Joshua Hitchings

Impact of Small Dams on Water Quality and Macroinvertebrates in the Bushkill Creek
by Joshua Hitchings
Biology, 2014
Thesis Advisor: Professor Megan Rothenberger

Q: How and when did you select your advisor and the thesis committee members?

A: I began working with Dr. Rothenberger during the spring of my junior year for independent research credit. My research continued through the summer of 2013 as I worked exclusively with Dr. Rothenberger as an EXCEL scholar. Therefore, my project steadily built up and it made sense to continue this exciting research with Dr. Rothenberger.

I selected professors Leibel and Waters within the Biology department because I thought they would be able to provide the most support and assistance with my project. I respect both of them greatly and enjoyed my previous time in their classes. Dr. Leibel’s research and background with fish was a valuable component to my research. While Dr. Waters has a research interest in freshwater ecology, which was extremely beneficial to my study.

Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?

A: I didn’t begin to seriously consider an honors thesis until my work as a summer EXCEL scholar. I was able to work one on one with Dr. Rothenberger through the summer to refine and develop my research project. This experience allowed me to establish a sound knowledge base for my study, along with the confidence that this type of endeavor was something I could accomplish.

Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?

A: I began by collecting research and background information on dams throughout the United States along with the necessary information to develop my lab toxicity assay. This initial research component also was valuable to determine if my interest and heart was in this project. The research during the summer helped set me up into a good position for my thesis work, and really got my project off the ground.

I also met with reference librarian Lijuan Xu during my first two weeks on campus for summer EXCEL work. This meeting strengthened my research skills and showed me all of the resources that the library offers to honors thesis students for their research. From this I was able to continue a relationship with library staff members for assistance throughout my entire project.

Q: Did you advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?

A: Yes, Dr. Rothenberger was extremely organized and she explicitly laid out the details for thesis work. She made sure I was aware of all deadlines, and kept me on track for all components of my project.

Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?

A: Yes, the bulk of my research was done during the summer before my senior year. I utilized RefWorks to organize my sources and then wrote a considerable amount from the information I had gathered. I had never written a literature review this extensive prior to my thesis.

Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?

A: Lijuan Xu contacted me as soon as I was confirmed for summer EXCEL work. I also received other general emails regarding setting up appointments with reference librarians for research.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?

A: Time management was definitely difficult throughout the course of this project. As a member of the men’s swimming team, I had to balance time commitments between class, practice, and my thesis research. It certainly became easier over time, especially once the swimming season was over at the end of February. Since the thesis project is built piece by piece it requires a constant stream of work that can not be pushed to the side.

I also found the extreme intricacies of scientific writing for a thesis to be disruptive to my natural writing style. I would have to cite numerous sources to justify why my study was important, what results were found in the previous literature, why my methodology was sound etc... This drastically slowed the flow of writing that I was used to for other courses, but I adjusted and improved as I continued with my project.

Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?

A: Despite the stress and immense time commitment this project required, it was ultimately extremely rewarding. My skill set and understanding of scientific research expanded drastically. My time management, research skills, writing ability, and oral presentation skills developed immensely over the past year and a half as well. These are all skills that are invaluable for any academic discipline or career path, which aren’t developed as quickly in a classroom setting. The independent component portion of this process forces you to grow and learn quickly on your feet. I also was able to establish a special relationship with Dr. Rothenberger, who worked tirelessly to assist me throughout this period. Of course, nothing can beat the feeling of successfully defending your research in front of all of your professors, friends, fraternity bothers, and teammates!

Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?

A: Dr. Rothenberger worked very hard to help me develop and refine this project. She was also a great motivator and kept me focused through this entire process. It is very easy to get caught up in the obstacles along the way, but Dr. Rothenberger kept me on track for the successful completion of my thesis.

Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?

A: I worked with Lijuan Xu, Diane Shaw, and John Clark through the course of my thesis. Lijuan Xu assisted me with the research component of my project early in the academic year. Diane Shaw provided historical context and valuable research from special collections here at Lafayette. John Clark assisted towards the end of my project through the use of GIS, and helped develop extremely informative figures and diagrams for my written thesis and final presentation.

Q: What other support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?

A: In addition to my thesis advisor, Dr. Rothenberger, my mother, fraternity brothers, and teammates were all extremely important to my success as a thesis student. Besides offering advice for my project they also provided moral support for the entirety of my project. I would also like to especially thank my roommates for this year: Greg Grewal, Rob Pollastro, and Ivan Basurto for helping me through this project. They were able to calm me down when I became overwhelmed with this project, and always kept my spirits up. Without them I would not have made it through the fall semester with swimming, and for that I am extremely grateful to have friends such as these.

Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?

A: Yes, I took advantage of Interlibrary Loan to get research materials that were not available at Lafayette. All the sources I wanted for my project I was able to get quickly.

Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?

A: Aside from writing more frequently during the fall semester I don’t think there is anything drastic that I would change about my process as a thesis student.

Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?

A: The sooner you are able to build your research base, the better. Especially for a thesis in the natural sciences you need to have knowledge on the accepted methods and ways to approach your study early on. After this, I would suggest writing often and early on to continually refine your project and get the best finished thesis you can. I would also suggest asking questions often, and using all of the resources around you here at Lafayette. My project was very interdisciplinary and I utilized resources in the Geology, History, and Chemistry departments at Lafayette. Developing these relationships and communications early on made my spring semester much easier than the fall. Finally, I would recommend breaking your project up into small chunks, and develop weekly and/or monthly goals to stay on track. The vastness of a thesis can be overwhelming, but by working bit by bit it makes the work much easier. If you want to pursue an honors thesis, are motivated, and willing to be a hard worker, this project can be completed successfully.