Newsletter Edition

Winter 2013

Published: 12/05/2013

Greetings from the Chair

Photo: Sheri Mizumori
Photo: Sheri Mizumori

The 2013-2014 year is off to a fabulous start. We celebrated the arrival of three new faculty members (Jonathan Kanter, Kate McLaughlin, and Kristina Olson) who will significantly enrich the clinical and developmental aspects of our research and instructional missions. We are also thrilled to begin work with our new graduate students and undergraduate majors who arrived from all parts of the country. The accomplishments of our senior graduate students and majors continue to be simply stunning!

Last year, we began to expand our efforts to bring the amazing research results and expertise of our faculty and students to the public in the most meaningful and rapid way possible. Thanks to the generous and much appreciated contributions from a number of our Friends of Psychology, we added more public lectures and workshops on topics of interest to the broader community. The list of events and activities continues to grow this year. In addition to our long-standing and very popular Edwards Public Lecture Series (2014 theme: The Science of Decision Making), multiple new public events will be sponsored by the Mindful Living and Practice Initiative of our Center for Child and Family Well Being.  Our new Certificate in Autism Theory and Practice was launched this fall.  This Certificate program links a fundamental science-based understanding of autism spectrum disorders with best practices for treatment and intervention.  Thanks to the hard work by Associate Professor Kevin King, the Psychology Department now supports the UW in High School Psychology courses by working with high school teachers and administrators to insure that local high school students receive college level preparation in their Advanced Placement Psychology classes. Our effort to connect with K-12 educational missions of the greater Seattle area continues in the form of faculty and student participation in local science fairs and events. Integrating all levels of our community with the scientific and educational goals of the Psychology Department has been deeply enriching for our faculty and students, and we hope for the community as well.  I hope you have a chance to participate in the many upcoming departmental events this year!

I hope that you and your family have the most joyous holiday season and a happy and healthy 2014!

Best wishes,

Sheri Mizumori

McNair Scholar Awarded for Language Research

Photo: Jose Ceballos
Photo: Jose Ceballos

Jose Ceballos is a first year Cognition & Perception student working with Chantel Prat. As an undergraduate at the University of Florida, Jose participated in the prestigious Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program. The McNair Program assists and prepares undergraduate students for doctoral studies by providing research, academic, and networking support. As a graduate of the that Program, Jose was eligible to be nominated for a graduate Ronald E. McNair Fellowship offered through the Graduate Opportunity and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) of the Graduate School. This highly competitive fellowship provides the recipient with tuition waivers, health insurance coverage, and a stipend for both the first year of graduate training and for the final year of study when the dissertation work is completed.   The Psychology Department is grateful that our promising scholar was selected for such a prestigious award and look forward to watching Jose develop as a scholar and scientist.

Jose was interviewed for this article by Jeanny Mai, our award-winning Graduate program Advisor.

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/
masters?
I was born in Miami but raised in Madrid, Spain for a few years after birth and then
Medellin, Colombia from elementary school until high school. I went to the University of
Florida in Gainesville, FL for undergrad.   

How did you wind up at UW/why did you apply here? What do you think about living in
Seattle?
Good question! Basically, a few really great research experiences in undergrad led me to
want to pursue a PhD in the cognitive neurosciences rather than purely theoretical
linguistics. Chantel Prat’s research in the neural basis of individual differences in language comprehension, along with her neuroimaging experience perfectly matched my research interests. Ultimately, it was how well I connected with Chantel, and my super-positive experience during interview weekend brought me here.

I absolutely love Seattle; the city is beautiful and feels very charming to me (despite the frequent grayness). It’s a weird feeling, but from my first night in the city during interview weekend I had this feeling of “this is it… Seattle is the city for me.” So far I’ve been right about that, I’ve had really great experiences in the city and the surrounding areas!

What is your research interest and how did you get into it (what inspires/motivates you)?

I am broadly interested in the neural basis of language & higher-level cognition. I’m
particularly interested in the interrelatedness of various cognitive functions (e.g. how
multilingualism affects executive function).

