Cognitive Science major Aly Chua (decision and cognition) has participated in research at Michigan since her freshman year. In the Q&A below, Aly explains how the experience led to her decision to write an Honors thesis and shares valuable insights on managing the process.
Q. Why did you decide to write an honors thesis?
A. Through the Michigan Research Community and Research Scholars Program, I’ve been involved in undergraduate research since my freshman year at Michigan. I thought pursuing an honors thesis would be a great culmination of all the work I’ve done with my research mentor and our lab over the years.
Q. How did you develop the idea for your thesis topic?
A. My thesis is on the interplay of gender composition and dominance vs. prestige dynamics in organizational settings. My research mentor, Dr. Case, is a professor in the Management and Organizations department at Ross who specializes in the topic of dominance and prestige behaviors. By working as a research assistant in her lab, I noticed a gap in this area on the component of gender, which we believe will be an interesting aspect to uncover and contribute to this field of research.
Q. How did you find a faculty mentor and second reader?
A. As Dr. Case’s research assistant, I had established a working relationship with my mentor prior to conducting my thesis. It worked out well that I was personally interested in her area of expertise, and that the topic fit within the Cognitive Science lens, allowing me to continue working with Dr. Case for my thesis. As for my second reader, Dr. Case recommended a colleague of hers who has familiarity with our research topic and after reaching out to him via email, he agreed to come on board.
Q. Can you give a brief summary of your project? How far along are you?
A. While it has been established that different people vary in the extent to which they use dominance and prestige tactics to gain influence within social hierarchies, evidence is scant regarding the role that gender plays in promoting one strategy over the other. Our project examines how gender influences a focal actor’s inclination to employ dominance vs. prestige strategies in group settings. Since starting on the project last fall, we have conducted a study via MTurk and are currently analyzing results. We hope to conduct a follow-up study within the next few weeks.
Q. What excites you most about your project? Least?
A. What excites me most about my thesis is the ability to take on a more independent and proactive role in pursuing research. I enjoy that I am given autonomy to steer the direction of our project, while continuing to learn under the guidance of my mentor. On the other hand, I am least excited about the precarious nature of academic research, but feel reassured that there are always conclusions to be made from the experiments you run, even if they do not deliver the results you expect. They are still meaningful contributions to your research area nonetheless.
Q. How much time does your honors project require in addition to your class load?
A. I have meetings with my faculty mentor every two weeks and correspond with her via email in between. Other than that, my work is largely independent, and I would say I dedicate around 8-10 hours a week to my honors project on top of my current course load.
Q. Do you have any advice for students considering taking on an honors project?
A. It is important to discern your area of interest early on when considering an honors project, as I believe it would be difficult to dedicate time and energy towards a project you aren’t passionate about. It is also very helpful to have a faculty mentor whose research area aligns with your thesis topic, as they will be equipped to offer you the help and resources needed to efficiently guide your project along.