Leiden University College Class of 2022
“We don’t talk about capstone,” sang the brilliant actors at last year’s Pantomime. That song was so well-received by LUC students that I’ve met people who were humming it in the elevator. I believe part of the reason why it resonated with students so much is that doing a research project from scratch is indeed a daunting task, not to mention other courses we have to take whilst doing it. But apart from that, much of the fear comes from a long-standing belief that the capstone is an insurmountable mountain we must all climb.
If you do think so, the following advice and strategies may ease your mind a little bit, and help you understand which part of the mountain hike you should be cautious about, as well as points where you could relax.
Strategy I: Break it apart
The research process is usually not linear. With my project, I headed straight into data analysis after I found a dataset I wanted to use. By doing that analysis, I realized there were insufficiencies in my original literature review. Then, as I was filling up those insufficiencies, I needed to revise my method and analysis further. This cyclical mindset made the capstone feel like a much smaller and doable project and allowed me to constantly reexamine and update my knowledge about the research.
Strategy II: Regularly leave it alone
You heard me right! An old Mandarin poem goes: “Can’t see the true face of Mountain Lu, since I stand within it.” Similarly, being too close to the project could potentially blind us from obvious methodological errors or writing mistakes. When I was done with my data analysis for the first time, I went on to handle other assignments, thinking I had earned myself extra time; when I came back after three days, I found fatal mistakes that would have completely misled my conclusion! So be sure to take regular breaks from your research - that distancing could be very helpful!
Strategy III: Be ready to change
For me, my knowledge on the topic was constantly expanding even until the last few days before the submission; as a result, many things that I’d written were also subject to changes until the last few days. Throughout the project, I kept good track of what was definitely going into the final version and what could be unnecessary or changed, and I kept an open mind toward new discoveries and information. Though it might be scary to keep things open until the last minute, it is ultimately the best way you can make sure your project is at its finest when you submit the final version containing the best possible selection of all the information you acquired.
Remember, these strategies are simple guidelines that may help you find your own way of doing a seemingly daunting project like the capstone. All in all, just be sure to remind yourself that you are absolutely capable of producing a product that you will eventually be proud of!