I’ve had a curiosity for language since I was a young kid. With a bilingual and multicultural upbringing, I think I developed a pretty strong sense of metalinguistic awareness early on.  This essentially drove much of my intellectual curiosity and academic development, but my desire to study language dates back to my initial exposure to language research and theory with Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct. I remember being mind-blown by this book back in 9th grade, and shortly after signing up for a psychology elective course. This may sound personal statement-y, but much of what inspires me is how much work remains to be done in the field. I’d like to one day be known as a pioneer in language research!

How did you feel when you learned the department nominated you for the award and you
received it?

I believe Chantel first mentioned it over the phone, and I recall thinking “Me? Really…?” It definitely caught me by surprise! I am incredibly grateful and honored to have received this award, as it has allowed me to transition more smoothly into the occasional madness that is grad school.

What do you hope to accomplish/What questions are you trying to answer with the funding
and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?

I’m currently working on my first year project where I aim to test the hypothesis that
increased inhibitory control in bilinguals is related to decreased impulsive behaviors
relative to monolinguals. Ultimately, I want my project to provide support for linguistic and nonlinguistic brain-training paradigms to improve inhibitory control and by extension reduce impulsive behavior.

What has been your most interesting finding to date on this project?

The project is currently piloting and we’re just about to start gathering participant data, so the only interesting finding to date is that I-LABS can be awfully scary at night.

On a more serious note… Through my review of the background literature, I was really
amazed at the lack of consensus over the definition of many of these broader aspects of executive function, such as inhibitory control. I initially found this to be a little frustrating, but I then figured it gives me the opportunity to work on projects to help clarify these gray areas in the literature.

Since you're in your first year of graduate study, do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who are looking to apply for graduate programs?

One of the questions I hear most frequently is if it’s a good idea to go straight from
undergrad to grad school, with no time off in between. Although many people would likely say no, I think it ultimately depends on how certain you are about grad school being the “right” choice for yourself. Graduate programs are taxing, so I’d advise people to be sure they’re doing something they’re truly passionate about. Five or six stressful years doing work you hate is certainly a recipe for unhappiness!

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I really enjoy exercising in my spare time. I swim almost every night for about an hour, and I’ve also picked up archery here at the IMA on Mondays and Wednesdays. I also hike during the weekends! Swimming, archery, and hiking have really helped me maintain healthy levels of stress over the past few weeks!

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?

Currently (struggling to keep up with) reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, and I’m hooked! I use my commute to and from campus to get a few pages in and will sometimes read a few pages before bed. That often turns out to be a bad idea, as I’ll stay up late reading!

What do you plan to do once you complete your PhD?

I’d love to postdoc for 2 years (ish), go onto a tenure-track position, lead my own lab,
teach, and mentor my own grad students, hopefully somewhere on the west coast. I don’t have a sense of where I’d like to postdoc yet, but hopefully that will become clearer to me over the next two years.

Supplemental Reading:

2014 Edwards Psychology Lectures: The Science of Decision Making

Edwards Lectures 2014SAVE THE DATES for the 9th annual Allen L. Edwards Psychology Lecture Series!

Join us for our 9th annual series as we explore the science of decision making. This popular series brings notable psychologists to the University of Washington to co-present with faculty from the UW Department of Psychology. This public lecture series is made possible by a generous endowment by Professor Allen L. Edwards, who was affiliated with the University of Washington Psychology Department from his arrival in 1944 as an Associate Professor to his death in 1994. 

This year's series will explore The Science of Decision Making. Our three featured UW faculty include: Chantel Prat (Feb. 19), Jeansok Kim (Feb. 26), and Susan Joslyn (Mar. 5). Together they will reveal how the brain and an individual's expectations bias the decisions that we make in uncertain conditions. 

Online registration will open on January 7, 2014 at UWalum.com/psychology. We hope to see you there!

