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Undergraduate Honors Theses: A Way to Learn the Process of Research and Gain Direct Experience

One of the main objectives of the Psychology major is to expose students to research experiences. Ideally, students begin their lab research experiences early on in their studies. With appropriate development of skills and understanding, they may undertake a senior Honors thesis as a capstone to their Psychology studies.

The Honors thesis is an independent research project that is usually student-directed from the start. It's not uncommon for lab work to compel a student to ask his or her own questions about a hypothesis or result. This may then lead to discussions with the faculty member and, ultimately, the student’s own set of experiments.

For example, Dolores Gano '12 is working with Professor Paul Story on decision-making. They are examining how imagining a future unfair event subsequently leads people to make more selfish decisions. The project has spanned four semesters.

"Designing and running an experiment involves a lot of planning and organization," Dolores says. "However, I'm glad I elected to do an Honors thesis, because I've found it a great way to learn about the process of research and get direct experience in the field of psychology.”

Student Research in Psychology

The major requires students to take the Psychology 301 and 302 series, which covers statistics and methodology in general. There is also a required upper-level advanced research course, where students focus on topics such as Cognition & Thinking, Social Psychology, or Physiological Psychology. From these courses, students garner an understanding of the scientific method, an appreciation for the evolution of the field of psychology, and the practical role science plays in our understanding of processing found in the mind, brain, and behavior.

There is also an opportunity to have hands-on experience in faculty labs through the Psychology 491 Independent Research credit. In this case, students take advantage of the elective option to join a specific lab and work closely with the faculty member in developing, running, and analyzing experiments. These experiences form a foundation of discovery and inquiry that students simply cannot obtain in a typical classroom setting. They set the stage for independent thinking and often lead to the creation of novel experiments for the faculty member.

 

This year, the Psychology Department has 11 Honors thesis students across 9 research labs. The projects cover areas such as clinical,developmental, neural, social, and cognitive aspects of psychology. One project, led by Grace Hansen involves a collaboration between Professors Chris Ball and Paul Kieffaber, a coupling of faculty members that may not have occurred without the student-led interest. In this case, the Honors project provided a novel research experience not only for the student but also for the faculty member.

Honors research places the student into the role of principal investigator. This kind of practical experience allows the student to learn technological skills, work with patients or special populations, and analyze and write up results in an independent manner; it is the only forum where this type of experience can happen. The best aspect is how students take ownership of their projects and become leaders of science rather than simply consumers.

We are pleased to highlight here our 2011-12 Honors thesis students.

Student Faculty Advisor Area of research
Ben Baker Paul Story Social
Adrian Bravo Danielle Dallaire Community/Emotion
Dori Gano Paul Story Social
Leigh Gayle Paul Kieffaber Cognitive Neuroscience
Grace Hansen Chris Ball & Paul Kieffaber Memory and Cognition/Cognitive Neuroscience
Rachel Miller Janice Zeman Clinical/Developmental
Jennifer Mills Connie Pilkington Social
Alica Proia Cheryl Dickter Social Neuroscience
Nicole Scott Glenn Shean Clinical
Linda Zou Cheryl Dickter Social Neuroscience

 

Past Honors students in Psychology and their theses are described on the Charles Center's website.