Capstone Partnerships

What is a Capstone?

Capstone projects pair external partners with teams of second year MIDS students to solve impactful problems. External partners can include any agency external to the MIDS program and have historically included companies, NGOs, health care centers, and researchers, with an emphasis on industrial partners.  As an interdisciplinary program, we look to form partnerships across a wide variety of domains. Partners provide a problem directly related to their interests, and meet with the student team throughout the year. The student team works on the partner’s problem to provide related deliverables that often include both insights/understanding to the problem and relevant code bases. MIDS Capstone Projects require a full academic year (September – April).

The capstone projects allow our partners to explore a domain they may not otherwise have the resources to investigate and to work with (and potentially recruit) our students. For our students, these projects provide an educational project in which the students can investigate real-world problems while interacting with and learning from people with vested interest in the project outcome.

Past Capstone Projects

What are the benefits?

  • Work with talented students from around the world
  • Increase resources to pursue new projects
  • Expand your recruitment pool

Capstone FAQ

How do I apply?

Please reach out to our Capstone Directors if you’d like to discuss a project before writing a proposal, feedback on a proposal draft, or how your company could best utilize the expertise of MIDS students.

We collect proposals in June for the following academic year and the deadline for 24-25 has passed, but we’re happy to connect at any time to discuss potential partnerships for the future.


“We know when companies are hiring data scientists, they are looking for experience. They know people learn things in classes, but they want to hire people who understand how to actually put together a data project. Because of the Capstone, I know our students will be able to hit the ground running and create value to the company they are working for.”
Robert Calderbank

MIDS Co-Director

“I applied to be an IGE fellow in a Capstone project because I wanted help exploring machine learning methods for analyzing digital ads at scale. I knew that MIDS students are more aware of established and emerging data science methods that could help with this project, and I hoped to learn from their technical wizardry!”

Tina Tucker

PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Duke University

Capstone Partner Experience

Zachary Abzug from Proofpoint describes his experience as a MIDS Capstone Partner.

What’s Involved

External Partner

Need help with a hard data problem that requires both data science skills and specialized field knowledge? Consider a MIDS Capstone Partnership!

Partners are chosen in a two-stage process. In Stage 1, you to provide some information that we’ll use to plan a conversation with you about whether the Capstone Partnership fits the scope and goals of your project.

If it does, we will work with you to submit a Stage 2 proposal, which asks about the data and resources involved, the outcomes you hope to achieve, and the legal or data agreements that will be needed.

Duke Partners

Have a hard data problem that requires both data science skills and specialized field knowledge? Consider a MIDS capstone project!

The Duke MIDS program is excited to invite proposals from Duke doctoral students, researchers and organizations.

Proposed projects must:

  1. Be substantial and take at least 1 academic year.
  2. Address an important problem and allow MIDS students to contribute meaningfully to the solution.
  3. Have an important deliverable to a partner or stakeholder, including a company, a government agency, an internal Duke organization or a nonprofit, who will be available throughout the year to evaluate the project.
  4. Incorporate domain expertise from at least one Duke researcher.

Duke Doctoral Student

If you’re interested in deepening your data-related skills, gaining experience working on applied data science teams and learning to manage projects, a capstone partnership could be the right match.

Through an NSF Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) grant, six Ph.D. students will be selected as IGE Doctoral Fellows to engage with MIDS students throughout the 2024-2025 academic year in collaborating to address a hard data problem that requires both data science skills and specialized field knowledge. IGE Doctoral Fellows propose their own MIDS capstone project that is directly related to their thesis and will help serve its completion.

The main objective of the IGE fellowship is to allow students to work on their thesis in a collaborative, team-based, environment while learning from the various strengths of their teammates and sharing their own expertise. IGE fellows will also learn how to manage their project and teams to ensure success. IGE fellows may also request to join an existing capstone project team that will allow the student to work with an external client working with MIDS. In these cases, fellows must obtain the consent of their advisor as well as demonstrate how the fellowship may contribute to their education and/or career development.

Each IGE Capstone Project receives $3,000 in research/travel funds, will work on a team with a number of MIDS students, and receive guidance from a project director and support from project managers. The costs of the data curation, storage, and processing for each selected project will be covered by MIDS and provided through the MIDS/SSRI established procedures for sensitive data.

IGE Doctoral Fellowships  include the following expectations and opportunities:

  • IGE Doctoral Fellows must participate throughout 2024-2025 in all MIDS program classwork and activities designed to ensure Capstone Projects succeed, including meetings with stakeholders, meetings on team management, teamwork and leadership workshops, analysis plans, milestone reports, and mid-year reviews.
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows must complete all assignments designed to ensure that students understand the ethical issues related to their project, and have reflected on the larger impact their project may have on society.
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows are invited (but not required) to participate in any other professional development activities provided by the MIDS program (such as job fairs, interview preparation sessions, and seminars with non-academic data science partners).
  • IGE Doctoral Fellows may take any of the MIDS core courses with the incoming MIDS class.

To apply to become an IGE Fellow who proposes his/her own MIDS capstone project, please prepare a proposal that follows the directions in the link below. Applications are due by June 17, 2024.

Ph.D. students will need a letter of recommendation from their advisor; a Ph.D. student’s submission of the proposal form automatically generates a request to their advisor for a letter.

Duke Researcher

Duke MIDS is seeking proposals from Duke researchers in any field whose research would benefit from deep year-long collaborations with MIDS students.

We welcome proposals from faculty, post-docs, and other Duke researchers.

Proposals will be selected based on the creativity of the problem being addressed, the data science skills the problem requires, the researchers’ commitment, and how well the proposed work aligns with the team members’ expertise, non-academic partners’ priorities, and MIDS students’ interests.

To apply, please prepare a proposal that follows the directions in the link below. Applications will be accepted on a rolling deadline.

Capstone Project RFP

Instructions for Capstone Project Proposal

Duke Organization

Through capstones, MIDS students make substantial contributions to real, complex projects involving Duke organization partners and researchers who have interests and domain expertise aligned with partners’ goals.

Throughout the two semesters of a capstone year, MIDS students also participate in a capstone course with classroom time and assignments dedicated to establishing team expectations, creating work plans, providing weekly updates, and performing 360-degree evaluations of team performance. A trained project manager from the MIDS team supports each project to ensure participating entities are engaged and milestones are met. Although MIDS students work collaboratively in capstones, each student must achieve a specific outcome of interest for the participating partner and give a final presentation with an accompanying white paper about the outcome’s implications.

The final deliverables are evaluated by a panel of MIDS core faculty and partners. Each capstone team also has a mid-year review to receive targeted feedback about progress and to ensure that resources are available for unsolved technical and analytical challenges.

Capstone Project RFP

Instructions for Capstone Project Proposal

“Capstones allow us to do a longer-term project per industry standards. The problems are from real-world clients. This allows students to experience many of the growing pains associated with real-world data science before getting out to the workforce.”

Derek Wales

MIDS ‘21