UNH master's student relies on graduate student resources to finish thesis

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bennett Thompson at the Kellogg Biological Station

The question every graduate student must face: how do I accomplish my goals in a finite window of time?

For Bennett Thompson, a master's student in UNH’s natural resources and the environment program, the answer to this challenge has been rooted in UNH graduate student services.  

Like most graduate students, Thompson has had a busy couple of years. He studies soil science with Stuart Grandy, associate professor of natural resources, and has been a teaching assistant (TA) for two laboratory sections of introductory biology. “I absolutely valued my TA experience here,” Thompson said, “but the combination of teaching and coursework made it difficult to progress on my thesis during the school year.”

Thompson’s thesis investigates microbial communities in soil and their abilities to produce agricultural nitrogen for plants. His project involved collecting soils from the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Long Term Ecological Research experiment, extracting the microbial communities from the soil, and using these samples to study the emerging concept of microbial nitrogen use efficiency.

“This fellowship took the financial stress out of a really academically challenging summer.”

By the end of his second year at UNH, Thompson had successfully collected and processed his samples; however, he still had to analyze his data and write his thesis, with only one summer left to accomplish these tasks. Enter the Summer Teaching Assistant Fellowship (STAF), an award given by the UNH graduate school to students who have served as teaching assistants and have performed exceptionally well both as TAs and students. The STAF seeks to financially support graduate research and study during the summer. The combination of Thompson’s dedication throughout his service as a TA and his need to finish his thesis over the summer made him an ideal candidate for the STAF, of which he was a 2019 recipient.

“This fellowship took the financial stress out of a really academically challenging summer,” Thompson said. “Going to the Writing Center was a game-changer for me,” Thompson said, referring to the UNH Connors Writing Center’s graduate student services, which provide focused feedback sessions to graduate students. “I was a little apprehensive about taking time to work with the Writing Center because I was completing my thesis on a tight schedule,” Thompson said. “But I found that regularly meeting with the staff helped me clarify and organize my ideas, which allowed me to write my thesis much faster.”

In addition to helping him stay on schedule, the Writing Center provided Thompson with the community encouragement he needed to see his project through to the end. “It was a really affirming experience! I had a friend also going to the Writing Center, and after each of our meetings we’d gush about all the useful feedback we got and how much better we felt,” Thompson said. “I’d definitely recommend the Writing Center to graduate students with a range of needs throughout the writing process.”

Thompson successfully defended his thesis at the end of July. As a Presidential Management Fellow, Thompson will soon be moving to Washington, D.C. where he has accepted a job with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I appreciate the graduate school’s support for its students, especially recognizing and supporting the academic efforts of all of us who teach!” Thompson said.