 

Chantel Prat, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Washington

Randall O’Reilly, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder

February 19, 2014, 7-9pm, Kane Hall Room 130

The Neuroscience of Good Decision Making

Photo: Chantel Prat
Photo: Chantel Prat
Photo: Randall O’Reilly
Photo: Randall O’Reilly

Decision making is pervasive in everyday life, and individuals vary widely in their ability to use the information available to them to make good decisions. Drs. Randall O'Reilly and Chantel Prat will discuss such individual differences in decision making, with an emphasis on how various brain regions contribute to good decision making. 

 

February 26, 2014, 7-9pm, Kane Hall Room 130

How the Brain Makes Decisions under Uncertainty

Photo: Jeansok Kim
Photo: Jeansok Kim
Photo: John O’Doherty
Photo: John O’Doherty

Jeansok Kim, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington

John O’Doherty, Professor of Psychology, California Institute of Technology

In order to make decisions about what action to take in uncertain situations the brain needs to be able to make estimates about the future consequences of taking particular actions, and work out which is the best course of action to take in any given situation. Drs. Kim and O’Doherty will discuss how the rodent and human brains are capable of working out the “risk” and “value” of possible outcomes over the course of trial-and-error experience, and how that information subsequently gets used at the point of decision-making. Uncovering how it is that the brain makes decisions is important not only for gaining a better appreciation of what makes us tick as human beings, but also can ultimately help us to understand better what happens when people sometimes make poor decisions, such as when suffering from psychiatric illness.


March 5, 2014, 7-9pm, Kane Hall Room 130

Communicating, Understanding and Using Uncertainty Information in Everyday Decisions

Photo: Susan Joslyn
Photo: Susan Joslyn
Photo: David Budescu
Photo: David Budescu

Susan Joslyn, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Washington

David Budescu, Anne Anastasi Professor of Psychometrics and Quantitative Psychology, Fordham University

Each of us makes important decisions involving uncertainty in domains in which we are not experts, such as retirement planning, medical treatment, precautions against severe weather and climate change. We often have access to information about the relevant uncertainty that in some cases is provided by experts. These lectures will describe research that explores what people understand about uncertainty in decision making, how effectively they incorporate it into the decision process and implications for how best to communicate uncertainty information to non-expert decision makers.


Perspectives from a Ford Fellow

Photo: Arianne Eason
Photo: Arianne Eason

Arianne Eason is a 2nd year Social Psychology & Personality and Developmental graduate student working with Drs. Cheryl Kaiser and Jessica Sommerville. The Psychology Department asked Arianne to provide insight on her experience as a Ford Fellow and as a universal scholar. 

Last year, I was awarded the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship to fund three years of my graduate training.  Because of this I had the opportunity to attend the annual Conference of Ford Fellows last month.  The theme of the conference was—Knowledge, Community, and Action.  In many ways these three words sum up what I want from my academic career, the foundations of which I am laying now in grad school.  

Knowledge.  The core questions that drive me focus on understanding the factors that lead to the development of racial biases; and how people understand interracial interactions.  We live in an increasingly diverse society, but what do these shifts mean for children and adults’ reactions in mixed race contexts?

Community. There are a few ways in which community link with my time here at the UW and what I seek to accomplish.  First, my research questions are fundamentally linked to a community in which I belong (I am a black female, studying interracial interactions…).

But more importantly, the receipt of this fellowship offered an opportunity to engage/build communities in another way.  Within the department of psychology, I am a part of the developmental and social areas, with advisers in each (helping give me access to knowledge in each relevant area). The fellowship has helped to ensure that I can pursue questions that are of interest at the intersection of the two areas.  So within the department I have a community of scholars that I frequently interact with in both these areas. 

Additionally, because of this fellowship, my community has now expanded to include even more inspirational scholars, both within psychology (at different institutions) and other scholars in different fields.  Together these communities inspire me to continue to pursue my goals, and to ask the questions I find interesting and important. 

Action. One day I hope that the research I do can affect change by creating means to promote more positive interracial interactions and positive attitudes towards out-group members, especially in childhood. 

