Graduate Student Handbook

Lay Abstract of Theses and Dissertation


  • Lay Abstracts Coordinator - Robert Zink,, W504 NH CC 0338, Phone: 612-590-4215
  • Graduate Committee Chair - Daniel Snow,, 202 WL EC 0844, Phone: 402-472-7539

Let’s be honest. Research in SNR is varied, so much so that people in some fields are not able (or willing) to learn about research in other fields because they lack the technical expertise and understanding of the jargon. The SNR Graduate Faculty Committee has approved a voluntary effort by graduate students to include lay abstracts in theses and dissertations. In most career paths, graduate students will be tasked with communicating what they do to the general public, and lay abstracts provide an excellent introduction on how to write for the non-specialist. Lay abstracts will be included on the SNR website, and viewed by donors, alumni, prospective students, and any other people interested in seeing the great research done by our graduate students.

Beginning in Spring 2023, Dr. Bob Zink ( will serve as Lay Abstracts Coordinator. Any interested student can send a draft to Bob and he will work with you (if needed) to bring it to a point where someone outside the field can understand the work and its significance. At the end of Fall 2023 semester (December 9, 2023), we will appoint a committee of three faculty who do not have a student in the competition, and they will declare a “Best Lay Abstract”. The winner will receive $500.


Keep it around 300-700 words. Do not use jargon that your friends outside your field would not use. Begin with a sentence that will grab your reader, and end by looping back to your beginning statement. Make it understandable to a middle school student, and emphasize what you did, how you did it, and why someone should care about your results.

Example of Lay Abstract. Brittaney Buchanan’s M.S. on wild turkey

The Wild Turkey brings to many people’s mind the main course at a family feast on a day in late November. But, other than the grocery story, what is the history of this bird in North America? We think of the images of early settlers and their encounters with this majestic bird, but few know that the turkey was hunted almost to extinction, and they were gone from the Nebraska landscape. They are common today, so what happened? Through stricter regulations, captive breeding and reintroductions, the wild turkey has once again become a common sight in the wild, even in cities. Before the near extinction, turkeys in different parts of the range looked different, that is, their feather patterns and coloration were something of a bar code of where they lived. These different turkeys were called Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Ocellated, and Gould’s, and today an example of each is often much sought-after by hunters. Several differently appearing birds were reintroduced to Nebraska (including hybrids with domestic birds). My study asked what the genetic consequences have been from the numerous reintroductions and translocations - has all of the mixing of wild turkeys eroded their original genetic “signatures”? I used genetic techniques that allowed me to estimate the portion of each turkey’s genetics was represented by different subspecies. Given the mixing of birds across the range we expected, and found, that the original genetic signatures of birds from different regions are more-or-less homogenized. There are birds of seeming pure ancestry, but the majority are hybrids (some of which look like one or another subspecies). Thus, if the goal of wildlife management was to have more turkeys in the landscape, the reintroductions and translocations, have been extremely successful. If the goal was to maintain the historical pattern of genetic distinctiveness, well, that ship has sailed.