Watson Institute at Brown University
Development Studies


All concentrators must complete a senior capstone experience. The options for fulfilling the requirement are:

  • enrolling in DEVL 1980 & 1990 and writing a senior thesis, or
  • enrolling in a pre-approved WRIT-designated seminar and writing a 20-25 page research paper, or
  • enrolling in an independent study or group independent study (GISP) and writing a 20-25 page research paper

Those who wish to complete a senior thesis must secure approval from the DS Concentration Advisor and submit a signed Thesis Advisor Agreement form in the spring of junior year. Approval will be contingent on the project’s viability. Students are required to secure a primary thesis advisor prior to approval. Students who do not receive approval for their senior thesis, or who choose not to complete a senior thesis, must complete a senior capstone seminar senior year.

Upon completion, all students should upload a copy their capstone projects to ASK as part of their portfolio. See instructions.

Senior Thesis

The senior thesis can take the form of a written thesis (academic paper), media project, or other project with approval from the DS Director. Students must receive approval for their topic, but generally any topic that fits within the general framework of development studies research will be appropriate. In developing, researching, and writing the senior thesis students work closely with the DEVL 1500 (Methods) course instructor in the junior year, the DEVL 1980 (Writing) course instructor, primary faculty advisor, and second reader in the senior year. The primary faculty advisor must be a regular Brown faculty member, while the second advisor may be a Watson Institute visitor, post-doc fellow, or a faculty member at another university or college. The Concentration Advisor will give final approval to students’ advisor choices.

Senior Capstone Seminar 

This option is for students who did not receive approval for a thesis or who have chosen not to complete such a project. The senior capstone seminar will require that the student in their senior year write a research paper utilizing one’s thematic or regional expertise and foreign language skills and be about 20-25 pages in length. A capstone course may be a pre-approved WRIT-designated senior seminar, an independent study, or a group independent study (GISP) with the approval of the director of Development Studies.

Independent Research Project

DS students who wish to register for a Departmental Independent Study Projects (DISP) will work with a faculty member assigned to a section of DEVL 1970 Independent Research. The DISP allows individual students to initiate, design, and execute a credit-bearing course with the help of a faculty advisor, but a specific course title will not appear on the student’s transcript. Barring special considerations, a student interested in this option will prepare a rough syllabus with the professor not later than two weeks into the semester that the DISP takes place. The major expected output of this course is a 30-40-page research paper, not a thesis.

How to Register

1. Receive approval from the Development Studies director/concentration advisor for an independent study. Students must secure a faculty advisor prior to approval and obtain the faculty advisor’s signature on the DEVL 1970 Approval Form.

2. Submit the DEVL 1970 Approval Form signed by the faculty advisor AND the DS director to the DS program manager (Anita Nester).

3. The student’s faculty advisor will be assigned to a section of DEVL 1970 in Banner and an override will be issued so that the student is able to register for the course. NOTE: when searching for courses in courses@brown be sure to select “include independent study courses” or DEVL 1970 will not show up.