Author: Kelli Lynn Shermeyer (page 2 of 3)

Several Decades of Snacking: A Celebration of Dr. Munson’s Study Breaks

Despite their prominence at the University of Delaware, super cool lab goggles, and the fact that everyone “oohs” and “ahs” when they say their major, I have never envied those students pursuing a degree along the lines of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, or Biochemistry.

That is, until one day, while I was slowly dying in the silent study lounge, a tall and distinguished-looking gentleman poked his head in the room.

“You know,” he opened with, “Sugar sharpens the brain. And as there is a lot of food out there; I hope you will do your duty in not letting it go to waste.”

Dr. Munson sits by while Honors student Allison Amatuzzo enjoys the snacks at the Feb. 27 study break.

Attention captivated, the other inhabitants of the room and I immediately abandoned our studies and followed this man into the main lounge. We were curious to see what he was referring to.

What awaited us was a literal feast for the eyes. Spread out on several tables we found a display that could cure any physical or emotional weariness we may have been experiencing. Oreos, Tostitos, salsa, potato chips, vegetable dip, candy corn, and more formed a spectacle of beauty. It was a gratifying sight for eyes that had been yearning for something more satisfying than the light of a laptop screen.

Malnourished college students that we are, we needed no further encouragement. We ravished the banquet, pausing in our chewing only long enough to murmur an expression of profound thanks to the man who had filled our stomachs and lifted our spirits.

The man was Dr. Burnaby Munson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and that would be my first encounter with what have been affectionately named, “Dr. Munson’s study breaks.” A tradition that began in 1979, these deliveries of edible encouragement on nights before big exams have become a staple of life in Russell.

“They’re the best part of the week at Russell, they give you something to look forward to, “ confirmed Honors student Claire Gollegly.

“They were first held on Friday nights in Dickinson, which was then the Honors Dorm,” Dr. Munson described in recalling the origins of this ritual. “They were meant to provide a social alternative to more common Friday night activities, so no actual studying was originally involved.”

After bemusedly remarking that Friday nights had predictably low turnouts, Dr. Munson explained that they were then moved to Tuesday nights, where they became more of the “study break” they are known as today.

Dr. Munson remembered the awkward hesitancy with which these breaks were first received, saying the dynamics were “amusing to watch.”

“None of the students wanted to be the first ones there,” he recollected.

Of course, this hesitancy has vanished entirely. Today, Honors students welcome the event with open arms.

“They make Wednesdays not so bad,” explained one such Honors student, Elizabeth Viersma. “They help get you through the week.”

The professor further elaborated that these study breaks essentially began as an extension of the sustenance he would provide during actual exams. “Exams were always in the evening and guaranteed to be long, the kids needed something to eat,” he reasoned.

When asked if providing food for tired test-takers is a common practice in his departments, Dr. Munson admitted he is one of the few that do.

He also opens this banquet to all of Russell, not just those students who will be taking his test the next day. For people like me, to whom talk of “optical properties of chiral nematic of liquid crystals” resembles an alien language, this has been a gift.

And so I issue a sincere thanks to Dr. Munson, whose visits to the lounges of Russell are much like visits from Santa Clause at Christmas time, and who always manages to cheer up study-weary Honors students with his sumptuous snacks.

Suddenly, majoring in a chemical science doesn’t sound so unappealing.

~Victoria Snare

In the [research] Trenches 12.4.12

As the semester finishes up we get an update from Alexandra Bayles and Matthew Sinnott on their senior theses.

Alexandra Bayles: “Morphological Responsiveness of Anisotropic Partially Crystalline Emulsion Colloids”


The thing that I find most exciting about the research I’m doing for my thesis is that the work has relevant, practical implications outside of the academic world. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the past 1.5 years to collaborate with researchers in industry throughout my work. Throughout the collaboration, we have drawn from one another’s results to advance both the physical understanding of the PCE phenomena and ultimately utilize this understanding to engineer products.

The most challenging part about the research I’m doing is finding the time to go into lab and conduct experiments. The fall semester of senior year is particularly busy for many seniors–not only do we have difficult capstone classes within our major, but many of us are also applying for graduate fellowships and research programs. There are many days where I wish I could forgo doing coursework and writing applications and instead spend the entire day in lab. By writing a thesis, I expect to learn how to better communicate my experimental results to audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with my field of research.

After graduating, I intend to go to graduate school to complete a PhD. Writing this senior research thesis not only improves my chance at being accepted into top graduate programs, but has also given me a preview of the work that I will do while in graduate school.

Matthew Sinnott: “Damage sensing in composite structures for the development of a health monitoring system and sensing self-healing capabilities”

I am excited to continually learn more about my research by reading articles and discovering what is done as other universities. Because the field is emerging into an area where there are new projects being explored everyday the scope of my project is constantly changing. The most challenging part of the research that I am doing is organizing all of my data and information nicely. There is a lot of different data that I am collecting with every test that needs to be evaluated and interpreted.

