Through the capstone project, the Health Science Scholars program encourages students to forge connections between experiential learning endeavors and academic scholarship. Many graduates tell us that the capstone thesis is the most rewarding academic accomplishment of their undergraduate career.
As a student in HSS, you will take the first formal step toward developing your thesis project during the spring of your second year at UT, when you take NSC 109: Planning Your Capstone Project. This seminar supports you in identifying your capstone experience—an experiential learning and/or service opportunity such as an internship, volunteering program, or research assistantship related to your interests. You are responsible for securing a position with an organization or lab, completing any necessary training, logging your hours, and taking notes on your observations. You will dedicate a minimum of 200 hours to this experience, either entirely or mostly before the beginning of your final year in HSS, so that you have a broad range of experience to draw upon as you develop your thesis. When deciding on a capstone experience, carefully consider your interests, goals, and the kinds of tasks you will be expected to perform. You’ll be spending a great deal of time and energy on your capstone project, so choose an experience that you imagine leading to a thesis topic you are genuinely eager to explore.
Alongside your capstone experience, during your third year at UT you will take a series of one-hour thesis planning workshops that will help you prepare for developing the thesis you will write the following year.
During your final year in the program, you will write a capstone thesis. The thesis is a persuasive, well-reasoned, evidence-based paper that answers a question related to your capstone experience. In the thesis, you will engage in and contribute to the scholarly conversation on your topic and report on your own findings. Keep in mind that theses are not kept confidential, so you should choose a thesis topic you feel comfortable discussing and sharing with others. Thesis projects vary substantially based on the capstone experience, especially depending on whether you are on the Option 1 (departmental honors) track or the Option 2 (college honors) track. Usually, about 75–80% of students in any given class are on the Option 2 track.
OPTION 1 AND OPTION 2 TRACKS
Students on the Option 1 track (for departmental honors) pursue conventional science research in their major field of study (or in a lab approved by the faculty honors advisor in their major) under the supervision of the lab’s principle investigator (PI). The PI’s supervision is often supplemented by an advanced graduate student or post-doc. If you are on the Option 1 track, you are expected to conduct original research and take responsibility for some individual project in your lab. You should discuss this with your PI and agree on an individual project no later than the middle of your third year.
Students on the Option 2 track (for college honors) pursue an internship, volunteering program, extended service project, or other approved practicum experience. The experience exposes you to challenges faced by experts in the field and provides inspiration for your thesis project. You may engage in service or research at or beyond UT Austin to fulfill your Option 2 capstone experience. For example, a recent HSS graduate provided translation services for Spanish-speaking patients at a health clinic serving low-income clients; one student conducted survey research for a local non-profit organization; another student worked on website content development and management for Austin Public Health; and a different student assisted with a UT faculty member’s research related to public policy and elder care in Austin.
Below, you’ll find more information on the Option 1 (departmental honors) thesis, followed by a similar discussion for Option 2.
THE OPTION 1 THESIS (departmental honors/lab research in the major)
Option 1 thesis requirements and expectations are dictated by your major department and PI. Most departments will require you to enroll in two semesters of thesis hours (usually 379H in your major department) during your final year in order to earn departmental honors.
An Option 1 thesis typically reports directly on the research you conduct in the lab, and often resembles a manuscript intended for a discipline-specific audience in the relevant field. Length and format vary considerably. You should discuss expectations and deadlines for your thesis project with your PI and any other mentors in your lab to ensure that your expectations align. Be sure to request feedback on a rough draft of your thesis well before the final deadline, which will likely be close to the end of the spring semester of your final year. As a student, it is your responsibility to initiate and maintain contact with your PI and other mentors regarding your research and your thesis.
THE OPTION 2 THESIS (college honors/internship, service, or practicum beyond the major)
Option 2 students meet programmatic expectations for the thesis, which are conveyed through workshops during your third year as well as through HSS thesis seminars during your final year (NSC 323: Thesis Preparation Seminar in the fall and NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar in the spring). These seminars provide structure, accountability, and deadlines for the development of your thesis project and writing process.
The typical Option 2 thesis is about 8,000 to 12,000 words (or more if you are also in Plan II), and it is written for a well-educated but non-specialist audience. Most Option 2 theses do not report directly on work produced for the capstone experience, although they may if appropriate. Your thesis project will be inspired by your observations during your capstone experience as well as reading in the scholarly literature related to your topic, which will help you craft your research question (or related set of questions) for your thesis.
No later than the beginning of your final year, you will secure the support of at least two UT faculty members with expertise relevant to your project to serve as mentors for your thesis: either a primary supervisor and a second reader, or co-supervisors. Unless your capstone experience supervisor is a faculty member at UT, they probably will not be eligible to serve as your primary thesis supervisor, as the thesis is an academic, graded project. As a student, it is your responsibility to initiate and maintain contact with your thesis supervisor(s) and mentors regarding your research and your thesis. Before asking a faculty member to supervise your thesis, be sure to review the HSS faculty mentor guidelines in the following section of the handbook.
Option 2 thesis projects may involve original data collection, or they may present original analysis of existing data or scholarly literature. For example, students have performed content analyses, literature reviews, systematic or scoping literature reviews, policy reviews, and developed proposals for future research as part of satisfactory HSS theses. We encourage you to talk with faculty mentors about appropriate and feasible methodological approaches starting no later than the spring of your junior year. Students who want to conduct human subjects research will need IRB approval, and should start the IRB process no later than the spring before their thesis year.
Option 2 theses are evaluated independently by your faculty mentors and a CNS Honors instructor. Thus, your work will be reviewed by professors with expertise relevant to your area of study while also maintaining consistency of evaluation across the breadth of the program.
Students will be offered (or may request) current sample theses to read as they prepare to write their theses during their third and fourth years. We also offer the following sample HSS theses for further exploration.
Theses aimed at synthesizing and analyzing existing research (systematic literature review):
- Farzam Farahani, “Using Psychosocial Therapy to Improve the Quality of Life of Patients with Neurofibromatosis Type 1: A Review”
- Imogen Clover-Brown, “Delivering Prenatal Care through Telemedicine in Rural Latin America: A Review”
Theses that report on original data collected outside the science lab context:
- Emily Gao, “Factors Associated with Unmet Health Care Needs in Home Care Workers”
Theses that report on original data collected in the science lab (departmental honors) context:
- Ryan Huizar, “Identification and Characterization of Novel Ciliogenic Machinery” [https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/46731]
- Ashley Ciosek, “Elucidating Small RNA Regulation in the Vibrio Cholerae Csr System” [https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/74903]
Questions about the capstone experience and thesis supervisor eligibility may be directed to Sara Corson, Director of CNS Honors. Questions about thesis preparation workshops and thesis seminars may be directed to Rebecca Wilcox, the Option 2 thesis seminar instructor. Students with questions about Option 1 eligibility or other academic considerations should contact their academic advisor, Mark Hemenway.