I Did It! – My BPhil Defense and Future Research Endeavors

As the fall semester draws to a close, most seniors completing BPhil theses are just starting the research portion of their projects. Meanwhile, I just successfully defended my BPhil thesis and I would like to share my reflection on the BPhil process for those who are starting to embark on the later portion of this journey.

The BPhil defense process was very similar to the proposal process: I presented my research project to my committee members, after which they took turns asking questions to better understand the methods and results of my project, as well as to test my understanding of the project and the research topic in general. In preparation for the defense, I met with my research mentors Dr. Melissa Libertus and Shirley Duong to discuss questions that are commonly asked at defense meetings, which led me to create additional tables and figures to accompany my answers to these questions. This allowed me to re-familiarize myself with aspects of my project that I had not worked on in a few months so that I would be better able to answer any unforeseen questions I received. In addition, the extra time I spent was worthwhile: my committee members appreciated that I had created the additional graphics and repeatedly asked me to return to them during the defense.

The committee members also provided suggestions for edits to my thesis document as well as future directions that could be explored with the data set for my project. This prompted a discussion amongst the committee members about which measures would be the most beneficial to examine further. They often asked me to contribute to this discussion and I noted different variables that had been examined in prior work based on my extensive literature search on the research topic. I particularly valued the feedback of my external examiner Dr. Gunderson, who is a professor from Temple at the forefront of my research topic and whose research I referenced throughout my BPhil thesis document. In addition, Dr. Gunderson gave a virtual talk at my research lab, the Kids’ Thinking (KiT) Lab, following my thesis defense. This is common for an external examiner and is beneficial for Pitt as it forges a connection between the research communities at Pitt and Temple. After the question-and-answer period of the defense, the committee members met separately to discuss which of their suggested edits should be implemented and whether I deserved the BPhil designation. They welcomed me back five minutes later and were pleased to inform me that I had successfully defended my BPhil and would receive this honor contingent on me making their requested edits. Naturally, I was thrilled!

As I was preparing for my BPhil defense, my research mentor informed me that the novel nature of my research project meant that following my defense, my project could be adapted for journal publication and presentation at a national research conference. Upon hearing this news, a huge grin came over my face – I could not believe it! It has been a dream of mine since I started conducting research at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh the summer after my freshman year to become a published author and it is coming true earlier than I ever anticipated! I am ecstatic that my hard work will be recognized on such a broad scale. During my defense meeting, my committee members echoed the sentiment and made suggestions of how to improve my research project for publication. This additional affirmation solidified my confidence and pride in the work I have done over the past year and I am excited that I will soon be able to share it with the world!

I could not have achieved this milestone without the unwavering support of my research mentors. I would like to thank Dr. Libertus, Shirley Duong, Dr. Gunderson, Dr. Votruba-Drzal, and Dr. Elliott for their contributions to my research project and the Honors College for their continued backing of my research endeavors.

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