CNS Honors Thesis Symposium showcases student research across fields

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On Friday, seniors from the Polymathic Scholars, Health Science Scholars and Dean’s Scholars honors programs shared their thesis work at the College of Natural Sciences Honors Thesis Symposium.

The symposium consisted of two to five panels every hour, with students presenting their projects and then fielding questions from the audience.

The panels ranged in topics from “New Developments in Ion Channel Biophysics” to “Mechanisms of Disease” to “Examining Social Relationships.” The latter showcased the research of three Polymathic Scholars: Ryan Young, Sabrina Van Ravenstein and Su Fang.

“I was drawn to (the social sciences) because I’m interested in people,” Fang said. “Honestly, it’s kind of hard to study it in a way that I would want to because the social sciences, as a relatively new discipline compared to something like biology or chemistry, is still in a process of legitimizing itself. So that was something I felt like I had to look out for, even within the literature. On one part, it is science, but on another part, it’s also the field trying to legitimize itself.”

Polymathic Scholars is a multidisciplinary honors program within the College of Natural Sciences. It allows students to create their own curriculum and complete a research-based capstone thesis, such as the ones presented at the Symposium. Fang, Young and Van Ravenstein all directed their studies toward the social sciences.

“It’s fun,” Fang said. “As a natural sciences person, it bridges the gap between the rest of the academic world, and it gives you the opportunity to explore areas that aren’t necessarily science but are related to your thesis.”

For Fang, that meant extensive study of literature and studies on her topic, “Adolescence and Smartphones: Contemporary Critical Design.”

“I conducted my research mostly as literature review,” Fang said. “The design component was using a framework for the design process from my own analysis.”

Fang said the most surprising article she found was about the link between smartphone use and higher rates of school burnout in Finnish students.

“It’s interesting because the Finnish school system is one of the best, but they also had really high rates of burnout,” Fang said. “The authors were suggesting that, in that phase of adolescence, schools are changing a lot, and that could also have led to the burnout.”

Van Ravenstein also conducted a literature review for her project, “Communication Within Interethnic Relationships With One Hispanic American Partner and One Non-Hispanic American Partner.” She found two major themes, machismo and familismo, that characterized the interethnic relationships she studied, with mixed positive and negative impacts.

“Communication is complicated — communication in relationships is even more complicated,” Van Ravenstein said. “We have looked at communication research on many different things before, but I want you to maybe consider that we should look more at how culture affects how we’re brought up, how we see ourselves and how we see others.”

Young took the route of firsthand observation for his capstone, “Making Connections: Buses as Public and Social Space.”

“In this age of big data, it might seem antiquated, or quaint, to go out and do something like I did, which was just observing, instead of taking more quantitative data which requires analysis,” Young said. “But I feel like that’s actually the purest kind of science, taking observations.”