capstone course may be completed in one term as one course, or, optionally, the student may with the advisor’s approval, take two terms to complete the capstone in which case the student will be given capstone course credit for the second term. The terms will be designated Capstone I and Capstone II. The determination as to whether the capstone will be a one or two term project should, in most cases, be made before the start of the first term.

In the case where a student has not completed the work for the capstone course at the end of the designated final capstone term because of verified illness or circumstances beyond a student’s control that occur during the term, the capstone course advisor may submit an INC (incomplete) grade.  Acceptance of validity of the verification of illness or circumstances beyond the student’s control is at the discretion of the capstone course advisor and, if necessary, after consultation with the MLS Director. Students and professors must follow the INC grade policies, procedures and deadlines in the MLS Academic Policies. 

Recommendations on the conduct of the capstone course are found in Capstone Course Guidelines.  Please refer to this document for further details.

Capstone Guidelines

The specifics of the Rice University Master of Liberal Studies capstone course are spelled out in the Capstone Course Policy Statement (Revised 8/31/2013).  The following guidelines will serve to augment that policy statement:


  1. The goal of the capstone course is to demonstrate the student’s mastery of the intellectual skills and core competencies required for the Master of Liberal Studies degree.  These include:
  • A capacity for analytical thinking;
  • Good graduate level writing skills;
  • Excellent oral presentation, listening and discussion skills;
  • The ability to perform outstanding research and scholarship.
  1. The capstone course should be relevant to the Liberal Studies program by demonstrating an integration of the breadth of knowledge of previous MLS courses, an understanding of the depth/substance of a previous MLS course, or an investigation of a new area related to the Liberal Arts.
  2. The capstone course is an independent study course; however, close cooperation between the student and the capstone course advisor is essential throughout the duration of the course.  This includes the following:
  • There should be consultation between the student and the capstone course advisor and second faculty reader during the selection of the research topic to ensure that the topic is challenging, relevant, suitable and doable within the timeframe of the course;
  • Early on, the capstone course advisor should discuss with the student expectations for the course including his or her standards for the course grade;
  • The student should develop a “work plan” (or timeline) approved by the capstone course advisor that lays out what will be accomplished throughout the term and exactly when;
  • There should be consultation between the student and the capstone course advisor on a regular basis as the work progresses to ensure that the student stays on track and paces the work in order to allow adequate time for the completion of the paper, oral presentation, revisions if necessary and, if appropriate, preparation for publication in Confluence, The Journal of the Graduate Liberal Studies;
  • Time should be allowed for the second faculty reader to provide input;
  • The capstone course advisor should coach the student on the oral presentation technique well in advance of the presentation and the student may want to have one or more practice runs.
  1. Careful attention should be paid to the “work plan” in order to insure that the project can be managed within the timeframe of the course and does not outgrow the original objectives.
  2. The oral presentation should be scheduled early enough so that changes may be made in the final version of the paper based on suggestions that might arise at the oral presentation.
  3. The role of the second faculty reader is to support the capstone course advisor and to provide additional expertise and input. When possible, it is desirable for the second faculty reader to be from a different academic area than the project topic and the capstone faculty advisor.
  4. Submission of the final version of the paper (in electronic form) to the MLS office should take place on or before the last day of the term of the capstone course.
  5. Submission of the final paper to Confluence, The Journal of the Graduate Liberal Studies is at the discretion of the student in consultation with the capstone course advisor.