Learning to Love the Thesis: Reflections by Marley Nordmeyer '12

Marley Nordmeyer

I am not alone when I say that the thought of completing an Honors thesis is daunting, to say the least. I think I speak for many Honors College students when I recall the point midway through my undergraduate career when I contemplated not writing a thesis at all, sacrificing everything I had already worked for in the prestigious UVM Honors College. However, I can confidently say that after completion, I wouldn't have it any other way. Although there were the sleepless nights and the stressful moments when I thought it was impossible to complete my thesis, I look back at my experience with only good feelings. Completing my Honors thesis was one of the most meaningful things that I did during my time here at UVM, and I not only learned so much about the dynamic field of communication sciences and disorders and the research world in general, but I had a great time doing it.

One of the most important factors that led to my great overall experience was having an incredible thesis advisor, Dr. Patty Prelock. I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Prelock when I started working as a research assistant in her lab during my sophomore year. The bulk of my work was transcribing videotapes of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing children for a "peer play" study looking at communicative functions and engagement before and after intervention. I enjoyed this work and was fascinated by what I learned from watching the tapes. This subsequently inspired my Honors College research. I used the baseline data I collected in the peer play study and developed my own research question: How do paired peers (typically developing children and children with ASD) use mental state terms while engaged in play? Dr. Prelock supported me throughout this process, suggesting different ways in which I could look at this data, different ways that I could answer this research question, and allowing me to use her existing data. Dr. Prelock was always available to me, whether it be by answering my endless questions about where to go next, reading my drafts and sending them back after midnight, so I could meet the next deadline, or just sending me encouraging emails when I was overwhelmed. I can honestly say that I do not think that I could have completed this project without her support. This incredible opportunity, as well as Dr. Prelock's contagious passion and energy, solidified my love for research in the field of communication sciences and disorders.

I also feel that I could not have completed this project without the support of the Honors College. It is very comforting and encouraging knowing that there are always people you can go to for help, support, resources, etc. Not only is it their job to be here for us, but there is a genuine understanding that they really want to be there helping students throughout this process. I was encouraged to apply for the Summer Internship the summer before my senior year, and without this my experience would have been much different. For the length of the summer I was able to devote my full attention to my research. While working on my summer research project and honors thesis I woke up every day looking forward to the work I was doing. Through the Summer Internship I also received funds to travel to San Diego to attend the annual research convention in my field (the Annual ASHA Convention). While in San Diego last November I was able to meet top researchers in my field and attend several lectures related to the work that I was doing, allowing me to bring back information for my manuscript, and a newfound love for research.

But like I said, it was not always easy. There were times when I despised my thesis, and felt that I could not move forward. There was frustration, there were tears, there was sleep deprivation. But in the end I have a piece of work that I am proud of, and I have gained skills that I otherwise wouldn't have. Four years ago I couldn't imagine myself writing a fifty-page manuscript, speaking in front of a committee for thirty minutes, or even getting on a plane and flying to California. But because of my experience writing my Honors thesis, I have overcome these fears, and learned an immense amount while doing so.

And today I just can't seem to move away from my thesis. I have submitted my manuscript for publication in a student journal within the field of communication sciences and disorders, as well as applied to present at the Annual ASHA Convention next year. I will also be presenting my research at the FAHC/CNHS Community Rounds, so that healthcare workers, business people, and legislators throughout our community can see the work being done within the college. And lastly, I will be continuing my education at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in the fall and getting my Masters in Speech-language Pathology; a field I have grown to love throughout my research experience.