Thoughts on Theses: Kunali Gurditta
Issue   |   Wed, 10/14/2015 - 02:59
Kunali Gurditta is a psychology major who is writing a two-part thesis involving a personality psychology survey dealing with personal narratives of sadness and connecting data to demographic factors. Her thesis adviser is Professor of Psychology Amy P. Demorest.

Q: What is your thesis about?
A: I’m writing a psychology thesis with Professor Demorest. First, we’re going to be looking at sad narratives, written by Intro to Psychology students. We’re going to look at how the ways in which people deal with sad narratives are related. We’re calling them “consequences,” so they’re basically defined as the way that people deal with their sad emotions. We’re first doing a cluster analysis to see which ones are more closely related to each other, and making a hierarchical list. We’re going to have a list of which ones are more closely related at one level, and then which groups of those are related to each other. After that, I’m going to do another analysis where I’ll be looking at the gender differences between the way people deal with their sad emotions, and I’ll also be looking at cultural differences. That’s the quick version of what my thesis is about.

Q: Where are you in the process?
A: We’re in the middle of the first part.

Q: What are some important milestones you’ve hit so far?
A: We first had a list of 371 consequences, which we had to go through first. We looked to see if there were some among them that may have been more than one consequence, and after splitting those further, we now have closer to 384.

Q: What is it about sadness that is particularly intellectually compelling?
A: Well, I didn’t specifically choose sadness, but my thesis adviser is interested in sadness, so she assigned that to us. And I think sadness is important just because dealing with sadness has more implications than dealing with something like happiness, you know?

Q: So there are 384 potential consequences?
A: Yes. We had about a hundred participants, and an average of about four consequences per person. In a sense, a lot of them are the same, a lot of them are like, ‘Oh, I cried,’ so there’s a somewhat universal kind of way that people deal with sadness. But there’s a wide range of things, and the point is to see our individual differences, because it’s a personality psych thesis. So we want to see if there are specific kinds of people who deal with certain problems in certain ways.

Q: And the second part of the thesis you said you were working on, would you mind going a little deeper into that?
A: Basically, we’re gonna have each participant’s gender and their self-identified race, and we’re comparing them to the consequences they had written in their narratives and see if there are certain consequences that were more commonly used by men or women and or by specific cultures. Right now we’re thinking of separating the cultures — so using their self-identified race, we want to look at collectivistic versus individualistic cultures.

Q: What sort of consequences are collectivistic versus individualistic?
A: Collectivistic cultures are more group oriented while individualist cultures are more individualistic. Intuitively, based on just that, I would think that collectivistic cultures are more inclined to seek support from others, whereas those from individualistic cultures would kind of just deal with it on their own. That may or may or not be true. As I was doing research a couple of years ago, I was looking at the mental health stigma in the Asian community, and a lot of literature showed that Asian-Americans in general don’t tend to seek help for depression and mental health disorders, because of the stigma. So I guess they would be more likely to seek help from those who are close to them but they would be less likely to seek professional help. I’m trying to see if that’ll play any role in what I find.

Q: What drew you to this topic?
A: For me it was because I’m interested in mental health in general. I potentially want to go into psychiatry, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how men and women deal with their sadness and how that could have implications for therapy, and getting mental health resources accessible to them. That’s where I’m coming from. I had the option of picking what I wanted to do for the second part of the analysis, so I chose gender and culture.

Q: So you chose the second topic, but not the first?
A: Yeah, but I think if I had been opposed to choosing sadness, my adviser would have let me choose. She collected narratives in happiness, sadness, fear, love and anger. I thought sadness was the most insightful, probably, of the five.

Q: What was your motivation for writing a thesis?
A: I like the idea of working on a project for a long amount of time. I like research in general, I like focusing on things. It’s just something I kind of felt I should do.

Q: You did mention previous experience doing research. Was that related?
A: I was a research assistant for my thesis adviser last spring. I’ve also done clinical research, and I was doing suicide prevention research over this past summer.

Q: You said that the volunteers for the survey were from on campus. Is there anything specific about Amherst that relates to this thesis topic?
A: I don’t think I can say. We haven’t really done a full analysis yet. You’ve probably seen the surveys that say some high percentage of Amherst students reported feeling lonely. I think it’s above the national average. That might play some role in how Amherst is a unique subject, but I don’t know if I can say much else.

Q: What advice would you have for someone going into a thesis?
A: Definitely budget time for your thesis, because if you don’t — because it’s not a scheduled class — it’s easy to say ‘Oh, I don’t really have to do this right now, so I can put it off and work on it later.’ So I’ve done this thing where I scheduled three-hour blocks, on three days of the week, and I have a thesis meeting one to two hours per week. Those are basically the times I devote to my thesis, and if I have extra time, I’ll also be working on it. That’s probably my biggest advice.

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