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#DemystifyingThesis with Dillyn Adamo

By Liz Mehrmann

Dillyn Adamo created a multi-disciplinary science and art program for the UW Botanic Gardens, using printmaking techniques with natural found objects to observe and contemplate plant forms, anatomy, physiology, and species relationships.

Woman with brown glasses, a tan blouse and necklace holding yellow flowers.Dillyn Adamo double-majored in biology and art for her undergrad. One of her favorite classes, an Environmental Art class, focused on creating installations that focused on human impact and the environment. She remembers creating a pseudo worm religion for a particular assignment; examining soil health, the value of composting, and how soil helps sustain life on earth. Exploring those relationships from the perspective of worms, and the nature of their soil worship, inspired Dillyn to think about how we communicate climate change. Discussing science more broadly, in more accessible and digestible ways, she realized, was something she was very interested in doing.

So, unlike other student thesis journeys, Dillyn feels like she chose the Museology program at University of Washington specifically so she could do her thesis.

The interdisciplinary nature of UW Museology allowed Dillyn to explore integrating the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) approach into informal learning environments. Rather than focusing on a specific kind of museum, the program allowed for flexibility and experimentation when it came to finding a host institute.

3 black and white leaf prints.“The joy, for me, is watching people make connections between things and also make their own things,” Adamo says. Of course she’s excited about the art creation process, but for her it’s simply more fun to enable people to make their own art. Giving people the opportunity, the space, and the creative know-how, enables people to slow down and observe the world around them. Observation is a powerful skill when it comes to learning about our relationship with nature, and fosters learning more than some people realize. 

The UW Botanic Gardens hosted Dillyn’s program twice over Spring Break in 2022. In addition to the program, Dillyn did a formative evaluation to see what people felt they learned from the program. Using this data, she created a toolkit to share with other museums and organizations interested in hosting similar programs. 

Despite having a well-laid plan, Dillyn confesses there were some pretty serious challenges she encountered along the way. BrainMelt, for one; a phenomenon common among graduate students, in which all thoughts fuse together to form one incomprehensible trash heap that is impossible to navigate or organize, resulting in burnout and inability to form thoughts or recall words that were once common to their daily vocabulary. And, of course, finding participants for the program. Sometimes, even though you build it, they do not come (ironically, the term ghosting has also been coined since Field of Dreams was released in 1989).

Words "Demystifying Thesis" around photo of shavings in a gray bowl with an awl lying next to the bowl.One of the biggest self-care hacks for Dillyn is something she calls cookie hour. It’s a simple, though life-changing, concept. Pick an hour of the day, and indulge in your favorite cookie. For Dillyn, brown butter chocolate chip cookies from Whole Foods do the trick. She was also very conscious of her time: scheduling time to work exclusively on thesis, and taking time to recharge with her partner and 2 cats. Her advice to graduate students just embarking on their thesis journey: try to actually be done at the end of the day. And if you’re really dragging your feet, only do what is absolutely necessary. Tomorrow is another day.