Jack Shaw

Assessing changes in sexual dimorphism in ostracode lineages prior to the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event
Jack Shaw Geology, 2017
Thesis Advisor: Professor David Sunderlin

Q: How and when did you select your advisor and the thesis committee members?
A: Professor Sunderlin was already my faculty advisor. I have a good working relationship with him, and our academic interests align. A previous internship supervisor, at the National Museum of Natural History, was selected as one of my committee members, due to his expertise in the field. I selected my final committee member due to her lack of knowledge of my thesis topic; thus, I expected her to double check the clarity of my writing to ensure that the eventual process is accessible.

Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis? How did you select your topic?
A: I decided to pursue a thesis during the summer before my senior year. After speaking with a number of professionals about the best routes to grad school, it became apparent that pursuing an independent research project was vital for future career opportunities. I decided to approach a previous internship supervisor to ask whether he would be willing to collaborate on a project: we had many conversations to develop my research question, with consideration paid to the amount of field work, lab work, and data analysis.

Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: I started my project by conducting a general literature review of topics surrounding my thesis. I also spoke with my advisor to plot out goals for the two semesters; this offered discrete targets for me to stick to over the course of the project.

Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: At the beginning of my senior year, my advisor and I created a “syllabus” for my thesis, which described the learning outcomes I hoped to achieve, along with a rough timeline of what would be expected of me throughout the year.

Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: I found the Skillman Research Librarians a great starting point for conducting a literature review. After meeting with a librarian, I realized that there were many resources that I had not reviewed.

Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: I met with a Research Librarian at the start of my senior year. It was great to chat to somebody outside of my field, as I was exposed to new methods of literature review and data analysis. It was also a good opportunity to explain my thesis to somebody new, and to consider the most salient points of my project.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: The most challenging aspect of the project was maintaining motivation. At some points, I would be highly motivated, but wouldn’t have too much to work on. At other times, I would have to meet a writing deadline, but did not feel motivated to work on the project (especially during the senior-slump of the second semester).

Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: Talking to graduate schools about my project, during numerous interviews, was extremely rewarding, as I was able to experience people’s intrigue from an external perspective. It was nice to dive deeply into a subject that has not been studied greatly in the past.

Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: I met with my advisor once a week throughout the thesis project. Additionally, I attended numerous academic conferences, which were great opportunities to get extra feedback on my product and future ideas.

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

Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: I would work harder during the first semester of the senior year, to ease the workload during the second semester.

Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: Talk about your thesis whenever you have the opportunity. It will help you to understand what you want to get out of the project, and it will make you a better communicator. If you can’t explain why your project is interesting and/or important, then it is hard to muster intrigue from others.