Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Psychology department makes switch to group theses

Credit: Molly Johanson

Whitman College’s psychology department has made a significant change in its senior thesis program for the 2010-2011 school year. Instead of working individually, psychology majors can now choose between working independently or performing research in a group of two, three or four students, depending on how many of their peers have similar research interests, making it the only department on campus to allow a group thesis option. All but six out of 37 psychology majors decided to take this opportunity with their projects.

Wally Herbranson, associate professor of psychology and Ladley Endowed Chair, said that the faculty hopes the change will allow the department’s shrinking faculty to better serve the students.

“We didn’t have the numbers to effectively advise individual theses, but by allowing group theses, we went from 37 projects to about 20. This allows the faculty to give more attention to each,” he said.

Herbranson views the group option as good preparation for graduate school, as students typically work with a team in a lab.  He also believes that several minds working together can produce a better product.

“I think the quality of the projects is increasing this year because more people are contributing ideas to each project,” he said.

Senior psychology major Katie Barich is studying the mental processes of infants in poverty at the ages of six, nine and 12 months old. She opted to do an individual thesis but has participated in some group research. She has been quite pleased with the outcome of this decision.

“While having more people involved made scheduling participants and collecting data easier, we got to avoid the drama and conflicts that often arise when working within a group on one paper,” she said. “It’s easier to get it done because we don’t have to worry about finding time within our schedules to meet up to write it. It is largely on our own time, our own pace, and tends to be written more cohesively,” she said.

Barich also believes that there is a feeling of individual accomplishment that comes with writing an individual thesis.

“You get direct feedback from your advisor on your individual writing, and thus greatly improve and learn how to write a true professional psychology paper,” she said.

Despite all of the benefits that come with writing an individual paper, Barich acknowledges the important role group research has played in the thesis process.

“I got to experience the benefits of being in a group, like more flexibility in running studies and scheduling participants. We also have equal knowledge of each others’ theses and can give each other input,” she said.

Senior Zach Rosenburg has enjoyed the group thesis process so far.

“I love working in a group for thesis. It really takes a lot of the pressure off of us individually, and allowed us to be much more flexible with our data collection times. My group and I work pretty well together, and it’s pretty nice to have three people coming up with ideas as opposed to just one,” he said.

Senior Elizabeth Allen, who is researching identity development in impoverished adolescents with three of her peers, has also had a positive experience under the group option.

“A group can tackle a larger project and you can distribute all of the tasks associated with research among the group. I think a group can also produce a much higher quality thesis because everyone brings a different strength to the group,” she said.

Herbranson is looking forward to see how the change plays out.

“The first year is kind of an ongoing experiment. I think it’s been working well so far: at least I haven’t heard any stories of mutiny. The faculty and I are interested to read thesis evaluations and narrative assessments and see what students say,” he said.

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