I am hoping to have a better understanding of how a final report should look before submitting it for publication. Writing a thesis should help me improve my technical writing skills and be better prepared for graduate school After graduation I am hoping to get a job in industry and work towards my master’s degree as a part time student. During interviews a lot of potential employers question me about my experience as an undergraduate researcher. After writing a thesis I have a better understanding of the small details of my project and feel comfortable explaining these details in a professional setting.

In the [research] Trenches 11.27.12

This week it’s all about the numbers. Seth Rubin (Finance and Economics) talks baseball stats while Joe Servadio (Statistics, Math-Economics) discusses undergraduate sanitation habits.

Seth Rubin Market Efficiency of Major League Baseball Player Salaries: A Look at the Moneyball Hypothesis Ten Years Later”


What most excites me is the opportunity to combined a passion of mine in baseball statistics, and combine it with what I have learned and will continue to learn and get to write about it as a thesis. The most challenging part is finding the right statistics to use for my research and getting some of the pieces of data.

I am expecting to learn about Major League Baseball and how statistical analysis has and is still changing the way players are evaluated. My hopeful plans will be to work at either a financial services firm or with a major league sports team where I can use my data analysis tools to make a positive impact. And then eventually go back to school for either my MBA, Masters or even potentially a PHD. This will help me continue to grow my analysis skills that will help me wherever I end up.

Joe Servadio: “Comparative Risk of Undergraduate Sanitation Habits.”


The intent is to determine whether or not any interactions exist among the Knowledge, Beliefs, and Practices of undergraduates concerning sanitation habits. The habits I am isolating are hand hygiene and food safety, which focuses on produce storage and preparation.

So far, what I have found to be the most exciting part of my research is being able to conduct my own research project that has a practical application. I also was really excited to be able to create and conduct a survey that was sent to a random sample of undergraduates. My response rate was better than expected, and I’m really glad that I was able to collect a lot of data, which will make my results more precise.

The biggest challenge I am facing so far is the step that I am currently working on: the data analysis. My survey closed last week, and I am now in the process of sorting through all of the raw data and making it more usable. Many of the questions on my survey were multi-part, meaning that while something looked like 1 question with 10 different categories, it now to me is like 10 different questions that must be addressed individually. It’s definitely a challenge to take a huge Excel spreadsheet and find a way to make this data usable. What I hope to learn from this thesis is how to organize, plan, and conduct a research project. I hope that this will, even at the most rudimentary level, provide insight into a career in research. So far, I have found this to be a very positive experience.

I currently am applying to doctoral programs in Statistics with a research focus in health sciences. I think that writing a thesis in this topic is a good way to show graduate schools that I am currently involved in this form of research, and that I am capable of being involved in research.

In the [research] Trenches 11.20.12

This week, we caught up with seniors Ron Lewis (Chemical Engineering), Michael Rowley (Exercise Science and Biological Sciences) and Allison McCague (Cell and Molecular Biology & Genetics) as they work on their thesis projects!

K. Michael Rowley: “The Effect of Plantarflexion Angle on Landing Mechanics Using a Within-Subjects Real-TimeFeedback Protocol”


UDHP: What most excites you about the research that you are doing?

KMR: Actually the most exciting part just happened three hours ago! I am currently in Singapore and just presented my research at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science conference. It has been really awesome to see the differences in landing mechanics between a group of controls and a group of dancers. There are some interesting differences in using the hip and ankle when landing with very pointed feet between the two populations. The presentation was received very well and other researchers had some great feedback for future directions and more variables to look at.

UDHP: What is the most challenging part of the research that you are doing?

KMR: The most challenging part is figuring out which variables are meaningful and which aren’t. There are SO many variables to look at between groups, between individuals, and between ankle angles of landing. Just some that we are considering are the peak force and the peak loading rate with which the subjects are hitting the ground, the joint moments in the hip, knee, and ankle at landing, and rotations at the hip, knee, and ankle both at initial contact and throughout the entire landing.

UDHP: What are you hoping to learn from writing a thesis?

KMR: I have already learned so much about how a research project gets from just an idea, to a specific question, to an actual method, through data analysis, and then drawn into some conclusions that give some information about that initial idea. It’s amazing how the data I collected and the questions I answered only led to more questions, which is why data analysis is still an evolving process as we think of more and more things to investigate.

UDHP: What are your plans for after graduation?

KMR: I plan to attend graduate school for biomechanics research in dance science, not sure where yet. Writing this thesis will give me a huge leg up when it comes to my first semester in graduate school. I will be able to jump right into research questions and thesis development.

Allison McCague: “The Role of N-Linked Glycosylation During Drosophila Development”


UDHP: What most excites you about the research that you are doing?

