Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience Concentration

Lawrence Minnis, 2020

Lawrence Minnis

Describe your thesis.

I examined the top decision factors that potential dog adopters consider before and during a visit to local animal shelters. I surveyed over 550 people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia through the spring, summer, and fall seasons of 2019. Out of 12 possible decision factors, behavior ranked as the top factor that potential adopters considered.

How did you choose your specific area of study?

I have had relationships with the leadership and staff of a DC shelter since 2008, when I participated in a dog training education program. I have become increasingly interested in human-animal relationships and a variety of decision-making behaviors that humans and animals display. So, my research was a step to bridge my various interests and a path to provide analysis to local animal shelters that traditionally cannot spend money on R&D.

How did your academic experiences in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences impact you?

It has significantly increased my confidence to work through anything I face. Jumping into graduate school to study psychology presented a huge challenge for me. I started graduate school over 10 years after getting my undergraduate degree in business management and 5 years after my Army career prematurely ended following a deployment. I largely avoided technical science courses in high school and as an undergrad, but I truly enjoyed working to overcome all the academic challenges I have encountered in grad school.

What accomplishment(s) during your time at Mason are you most proud of?

I’m proud that I was able to adapt and perform as soon as I entered graduate school. I studied developmental neuroscience and fMRI in my very first semester and did very well in both courses, despite no prior undergraduate experience in either field. But, most of all I am proud of the work that was accomplished to complete my thesis. It was my first experience conducting empirical research and I spent over 80 hours collecting surveys at local shelters. The analyses and insights from the research are interesting, and I hope it can make a solid impact on the research field and for animal shelter adoptions.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career? Please give an example of this impact if possible.

There are many that I could name because the Psychology department staff has been extremely supportive and the faculty has as well. There are a few faculty members that I would like to recognize. First, Professor Doris Bitler Davis gave me the opportunity to enter grad school and be a part of her lab. She’s been a huge advocate for me and my interests and has provided room for me to grow. Professors Ted Dumas, Seth Kaplan, Sarah Fischer, Jim Thompson, and Thalia Goldstein all showed amazing enthusiasm for their areas of research, which expanded my interests and pushed my to identify areas that may intersect with companion animal behavior. Professors Matt Peterson, Tyler Shaw, and the list continues. I started school with a lot to learn, and I’ve taken something away from every professor I’ve come across.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

Make sure you prioritize correctly and be prepared to embrace every challenge or obstacle you face. There will be faculty and other grad students there to help, but your motivation to grind through it all will help determine your outcomes.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

I will continue on towards doctoral candidacy and I plan to begin my dissertation in 2021. I will continue to develop theory on the mechanisms involved in the pet adoption decision process. I will also spend time briefing shelters on my research and building the bridge between animal shelters, rescues, and researchers that can help them. Long-term, I’d like to further develop that bridge and pursue opportunities that touch on human-animal relationships, decision-making research, and my entrepreneurial interests.