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Master's Thesis Research for Reno Lab
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Lia Gavazzi

Major: Biological Anthropology, Italian
Hometown: Warriors Mark, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

This past fall I began my research for my master's thesis during my first year as an integrated undergraduate/graduate (IUG) student.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I used the Liberal Arts enrichment funds for travel to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. to personally examine some of the skeletal specimens within their collections. I spent three days in the museum collections looking at adult and juvenile remains from lorisine primates, sloths, anteaters, and spider monkeys - these are the main species I am focusing on for my research. I am looking to understand growth plate development and formation in primates and Xenarthrans, as they share several developmental similarities. The specimens I found most interesting and useful for my research will be shipped to Penn State and CT scanned for further analysis and evaluation.

How did this experience impact you academically?

My trip to the Smithsonian in D.C. is the first time that I have accessed the collections component of a museum. I was able to have hands-on experience with the specimens and make decisions about what to borrow. From this trip, I was able to request a number of specimens for loan and greatly increase the size of my sample for my project. After traveling to the Museum of Natural History in D.C. and experiencing the loan process I feel more confident in my project and in planning my trips to New York City, Cleveland, and Gainsville Florida for the rest of my sample.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

After finishing my master's at Penn State, I would like to continue my education and eventually earn my Ph.D., becoming a professor of anthropology. This trip was my first major step towards that goal, as it was the first time I conducted research for an independent project. Going to Washington D.C. and experiencing the museum and subsequent research firsthand has solidified my commitment towards becoming an anthropologist and continuing such research into the future.

I would definitely recommend trying to experience components of your field outside of the classroom or laboratory.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would definitely recommend this experience to other students. While sitting in a museum looking at skeletal remains all day isn't everyone's idea of a fun time, getting to travel and personally research ideas in my field was phenomenal. I would definitely recommend trying to experience components of your field outside of the classroom or laboratory - going to D.C. definitely widened my perspective on how research is conducted and what I need to do to create a successful thesis.

For more information on research opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.

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