Capstone Survival Tips

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Halfway up the mountain

WVU IMC students who attend the INTEGRATE 2014 conference will have an opportunity to attend an IMC 636 Capstone workshop and get survival/success tips from course professors and recent graduates. As a current Capstone student, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to come up for air and offer some advice for students who aren’t able to attend the conference or will be taking the course next semester. You’ll notice that most of the points are things that students can do now. Don’t wait until the Capstone begins to get your act together.

Review the Student Portfolio page. The Student Work page of the IMC website offers a video overview with the IMC Curriculum Developer Kristen Wilkerson and a gallery of previous projects. Don’t neglect to click on students’ names to read the various Capstone Experience sections. Renny Zackman notes under his project, “Students need to approach the course with the expectation that they will be living and breathing the workload for nine weeks.” Sentiments like these are exactly right and will help mentally prepare you for the journey.

Organize your previous coursework. I’m a fairly organized person, but my biggest pre-Capstone regret is not having a unified system for all my lessons, assignments, notes, articles, and all those helpful links that professors and classmates share throughout the program. I started out printing everything and putting it into binders, jotting ideas onto notebook pages, and saving links in my browser Favorites folder. I credit my program experience with upgrading me to digital and cloud-based organization, and even my local folders are arranged more logically. However, I didn’t go back and “fix” the beginning, so I’m all over the place chasing down previous coursework. As you learn better organization systems, consider investing some free time to reorganize older notes and files.

Keep up with your books. This may be a no-brainer to some, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Know where ALL your IMC books are, and resist the urge to sell them back to the bookstore or to Amazon. I found one of my early IMC books packed away in my garage (what was I thinking?) and I still need to flip my house upside down to locate another. (Even as I write this I keep looking at my bookshelf ready to tear it apart to find that book!)

Brush up on Microsoft Word. I’m still working through this issue, but making a project look “pretty” using Word is a bit of a challenge if you’re used to using Adobe or other design software. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what Word can do and how simple commands can make the project more visually compelling, but I recommend getting past that learning curve before the Capstone begins.

Clear your calendar. I admit that I’m a bit of a calendar junkie and like filling it up with stuff. As such, I probably went into the Capstone with still too many obligations, but I tried to be purposeful about clearing my social calendar. I did make allowances for Thanksgiving weekend and my son’s birthday, but I definitely felt the pinch (still no regrets, though). Don’t feel bad about being selfish over this last nine weeks. I blatantly pulled a Flava Flav on my side of the family. I can’t do nothin’ for ya, man. To add to the rudeness but to accomplish the survey research and a focus group, I even had to set an expectation for friends/family to help me. I can’t do anything for YOU for nine weeks, but I need everyone on deck to help ME.

I know that some of this sounds exaggerated, but you really do need to master time management for the Capstone. Reserve some free time to spend with your significant other and/or kids, and give your brain some downtime to rest and get creatively recharged. Remember that every extra commitment you make (other than work obligations) will take hours or even a full day away from your project.

Read everything upfront and make a project management schedule. Don’t wait until week 7 to read the Week 7 Assignment. When you start the Capstone, read through all the coursework and any extra documents from your professor. This will give you time to get over the shock, digest everything and plot an estimated timeline. Nathan Pieratt, a Spring 2013 Capstone student, notes, “To stay on top of the deadlines I had to create a set schedule to touch some aspect of the project every day.”

I’m still plugging away and have a little over 2 weeks (yikes) to become 100% enlightened, so if any other current or former Capstone students have any additional points for future students, please post a comment. I’ll also be happy to field any questions from other IMC students.

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5 Responses to “Capstone Survival Tips”

  1. katshanahan Says:

    Thanks for posting Kris! I still have plenty of time before my Capstone (but I’m really excited for it – nerd alert!). I like that you mentioned learning Word. I have such a horrible time designing and creating in Microsoft Word. Some professors have allowed .pdf’s which is incredibly nice. If that’s not an option for the Capstone, I should start refining my Word skills now!

    Best of luck with the rest of the class! I’m sure your project is going to be great!

    • Kris Prendergast Says:

      Thanks, Kat. My goal for today is to finally get past my Word/PDF dilemma and make some definitive steps on my final design/formatting. Right now I’m thinking that since the project has to have so much content, Word is probably the best route. You can create style using Adobe software and then pull it into Word where needed, but the trick is knowing how to get it to do exactly what you want. I haven’t used InDesign Creative Cloud yet to see how automated it’s become, but from previous versions, I don’t think I have time for (what should end up as) 100+ pages of layout.

      Oh, and yes, some professors may allow a PDF version, but all the written instructions ask for a Word document. Since the IMC program also keeps our Capstone projects, I’m thinking that we do need the Word version. (Note: These are all my own thoughts as a student and not representative statements from the program developers.)

  2. jelise2012 Says:

    Great tips, Kris! And very timely for me as I will be taking the Capstone in the Spring 2 semester. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and advice.

  3. A little organization never hurt | WVU IMC Student Blog Says:

    […] want it!  After you’re done with the class, keep those text books.  Kris wrote a great post about preparing for the capstone course and highly recommended resisting the urge to sell […]

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