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Thesis in the Spotlight: Owen Parra

Publication date

October 08, 2018 8:15 PM


Tess Martin

Owen Parra is writing his Honors Thesis in Neuroscience under Dr. Derek Pociask, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Dr. Gary Dohanich, Professor of the Psychology Department. In his project, Owen is examining at how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might affect the functioning of the immune system. He hopes this research will enhance the state of knowledge on PTSD, ultimately resulting in higher quality, holistic PTSD care.

Owen’s thesis research has taken place primarily in the lab, where he has studied the thymi, blood samples, and brain tissue of mice that have been placed in a PTSD model. For his data collection, he measured biological symptoms of the mice such as accelerated thymic atrophy, decreased thymic output, and abnormalities in glucocorticoid levels. These measurements signal a higher probability of decreased immune system functioning. At this point, Owen has completed most of his lab work to gather the data, and his next steps will involve supplementing his findings with background research, comparisons with similar studies, and statistical analysis of his own data. He hopes that his research will add to the current state of knowledge on individuals suffering from PTSD, showing how susceptibility to PTSD could also be linked with susceptibility to other biological conditions.

Originally, Owen got involved in this research by speaking with his neuroscience professors, meeting with professors whose projects he found particularly interesting, and through that process, he began working in the lab that focused on PTSD. Owen chose this lab to study the biological markers of PTSD since his personal research interest was in hormones and stress. He was then placed in an offshoot of the project that looked specifically at how PTSD affected the immune system. As his interest in this sub-project continued to grow throughout his lab work, he decided to adopt the project for his thesis.

Hoping to continue working on research in graduate and medical school, Owen believes that his thesis will open doors to other research areas. He is currently working in an HIV clinic and hopes to connect his current research on the immune system with HIV work later in his academic career. He is looking at his Honors Thesis as a “learning opportunity” to really understand the research process, so he “can be prepared for whatever types of research [he] may explore in the future.”

Accountability always poses a challenge for thesis writers, especially with other schoolwork, but there are many ways to prepare. Owen believes that doing the bulk of his lab research over the summer helped him, since he did not have other school commitments going on at the time. During the year, by setting aside times each week and communicating frequently with his first reader, he is taking active steps to plan a consistent, manageable workload.

Owen has some words of advice for aspiring thesis writers: start early. He thinks that, even though it is common advice, it helped him build a manageable project without feeling overwhelmed. He says it is also important to note and accept that “you probably won’t know everything”, so refrain from holding yourself to the same standard as PhD students or full-time researchers on your first project. Ultimately, he believes the Honors Thesis should be looked at as a learning process. “Put forth your best work, work hard, and get an early jump on it, and you will be fine.” Owen’s hard work will not only help him advance in his academic and professional career, but it will also inform higher-quality, comprehensive treatment practices for people suffering from PTSD.