Thesis Q&A with Caelyn, a Graduating Honors Senior
By Xavier Aparicio
Completing your thesis is a milestone in the Honors College. As a sophomore, I was curious to find out more about what it's like by hearing from someone who is completing their thesis right now. Luckily, I was able to connect with Caelyn, a senior psychology and English major, to talk about her experience with the thesis.
Read on for a preview of what it's like completing your Honors Thesis!
Q: What is your thesis subject and how does it relate to your studies at UMass Amherst?
A: My thesis is ‘Social & Emotional Learning Education in K-3 Reducing the Lifelong Effects of Childhood Trauma within Foster Care.’ It’s about how heightening the amount of social and emotional education that we provide students in the foster care system might mitigate some of the discrepancies in academic and social success in those first couple of years of elementary education. This relates to my field of study in psychology, as I work in a developmental psychology lab at UMass and my background is in family chaos studies, looking at how the family environment can negatively impact how young kids emotionally regulate — or what we would call ‘heightened emotional states’ — such as sadness, anger, frustration and excitement.
Q: What inspired you to choose your thesis topic?
A: I decided to write about my thesis topic because I have first-hand experience with family chaos studies in my lab work, where I see how dysfunction in the family can really negatively impact young kids, both socially and academically, and can even negatively impact them years into the future in their ability to have healthy relationships with friends, romantic partners and family members. There's this critical period of development in kindergarten through third grade where kids are really learning basic principles on how to trust people and how to react appropriately to heightened emotional situations, and how to have healthy relationships; either with themselves in their own identities or with the people around them. If there is additional stress of being in the foster care system and not having a consistent home life, these kids are going through a really big critical period of development without stable familial backing, and they need to learn some of these really critical lessons that will affect them later in life. Massachusetts arguably has some of the better social programs to help students in the foster care system, and my idea is to build off of some of those pre-existing state laws to make it so these kids have as much of an opportunity of success as other students.
Q: How would you describe the Honors Thesis process?
A: I would describe the thesis process as something that really needs to be planned out as much as possible. They really leave it up to you and your thesis committee to manage your timeline and present a final project that both of you are really proud of. I would say that the process not only strengthens your research and writing skills, but it also kind of makes it so you have to advocate for yourself and what you need. You're going to be writing your thesis as a senior in college and you're dealing with so many things. New things are coming up that you've never dealt with before, but I definitely don't feel that you’re just thrown to the wolves.
Q: What has motivated you to persist through the Honors Thesis process?
What has primarily motivated me throughout the process is the fact that I'm really passionate about what I'm writing about.
It directly relates to the lab work that I've been doing for the last three years, so I feel this pull to the topic because I really care about what happens to these students. Also, the fact that I'm keeping the thesis centralized in Massachusetts, which is the state where I've grown up my whole life. It makes it a bit more relevant and pushes me forward because I kind of know the school system that I've grown up with. The other motivation is that this is kind of the last step I have before graduating, the thesis is the last run before I graduate. While it's super scary, and there's a lot of change coming, it is exciting to see the thesis come together, almost as if my time at UMass is slowly dwindling down as the work of my thesis progresses.
Q: What would you say to an Honors student who is starting their own Honors Thesis process?
I would say a couple things. First and foremost, the thesis itself is a lot of work — yes. However, getting on top of it from the get-go and trying to have an open line of communication with your committee chair makes it so much easier. This project is really open ended in a lot of ways because I think that the Honors College wants you to produce something that is uniquely yours and something that you're proud of and with that flexibility, it comes with a lot more responsibility than an essay in class would.
"Some overarching advice for people coming into this process, I would say: Plan ahead, look at the academic calendar, be in frequent communication with your committee chair, and be really transparent about what you need from them because it's their job to help you out with the process."