AM: Probably the challenging genetics excite me the most. My project is stimulating intellectually, which I like. I like the fact that I’m applying what I’ve learned in the classroom to a project that has applications in the real world.

UDHP: What is the most challenging part of the research that you are doing?

AM: The most challenging part of the research I’m doing is probably all the roadblocks I’ve run into (especially in the past year). When things just don’t work right, it can be frustrating.

UDHP: What are you hoping to learn from writing a thesis?

AM: I’m primarily hoping to learn how to write scientifically. I’ve read many scientific publications in my college career, but I’ve never had to write anything more complicated than a lab report. A senior thesis will be the thing I write in my undergraduate career that will most resemble a bionafied scientific publication. And if I end up in the field I’m thinking I will end up in, that is a skill that will be absolutely essential.

UDHP:What are your plans for after graduation?

AM: I plan to attend graduate school and obtain a PhD in genetics. Undergraduate research and writing a thesis provide absolutely vital experiences that give me an idea of what it will be like to be a grad student.

Ron Lewis: “The Effect of Block Copolymer Thin Film Morphology on Stem Cell Differentiation”

UDHP: What most excites you about the research that you are doing?

RL: I am most excited by the idea that this is something that has never been done, and also by the fact that we are essentially going to try to use artificially generated materials to mimic the structures of the human body.

UDHP:  What is the most challenging part of the research that you are doing?

RL: The most challenging part of my research is that there seem to be so many factors that go into it. For my project, it’s nothing at all like putting an object into a machine and pressing a button. There’s quite a few things going on, and it is important to be extra careful at every step along the way.

UDHP: What are you hoping to learn from writing a thesis?

RL: I am expecting and certainly hoping that writing a thesis will increase my skill and knowledge of technical writing, research procedures, and the material I am studying, in general.

UDHP:What are your plans for after graduation?

RL: My plans after graduation are to attend graduate school. Since this path is a research intensive one, I expect that writing a thesis and performing research for it will help me prepare for what is ahead!

In the [research] Trenches 11.17.2012

Leanne Keller (Psychology and Cognitive Science) and Liz Hetterly (Biology and Dean’s Scholar in Global Health and Social Justice) tell us about their senior thesis projects.

Leanne Keller: “The Effects of International Adoption on Children’s Abilities to Sustain Attention: An Assessment of Group Differences and Long Term Sequelae”


“I think I am most excited about actually looking at my results, as I’ve been collecting and analyzing data since the beginning of the summer so I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s there. The most challenging part of my research has probably been how different what I’m doing is from the interests of most other people in my lab. My research focuses on cognitive development, but the lab that I work in usually looks more into emotional development and attachment. In a lot of ways, I’m on my own with what I’m doing, especially with reviewing the existing literature, because I’m one of the few people in my lab who have really looked into it. That really ties into what I’m hoping to learn from this process, as I want to more fully understand the research process at all stages.

Participating in undergraduate research can give you a good clue into how things usually go, but I really think the independence of a senior thesis and the control of a project from the very starting stages of coming up with a proposal to putting the finishing touches on the final paper is beneficial beyond other available research opportunities. After graduation I hope to go to graduate school for a Ph.D. in either a Clinical or Developmental Psychology, where I’ll be involved in projects like this thesis for many years to come!”

Liz Hetterly: “Unintended pregnancy and need for family planning services among the urban adolescent poor in Bangladesh”


“What most excites me is the idea that this is “real” research…this is not just a lab or a class exercise, but real-life research that there is a genuine need for, that will have a real impact on people’s lives. That’s exciting to me. It’s exciting to think that this is the type of work I might be doing in the future. For me, the most challenging part is communicating with the other people who are working on this project…this may be specific to me, because I’m doing an international research project. But being halfway across the world and staying in the loop on how the study is going has been a challenge. I was able to accomplish a lot more when I was there in Bangladesh over the summer, and that is why I’m planning on returning for winter session. Being there in person makes an enormous difference.

I’m expecting to gain a better understanding of the barriers adolescents in urban slums of Bangladesh face in accessing family planning services, and in what ways we can reduce those barriers. On a broader scale, I’m hoping to learn about the context of reproductive health around the world – to learn about the lives of young girls in Bangladesh, the context that they live in, and how that influences their ability to make choices concerning their reproductive health.

My plans for after graduation are to work in South Asia doing research on maternal and reproductive health, in order to gain some more experience and research skills before going on to medical and graduate school. To this end, doing a senior thesis has been INVALUABLE. I wouldn’t be qualified to continue working in this area if I didn’t have the experience of going to Bangladesh this past summer and completing a thesis. My senior thesis has given me the skills, experiences, and connections needed to further my academic and professional career. Most of all, my senior thesis has helped me see exactly what I want to do in the world! After my experience in Bangladesh, I knew that I was interested in the social determinants of health and health issues affecting girls and women, and that is what I plan to study in the future.”

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