Monday, October 31, 2005

Ph.D. Thesis

I had to drive down to Tempe to meet with the chair of my Ph.D. thesis committee to talk about my comprehensive exam paper and my thesis topic. Both of these steps have to be completed by the end of the semester (in about six weeks) in order for me to be admitted to candidacy next spring. I had been having a pretty rough day, but the meeting really picked me up. I had given the committee chair a few extra hard copies of my comp exam paper (it's about 25 pages). he asked if he could keep it so that he could show it to his other students, saying, "THIS is how you should be writing your comps!" I needed that! Being a writer really helps, even in writing academic papers, since I long ago learned to write clearly and persuasively. I still have to defend the paper orally, but he seemed to think that after the work I'd done on the paper itself that would just be a formality. Much rejoicing!

The other news is that we successfully narrowed down my original thesis topic to something is a bit more manageable -- and interesting, from my perspective. The question is this: Can visual memory span be improved by teaching students how to recognize and extract (disembed) the fine geological details from a picture of a landscape? Basically, we're asking whether we can improve the cognitive abilities of science students by explicitly working to improve their ability to use visual classification. We have a battery of tests to measure their visual and spatial skills and their visual memory span. After they have been practicing with the geology content, we'll see if they can use their new knowledge to actually improve their visual memory spans. This is akin to the way Sherlock Holmes could solve crimes by pulling the important details out of a crime scene and remember them later. We'd like to teach this skill to real people. It should be fun!

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