University of Vermont

The Honors College

Thesis-Writing Feature - From the Front Lines...

With this issue we bring to a close our Thesis writing feature, From the Front Lines. Started with the June 2008 issue, and continuing in each of our four issues this year, we have been pleased to bring you the voices of both students and mentors with reflections on and advice about the experience that all Honors College students share in common - the writing of the Senior Thesis. We think that the advice offered in this series of 'Front Lines' reports will be a valuable resource for those who will be writing their thesis in the future. All the reflections will be gathered together and linked to the newly minted Thesis Writing handbook, which will soon be online and available to all. We want to thank all those who contributed, not least of whom the three graduating seniors whose reflections we present in this issue: Michael Skillicorn, Monique Rogals, and Tyler Aten. We wish them all well as they embark on the next stage of their academic life.

Michael Skillicorn

Michael Skillicorn:

My thesis looked at an emerging model of coffee trade called "Relationship-based Coffee." Essentially what subscribers of this model do is to focus on building a strong and meaningful relationship between buyers and producers before actually trading any coffee. Through these relationships, more equitable trade is hoped for.

I conducted qualitative research by traveling to two coffee cooperatives in Central America and interviewed coffee producers. I then analyzed the producer perspectives of Relationship-based Coffee and summarized the benefits and challenges of the model.

Between my sophomore and junior years at UVM, I took the year off and traveled to Guatemala to live on a small coffee farm. Needless to say, this experience pushed me towards my eventual thesis topic. First, however, I took a class about coffee with Ernesto Mendez. I enjoyed the class, and approached Ernesto about the possibility of doing a thesis. He was into the idea, and from there, my thesis was born.

The thesis experience on the whole was extremely challenging, but absolutely rewarding in the end. It was a project, unlike most others in college, which I chose to pursue. As a result I was forced to self-motivate and take stake in it all the way through. I was proud of the end product and it is, by far, the best thing that I've done in college.

If I can give any advice, it would be to try as hard as you possibly can to do the work as early as possible. Getting feedback on your drafts is how you learn and improve, so try to finish one with at least a month to go before the final version is due.

I am from New Salem, Massachusetts. In addition to receiving a Distinguish Undergraduate Research award for my thesis, I also received scholastic recognition in CDAE. After graduation, I will be staying in Burlington, and working part-time for the summer. After that, my life is up in the air, where it should be.

Monique Rogals

Monique Jeannette Rogals:

I am a biochemistry major, with an honors thesis entitled "The Maintenance of the Barrier Function of Blood Clots: the Contribution of Old and New Thrombin." The normal process of blood clotting is a balancing act between clotting enough to prevent catastrophic blood loss and clotting too much, which blocks blood flow through the blood vessel. Clotting involves a complex series of reactions, which takes time to form the actual physical barrier between the interior of a blood vessel and the external environment. However if this barrier is broken, it takes very little time for the barrier to be repaired, leading to the conclusion that the some of the series of the reactions required for the initial formation of the clot are no longer required in the repair process. Logically, in the presence of a vast excess of inhibitors, the enzymes that catalyzed the reactions that formed the initial clot are inactive. My thesis was spent looking for an element of the clot that might protect an enzyme from the inhibitors in the clot, thus allowing this protected enzyme to quickly repair the barrier without needing to complete the earliest reactions.

I was guided into this project after expressing my wish to complete an honors thesis to my advisor. The idea of doing a study on this general topic had been discussed on occasion, though detailed plans were never generated. As I was already researching in my advisor's lab, it was a forgone conclusion that I would study coagulation. I started there in the beginning of my junior year after trying research in a microbiology lab in my sophomore year. Since advisors like to have you in their lab for a few months before actually agreeing to become your advisor, it is useful to start research as early as possible. If the first lab does not work for whatever reason, you need time to find another. In finding a lab I would suggest looking at the online blurbs about the faculty and their projects, finding a few that interest you, and then knocking on their doors and seeing if they are willing to take on an undergraduate with the possibility of doing an honors thesis eventually.

The writing of the thesis itself took far longer than I expected. My mentor shoved me out of the lab so that I could write up what I had (I was still working on a set of experiments) and, in retrospect, I am glad that he did as it still took me a week and a half longer I had originally anticipated to finish. I'm also glad that I spent the time that I did actually preparing the draft as I have only one recommended correction to make. While completing a research project, writing a thesis, and then defending it was a long and sometimes arduous process, it was ultimately a rewarding one.

I am a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Golden Key, Alpha Beta Kappa, UVM Biochemistry Society, and a recipient of a HELiX (Hughes Endeavor for Life Science Excellence) summer internship. In addition, I was President of Taekwondo Club on campus, a group that I have belonged to for all four years. This summer I will begin to pursue a Ph.D in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology at Cornell.

Tyler Aten

Tyler Aten

I am a biology major, with a double minor in chemistry and statistics. As for my thesis project, I am exploring the interaction of two proto-oncogenic signaling proteins. Proto-oncogenic, simply means theses proteins have the potential to cause cancer when then are improperly regulated. I'm using stimulations of human embryonic kidney cells, biochemical assays, and the mass spectrometer to elicit which cellular substrates Src (the first proto-oncogenic protein we're looking at) and CrkL (the second protein) both interact with. By doing this we'll be able to map out the signaling pathways between these two proteins. My mentor is Dr. Bryan Ballif, in the biology department (Proteomics and cell signaling laboratory).

I am from Montpelier, VT, where I've lived my whole life. After graduation I'm planning on attending medical or dental school, with thoughts of pursuing a MD/PHD program.

Last modified July 01 2009 08:27 AM