Biologically Blue: Lauren Simpson Thesis Spotlight

Lauren Simpson, senior thesis student. Photo courtesy of Lauren Simpson

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What inspired you to write a senior thesis?
I am a Senior Psychology major from New York. I had never taken a Psychology class before coming to Amherst. I took an Intro class and I loved it and I was particularly interested in abnormal psychology and that led to my interest in clinical psychology. As time progressed, I got more research experience, my love for clinical psychology grew and so I decided that I would write a thesis. I have always wanted to pursue a PhD, which involves a lot of independent research, so I doubly felt that writing a thesis would be a great experience for me and an opportunity to practice developing my own study question and writing a longer body of work.

Did you always know that you would write a thesis during your senior year? Did you at any point change your field of study?
From my first year I always knew that I was interested in Psychology, and I always thought that I would write a thesis in my senior year because I was so passionate about the subject. I didn’t have any idea what it would be about but in Psychology, you don’t really need to know the specific topic you are going to write about before senior year.

Can you please tell us about your thesis?
My thesis was on the influence of beliefs about emotion malleability and the causes of depression on perceptions of depression. We were looking at individual beliefs on whether emotions are changeable with individual effort as well as beliefs on the causes of depression, whether they are environmental or biological and how both sets of beliefs affect the outlook of individuals with depression.

What did your schedule look like during this process?
My timeline was interesting because of the pandemic. In the summer of Junior year, I was reading articles to familiarize myself with the area and come up with a question for my thesis. I also met with my thesis advisor about once a week, and by the end of summer, we decided the specific project. In the fall we developed a specific study question and study aims and I also wrote my introduction then. Over winter break and into the Spring semester, I analyzed my data and wrote my methods and results section, and I finished my Discussion section in the Spring.

What kinds of responsibilities did you have while conducting this research?
I did not actually collect the data that I used for my thesis. We did that because there were some hurdles; I was working with a new professor, Professor Kneeland, and she hadn’t set up her lab yet, the pandemic made it hard to do in-person research, online research platforms were flooded by a lot of people in the research community and we felt that if we did an online study, our results would be biased. I ended up using data that my professor had already collected, so I didn’t have responsibilities in the sense of data collection. My responsibilities were in developing the question, doing the writeup and running data analysis.

What advice would you give students interested in writing a thesis?
That’s a really good question. I think a lot of students get really focused on the specific topic that they are interested in and try to get an ideal thesis topic out of it. Of course, you should write a thesis on something that you’re interested in and are going to enjoy doing for a year. But there are a lot of things you can still get out of writing a thesis.
So, my advice to students considering it but then face challenges finding professors that exactly align with their interests is: try to be flexible with your topic and explore more interests! Writing a thesis is a transformative process because you get a chance to work one-on-one with a professor and collaborate with them in a way that is different from just taking a class and in the end, you get to have something that you can take ownership of. There is a lot of learning and growth, and there are a lot of things to get from it beyond just the topic of the thesis itself. Also pick someone you can work well with.

What is some of the impact that you hope your thesis will have?
Since we found that more malleable beliefs about emotion and stronger biological beliefs for causes of depression promote positive perceptions in individuals with depression, I think it’s worth exploring these areas further and doing research on them and see how these two sets of beliefs influence treatment outcomes for individuals with depression.