Really, Writing a 36,000-Word Research Paper is a Good Thing

“I’ve developed skills I can apply in many different directions.”

When professors—who typically have a 10-page project in mind—first say the words research paper to their undergraduate students, chances are they’ll hear mutters and sighs. Say the same words (or say senior honors thesis) to Amanda Mummert, and she’ll probably smile. If asked, she also might mention that the award-winning paper she wrote filled 144 pages. And she’ll be quick to say that writing her thesis (an original point of view based on research) helped her in ways she never would have expected.

Path to the prize

Born and raised in Lancaster, California, in the Mojave Desert, Amanda is the first in her family to go to college. After completing most of the requirement for a degree in organic chemistry, she realized that, for her, the subject didn’t involve enough personal interaction to be fulfilling. So she switched to anthropology and “absolutely loved it.”


Physical rather than cultural anthropology interested Amanda because of the science involved. Her focuses were osteology and morphology—the studies of bones and the body’s form and structure. “Learning how the body adapts to changing conditions is really interesting to me,” she says.

At an undergraduate Anthropology Student Union meeting, Amanda learned about a researcher leading an excavation in south central Peru. She applied to join the field crew and spent five weeks analyzing cranial remains of 40 individuals from the ancient Cotahuasi people. She assessed their general health, looked for

injuries such as fractures or weapon marks, and studied the skulls’ shape to determine the individuals’ sex and age. “Using the tools of bioarchaeology [a fusion of physical anthropology and archaeology], skeletons can reveal a lot about past cultures,” says Amanda, who plans to become a professor.


The data she reported in her paper, combined with her historical research, clarifies how the Cotahuasi’s health, diet, and identity were affected under the Wari Empire (CE 700–1000) during a time of likely social upheaval. By comparing her data with information about other people the Wari influenced, Amanda produced new findings about culture, society, and politics at the time.


“Her research is significant to the field of anthropology,” says department chair and professor Barbara Voorhees.

Paper payoff

To present outstanding research effectively was Amanda’s goal from the beginning—but what were the unexpected benefits? Her list is long:

  1. For starters, “My writing greatly improved!”
  2. The paper was a big factor in Amanda’s being hired as a research analyst and technical writer at Thomson Medstat, in Goleta. She is examining how health-care fields are attacking disease and is saving money for graduate school.
  3. “Now that I know how to produce a large scholarly paper, that’s one thing I won’t have to figure out when I get to graduate school!”
  4. “Phillip Walker, my faculty mentor, guided me as I prepared two articles based on my research for publication. They will be useful when I contact professors I’d like to work with later on—and when I apply for funding.”
  5. “I presented my research at a conference at Santa Clara University and at UCSB’s Colloquium on Undergraduate Research.”
  6. “I received academic credit for my thesis, plus funds from URCA (Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities office) so I could reduce my part-time work hours [in the University Center].”
  7. “The whole project gave me a really large sense of accomplishment!”