Exploring Hemispheric and Ocean Basin Climatic Symmetry from the Late Miocene to the Present Using a Novel Atlantic Ocean Surface Temperature Record
Chris Kelly, Geology and Environmental Geosciences, 2013
Thesis Advisor: Professor Kira Lawrence

Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?
A:I did EXCEL Research over the summer between sophomore and junior year and really loved it. Based on that research experience, I figured that I would complete a thesis senior year in something climate-related. The summer after junior year, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do climate research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Midway through the summer, I skyped my Lafayette adviser Dr. Kira Lawrence and she proposed a really fascinating project that would be feasible to be completed within the timeframe of the following year. I looked into it, was enthralled, and the rest is history.

Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: Over the summer I conducted a very rudimentary literature search, trying to procure pretty much anything that looked relevant to make use of Woods Hole’s oceanographic library access. I also skyped my adviser a few more times, met once before school started, and then went over what the semester project would look like. In the geosciences, the beginning is very data- heavy. It’s all about generating a brand new record. Interpretation and writing will follow in good time, but at first it’s imperative to get a dataset.

Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Yes, my adviser explained everything in great detail to me. At every step of the process, she helped to guide me, as well as provide examples from previous theses etc. That being said, I was for the most part independent. We had wonderful chemistry, in fact. She knew when to keep me on track, when to give me space, and our meeting interval was perfect.

Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: Yes, although I did not have to submit in a formal written format. I have done literature reviews before, both in the geosciences as well as history/political science. I did have to complete an annotated bibliography on a host of sources that represented the crux of my methodology, topic, and hypothesis.

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

Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: The most challenging aspect was trying to remain focused and stay on a certain trajectory. Every new discovery brought up at least a few other intriguing auxiliary research questions. That is the wonderful thing about paleoclimate; because of the complexity of the climate system and the evidence that is left behind in the sediment and rock record, we are left always barking up a million fascinating trees and discerning new connections. It is a tough balance between getting too sidetracked by digressions, and being closed minded as to what one is going to uncover.

Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: Being able to reconstruct a brand new record of sea surface temperature from a site south of South Africa was incredibly rewarding. Every night that we ran samples and obtained new data, it was rewardingly wild to think that no one else has ever seen it. Particularly gratifying, and compelling, was when I compared my data to other parameters in the paleoclimate system. The striking similarity meant that my results were robust, and able to be interpreted.

Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: In addition to weekly meetings, discussing papers and my results, and other elements of day to day support, I also had the critical support of Robert Thomas, our lab tech, and John Wilson, the geology professor jack of all trades. Their help in coaxing machines back to life and with weekly lab upkeep was instrumental. In general, the geology department is supportive in every way, shape, and form. From student companionship to professorial advice, every aspect is top notch.

Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: Yes, mostly in the beginning in regards to obtaining the research articles I required, as well as in order to learn how to use RefWorks, a huge boon for keeping track of lots of sources.

Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: My adviser’s colleagues and my connections from Woods Hole were very helpful in talking through various hypotheses, ideas, and data interpretation along the way. I would encourage another thesis student to make use of all of the connections that he/she has acquired by this point in his/her college career.

Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: Yes, for the most part. Previous library affiliations were also helpful. Again, make use of your previous networking experiences.

Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: I would have learned how to use RefWorks earlier in my literature search, so that there would not have had to be a period of conversion now. I also would have organized my electronic folder system in a more intuitive way, more conducive to increasing orders of complexity as the research progresses.

Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: Trust your advisers; they know the best timeline that will allow you to remain sane and be successful. I highly recommend setting aside a chunk of time each week that is a “thesis block,” so that you can keep up with the schedule that you and your adviser have set. And have fun! If you pick a topic you’re really into, which is really the only way to stay motivated and still achieve highly, then it is really quite nice to just jam on your thesis for a given afternoon.