Project or Thesis?

Whether project or thesis, the Interdisciplinary Studies capstone research experience should reflect students’ mastery of relevant subjects and skills in their course work, experiential learning opportunities, and research.

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a rigorous piece of research that requires the collection of original data, makes an original contribution to knowledge, and is presented in a traditional, formal, written format. Students interested in pursuing a PhD should seriously consider the thesis option.

What Is a Project?

A project involves the mobilizing existing research and applying it in a novel way. The project option enables students to produce a non-traditional deliverable. Interdisciplinary Studies projects can be:

  • A traditional research monograph that makes an original contribution to knowledge, but is smaller in scale than a thesis and/or does not rely on the collection of original data.
  • An original deliverable with a practical application, such as a curriculum, an exhibit design, a technical manual, a business plan, a white paper, or a computer model.
  • In rare cases and with the special approval of a student’s concentration head, a project can include an original creative work, such as a documentary film, a fictional film, or a script. However, the student must have graduate-level training in the creative mode of the deliverable and include at least one professional in the field on their project committee. For example, a student who chooses to write a script as part of their capstone project should have graduate training in playwriting and include a professional playwright on their project committee.

A project should not be regarded as “easier” than doing a thesis, because both projects and theses have to make an original contribution, and the same quality of work is required. Also, all projects require a formal framing statement that includes a statement of the research problem, a literature review, and discussions of methodology and the significance of the results.

Project vs. Thesis At a Glance



Requires a formal proposal.

Requires a formal proposal.

Involves original research but not necessarily the collection of original data.

Involves original research and the collection of original data.

Deliverable includes a formal piece of writing (framing statement) + an applied component.

Deliverable is solely a formal piece of writing.

Requires a 3-person committee.

Requires a 3-person committee.

Committee chair must be graduate faculty.

All committee members must be graduate faculty.

Stored internally for assessment purposes.

Made publicly available through the library.

Can be useful as a signature deliverable on the job market.

Can be useful as a writing sample for a PhD program application.