The End of the Beginning: Thesis Progress, Applications, and Gnomes

Photo by Lyndse Ballew on Unsplash

Long time no see, everybody! It has definitely been a productive and exciting summer, and I cannot wait to tell you all about it! As I mentioned in my introductory post, this summer I worked on my psychology thesis. This project explores the emotions, threats, and prejudices that underlie evaluations of people who engage in BDSM (alternative sexualites that may include bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, or sadism/masochism). 

I started off by reviewing a ton of scholarly articles on topics such as stigma, prejudice, emotions, morality, and threat perception. I also read articles on the history of obscenity laws and feminist reactions to BDSM. As I read the psychology articles, I collected scales that might be useful for my study design. I ended up adapting the Attitudes about Sadomasochism Scale (Yost, 2010), Intergroup Threat Scale (Duckitt, 2006), Prejudice Scale (Hansen-Brown & Jefferson, 2022), Discrete Emotion Questionnaire (Harmon-Jones et al, 2016), and a Semantic Differential Attitude scale (Rye & Traversa, 2019). I put these adapted scales together with demographic questions, an informed consent form, and a debriefing form in Qualtrics in order to create my very own survey. I then wrote up an IRB proposal and submitted it to the review board of Amherst College. It is currently under review, so fingers crossed! Once I get approval, I will be able to start data collection and move to the next phase of my research.  

I developed and finalized my research questions and hypotheses, so that my advisor and I could check that the survey we designed would actually answer the questions we are interested in. We then used a statistical software called G*Power to determine how many participants we should aim to collect in order to produce statistically significant results. Using the article reviews I created over the summer, I drafted the outline for my literature review (which will become the first section of my thesis – eek!). Once I had the outline organized and fit each of the studies into a specific subheading, I started to slowly churn out my actual literature review. 

Looking at more big-picture activities, I met with the Amherst College Office of Fellowships to discuss applying for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant. I am currently writing up my application materials, so wish me luck! I also sent out emails to all of the graduate school professors I am interested in potentially working with next year, and based on the responses I have been able to hone the list of places I will apply to.

Campus was buzzing with activities this summer, and I tried to make time for as many as I could! I attended weekly meetings with the Psychology Department, hosted by Professors Carrie Palmquist and Elizabeth Kneeland, for informal chats and snacks as well as professional development advice. I had weekly meetings with my thesis advisor, Professor Rebecca Totton, as well as weekly lab meetings with fellow student researchers. I attended the Frost Library’s weekly thesis research table events, where we discussed strategies such as concept mapping and time management. I also attended workshops about RStudio, PowerPoint, Gephi, poster design, and public speaking. These low-stakes experiments with new software and professional development were great ways to get the most out of my time on campus. I also did fun events like an underground tour of the Science Center, the garden gnome scavenger hunt, and Tandem bagels on the Science Center patio. Of course I made time for meeting my advisor’s dog (shout out to Lily) and my neighbor’s bunny (shout out to Penelope). It was also fun to get away from campus to see Wicked in Boston with my roommate and go to Cape Cod with a couple of my friends.

This summer was a valuable experience both for thesis progress and developing new skills. I got to talk to a lot of different people about their research, and I definitely want to continue striking up conversations with people doing thesis work in the fall. You never know what cool projects you will hear about! This summer feels like the end of the beginning to me, as it has set so many long-term projects in motion. Hopefully in the next year I will be able to report positive results in my applications as well as my thesis research!