BU Today

Campus Life

Brevity + Wit = Thesis Tweets

Winners study brain images, spanked kids, and angry drivers


They researched. They wrote. They defended. And for a few brief moments, they tweeted.

Lastweek, BU Today asked harried seniors and graduate students to take afew seconds to tweet their thesis topicswith as much creativity as they could muster, for fun and profit.

Acknowledgingthe difficulty of this task — to paraphrase Mark Twain, they might havewritten it shorter had they had more time — three winners were chosenat random from participating Facebook and Twitter users. The academicinterests of the three students, who will receive $25 iTunes giftcards, couldn’t be more varied.

Patrick Johnson (COM’10), an MFAcandidate studying film, describes his project on Twitter at@thejourneyman: “A documentary on the culture of Boston driving. Why doBoston drivers drive like they do and what does it say about us as acity?”

Johnson, who hopes to teach film at the college level, isstill in the preproduction stages of his final project, but plans tofinish a 20-minute movie by the end of the summer.

“I’ve lived inNew York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and no place is quite like Boston,”says Johnson, a self-described “obsessive” observer of traffic. “Idon’t think I’ll come up with an answer, but I want to explore whyBoston drivers are so angry. Is it the weather, the local personality,or the fact that Boston was never designed to be a driving city?”

ShaynnaHerrera (CAS’10), a psychology major doing Independent Work forDistinction,researched the long-term effects of corporal punishment. Surveyrespondents who reported being physically disciplined as children, shefound, were more accepting of the practice as adults, and for women,childhood experiences with corporal punishment led to a higherself-reported rate of hostility, anxiety, and depression.

While her research methods were objective, her winning tweet was anything but.

“Enjoy being spanked? Consider a dominatrix. Enjoy spanking your kid?Consider a psychologist. End all corporal punishment of children,” shewrites at @ShaynnaNicole.

The final winner, Neil Weisenfeld (GRS’10), tweeting at @weisen, merely submitted the title of his thesis: “Example-based segmentation and atlas construction for the analysis of newborn brain MRI.”

Weisenfeld, a doctoral student in cognitive and neural systems with a background in computer science, has spent six years developing better software to read images of babies’ brains. His work is technical, he says, but seeing it applied to real-world problems has been rewarding.

In 2008, he says, he was able to present research showing that newborns whose mothers took methadone during pregnancy had smaller brains. “I had a lot of physicians come up to me afterward and say, ‘Thanks for putting a lot of heart and soul into this, because there isn’t enough data about this issue,’” he says. Researchers at Children’s and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals in Boston are now using his software to determine which hospital environments best encourage preterm babies’ brain development.

Besides the drawing winners, many students, across departments andschools, came up with fun ways to give a virtual defense of theirthesis.

Haley Cohen (CAS’10), an archaeology major who tweets, appropriately,at @futureprofessor, gave her entry a poetic lilt: “Stones became men,soldiers and rocks that could cry. What separates humanity from theInca stones? Only words.”

Vina Chhaya (SPH’10), working on a master’s in epidemiology andinternational health, went for a short quatrain: “With HIV+ mothers laycounselors have to pry. Zambian babies kick and cry. They prick afinger, give a test, get results — but HOW TO BEST?”

Allie Sklar (GRS’10), known on Twitter as @AllisonElise310, found herthesis topic especially timely. “Presenting policy options onapproaching Internet control in China. Thanks to Google for making thewriting process so … exciting,” she writes.

Tim Treacy (@timtreacy), a music educationdoctoral student in the College of Fine Arts, preferred not to jinx his thesis by breaking it downto its essentials. Instead, he simply tweets, “My dissertation isdefining me more than I am defining it” — a sentiment any beleagueredthesis writer could share.

Missed your chance to participate? Keep tweeting about your thesisusing the #BUthesis hashtag, and we’ll feature fun tweets periodicallyat @butoday.

Katie Koch can be reached at katieleekoch@gmail.com; follow her on Twitter at @katieleekoch.

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