Monday, December 5

A Look Back on the Thesis...

As a little bit of background, I was a member of the 2009 McNair cohort, graduated from CMU with my B.S. in Psychology and English (Creative Writing) with a minor in Leadership in May of 2010, and began my graduate work in August 2010 at Portland State University’s (PSU) Applied Industrial-Organizational Psychology Ph.D. program. I blog about my adventures in grad school and Portland, Oregon, at This is my first guest post on the CMU McNair blog!

I’m wrapping up the first quarter of my second year in graduate school, and boy…how the time flies! I remember my time with McNair well—the weeks of research, writing, data collection and analysis, frantic studying for the GRE, the madness of applying to graduate schools, and the awful period of waiting that came with seeing all of my applications off. After visiting two of my potential schools, I knew I wanted to attend Portland State University—and I’m so thankful to say that two years after I sent off my application, I still feel the very same way.

Very early in my graduate school experience, my advisor began to gently push me towards exploring thesis topics. This process began with weekly meetings. In order to prepare for these, I was asked to read my advisor’s publications and bring any questions or thoughts I may have had about them. My advisor pushed me to articulate my interests and passions around the articles I read, and she would often ask questions like, “If you had to design a study from this, what would you do?” Quite intimidating for someone in their first quarter of graduate school! However, meetings like these helped me to learn how to quickly think on my feet, as well as get increasingly familiar with research design.

The winter of my first year, I settled on a thesis topic: I wanted to explore the role of recovery experiences (such as relaxation and psychological detachment) in weakening the negative associations between workplace interpersonal conflict and employee well-being. I made a mutual decision with my advisor to use a data set she already had available, as opposed to collecting my own data. (This made my thesis process much quicker, but presented its own set of unique challenges—a blog post all in its own!) After weeks of writing and revising, I successfully proposed my Master’s thesis this past May. I should note that this timing in and of itself was remarkable for my program—most students don’t propose their theses until sometime in their second year—very, very, very rarely is it done in the first year!

I worked on analyzing my data and writing up my results over this past summer, and finally, this November (on the 18th—a day before my 23rd birthday!), I successfully defended my Master’s thesis. What an amazing feeling! While the weeks and days leading up to that final defense were incredibly stressful, the actual defense passed by quite smoothly. I spent countless hours reading articles, re-reading my final document, and practicing my presentation. I suppose all of that practice paid off! My presentation went well (my committee members even complimented me on my presentation skills—thank you, McNair!), I was able to stay on my toes and answer my committee members’ questions, and I had a good discussion with my committee about future directions to take my research in. Successfully defending my thesis means that as of June 2012 (once I complete several more classes), I will officially have my M.S. in Applied Industrial-Organizational Psychology.

In the few weeks since I’ve defended, I’ve continued to work on revising my thesis (because no, it’s not quite over once you’ve defended). I’ll be working in conjunction with my advisor over the next year to publish findings from my thesis. I’m looking forward to turning my attention towards publishing, and will be continuing to take classes for the remainder of the year. The next big milestones for me are my comprehensive exams…which (thankfully) I get to wait until the spring of 2013 to take!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Caitlin. I was a pleasure having you come speak to my cohort (Cohort 2011) this summer and I think hearing about your experience was/is making me exciting about my graduate school journey. I'll definitely have to check out your blog.


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