Thoughts on Theses: Krista Goebel
Issue   |   Tue, 11/14/2017 - 21:04

Krista Goebel ’18 is a psychology and English double major. Her thesis focuses on 8- to 10-year-old children and how they behave in response to the help they receive under different circumstances. Her advisor is Assistant Professor of Psychology Carolyn Palmquist.

Q: What is your thesis about?
I’m looking at 8- to 10-year-old children. I’m looking at their help-seeking behavior in a searching task that we set up. The idea is that there are two people in the task: a helpful person and an unhelpful person. We rig the task so that sometimes the kids are always successful, sometimes they’re sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful based on chance, but with the helpful person they’re always going to be successful no matter what because she shows them where the object is. With the unhelpful person, they’re going to to be successful when it’s rigged so that they’re successful, but when it’s not rigged then sometimes they’ll be right and sometimes they’ll be wrong. So then we’re looking at after we go through this multiple times where they’re successful with the helpful one, sometimes successful with the unhelpful one or always successful based on what condition they’re in. Then we ask them later, “Who would you like to ask for help to find new objects?” What we’re finding is that when they were always successful, they’re not really paying attention to who is helpful and who has contributed to their success earlier on. But then later for those who weren’t always successful, they are paying attention to those cues and later they’re able to choose who is helpful and keeps them to help them again.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?
My thesis is different in that I’m piggybacking off of my professor’s research so I didn’t have to come up with the idea on my own. I just talked to a lot of professors and saw what projects they were currently working on and what projects they could take on with me. This was [my professor’s] idea – it’s a follow-up on her previous research. I’ve made it my own in different ways, added a few measures, stuff like that, but apart from that, she’s the one who came up with the design, which to me is pretty cool because I couldn’t have come up with something as complicated … It’s cool to be able to do something like this that’s so complicated and has so many things to it that are rooted in this deep-seated research that I just hadn’t known about before.

Q: What has been the best part about writing a thesis?
I would say that I really just like having this sense of purpose. I’m actually on an accelerated schedule with my thesis so I should be finished by the end of interterm. For me, being able to say that I’ve created something and really dove into this topic so in-depth and having something to produce from that really gives me so much drive and such a sense of purpose this semester. I still feel purposeful in my classes, but not to the same degree of aiming towards a big goal and being able to have something tangible to show from it. I really love the sense of purpose and the sense of drive I have to continue doing all of the work. I also just like that I think it has really important implications. I’m looking into this very specific area of psychology that nobody knows the answer to yet, and that’s why I’m doing it. For classes, that’s not always the same. Maybe you’ll come up with a new connection or something like that, but for me I’m diving further into a topic that’s kind of uncharted territory and behind it is really important stuff about the age group that I’m interested in, about their lives and school problems. It’s important things that I’m figuring out.

Q: What has been the hardest part about writing your thesis?
I think the hardest part about writing a thesis is that it’s senior year and there are all these other pressures to do all of the things you love most about Amherst and take time to hang out with friends and relax and have a good time … Balancing those things that you’ve taken the time to do in the past and know that this is your last chance to do them on top of having more work than you’ve ever had because your thesis is so big is really, really hard. You really don’t want to end your senior year with a half-done thesis, but you also don’t want to end [it] saying, “All I did was work on my thesis and didn’t have time for those other things about Amherst that I love.”

Q: What has your research process been like?
It’s been really nice, but backwards in a way … I got funding to be here over the summer and do research, which was really awesome. I was here, I was recruiting participants from the town who were 8- to 10-year-old children, I had them come into the lab and run through my half-hour long study. That was primarily what the summer was all about. I was here for 12 weeks, and that took up the entire summer. Getting participants in was kind of difficult because we didn’t have any prizes for them. There were little prizes, but no other compensation really, so getting them to come in was a real feat, a real challenge. After that, by the end of the summer I also wrote out my methods section, so what exactly my study looked like. That was the first step that I could do. All year, it’s been looking at that data that I collected, so writing my results and looking at different analyses. Now I’m finishing up the discussion, looking at the results and basing it on past research. I’ve been drafting all of those, and that’s what I’ve been working on up until now. After Thanksgiving, I’ll transition into reading a lot more other research. Now I can stop looking at my firsthand research, look at my new stuff, and give it some context. So it’s kind of backwards since for most people that reading in the intro stuff [comes] first, which makes sense, then they do their collection of data, and discussion is usually last. I was so invested in my results that I just wanted to go straight into the discussion. So now I have to go back and put it all into context.

Q: Any advice for students who want to write a thesis?
First, really think about what you’re really passionate about in your field of study and then try to figure out early on, the research of each of the professors in your field to see which one aligns best with your interests, and start to try to get to know them. Be really forward with the fact that you’re interested in writing a thesis and you’re interested in doing research. For me, I didn’t want to admit it to anyone because I didn’t want to be shot down. I didn’t want anyone to tell me that it wasn’t possible, so I decided very last-minute. Having those conversations as early as you can with your professors doesn’t hurt. It puts you on their radar right away and helps you think about what the thesis could be like.