I am so lucky to be a part of all of these groups, to be a part of a department that wants knowledge to transcend its area distinctions, to have many communities receptive to my interests (including the Ford Foundation, the NSF, and the UW), to have the resources to develop and ask questions that can one day be used to promote change, and to have the time to devote to these interests.  For all of this I am so thankful and cannot wait to find out what the path ahead of me has in store…for now I think it will just be amazing research!

Supplemental Reading:

  • Arianne's NSF research spotlight article from 2012.

Psychology Major-Based Orientations: Helping Transfer Students Hit the Ground Running!

"The departmental orientation allowed me to meet my advisors, ask questions to a panel of current and former psychology students, and learn the importance of getting involved within the Psychology Department.  I couldn't have asked for a better welcoming experience to the University of Washington."

     - Colby Droullard (Transfer student from Everett Community College)

This past summer, the Psychology Department participated for the second year in a new model for transfer student orientations--one that welcomes students to their academic communities from day one.  During the summer of 2012, Psychology was one of four departments in the College of Arts and Sciences that piloted majors-based transfer orientation sessions.  "These students come to the University as juniors and really need to hit the ground running," says Psychology Advising Office Director Carrie Perrin, "we wanted to give them every opportunity to connect with their home departments, meet fellow students, faculty, advisors, and alumni, and learn about the resources available to them." 

The new orientation model was developed by advisors from Psychology, Biology, History, and English, in collaboration with the UW Office of First Year Programs.  A big success in its innaugural year, the program was expanded in 2013 to include the departments of French and Italian, Political Science, Spanish and Portuguese, and Art.  Traditionally, Arts and Sciences advisors had brief individual meetings with incoming transfer students throughout the summer, as part of a general orientation day, but there had never been any cohesive experience designed around specific majors.  "I loved the Psychology orientation session because I felt a more intimate connection with the UW and with the people I would most likely be around for the next two years," says Shayla Nawrocki, who transferred to UW from Shoreline Community College.  "I was able to chat with actual Psychology majors," Shayla continues, "and it made me feel more confident and prepared to attend the UW in the Psychology program."

This majors-based orientation model includes broad introductions to the University of Washington academic culture, resources, and student life, and gives students a chance to register for autumn quarter courses.  While these are previously established features of UW orientations, the majors-based sessions provided students with introductions to key people in their major departments, an in depth look at the intellectual culture of their disciplines, an opportunity to begin forming learning communities, and registration labs staffed by their departmental advisors with guaranteed access to courses required for their majors.  Emily McCoy, a transfer student from Edmonds Community College, observes that "the Psychology-focused transfer orientation helped break down a really intimidating part of the transfer experience by supplying us with tools and knowledge to manage the process."

This year's four day-long Psychology sessions served roughly 80 incoming transfer students, providing them with a warm welcome and individualized attention.  In preparation for each session, departmental advisors reviewed each student's transfer records, noted specific course suggestions for autumn, and prepared questions that would better assist students in getting started on their academic path here at UW.  "By attending the Psychology transfer orientation I was able to get rid of some of the anxiety I had about transferring to such a large university," remembers Brenda Jackson, who transferred to UW from Bellevue College in 2012.  Brenda continues that " I got to explore the campus and meet really cool people, and the advisors were very helpful and made registering for classes a breeze."  Now in her senior year and set to earn her BA in winter of 2014, Brenda took part in the 2013 transfer sessions as a peer facilitator.  Both she and fellow senior James LauRae are currently peer TAs in PSYCH 299 (Psychology Transfer Academic Community), a two-credit class led by Advising Director Carrie Perrin that picks up where the transfer sessions left off, helping over 60 first quarter students settle into their academic home and begin to take advantage of the wide range of opportunities available to them.

Come orientation season 2014, advisors from Psychology and numerous other Arts and Sciences departments will begin preparations for the third round of majors-based transfer sessions.  Schedules will be finessed... faculty and alumni will be invited to participate... advisors will pore over students' records to prepare to best assist them... and a new cohort of incoming UW students will receive the welcome and good start that they deserve.