Newsletter Article

APA Research Award Supports Psycholinguistics

Margarita Zeitlin
Margarita Zeitlin

Margarita Zeitlin (Cogition & Perception with Lee Osterhout) received a 2018 American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award. The Psychology Graduate Program was very excited to hear this news and asked her some questions about how this award will help support her research and studies towards a Ph.D.!

Let's start with the basics, where are you from and where did you complete undergrad/masters?

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and I stayed in NYC to attend New York University where I completed my B.A. in Linguistics and German.

How did you wind up at UW/why did you apply here? What do you think about living in Seattle?

After I graduated from NYU, I volunteered at a research lab at Hunter College in New York for one year and then moved to Boston, where I spent four years working as a lab manager and research assistant at Harvard University and Tufts University. Having lived my entire life on the East Coast up to that point, I was itching for an opportunity to give the West Coast a try. UW is an absolute intellectual powerhouse in psychology and language research, and I was also attracted by the opportunities in industry available in Seattle, so applying here was a no brainer. As a New Yorker, I often get asked what I think about the “Seattle freeze” and the aggressive passive-aggressiveness, but I don’t know that I feel either of those things very strongly. What I do know is that Seattle feels like a great middle ground between city and community, and there’s something about being able to see nature on the horizon most places you look that lends it all a particular majesty.

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

Over the past 10 years, I’ve studied language comprehension and language learning in children and adults using behavioral methods, eye-tracking, EEG/ERPs, and fMRI. What continues to keep me up at night is how we are able to understand each other so effortlessly. We speak at a rate of about 2-3 words per second, we only get bits of language at a time, and we don’t really know exactly what our conversational partner is going to say, yet we’re able to understand language as quickly as it comes to us. I’m interested in understanding what kind of linguistic information individuals attend to that allows them to speed language comprehension, and whether we can leverage learners’ intrinsic linguistic abilities to promote learning throughout the lifetime.

How did you learn about your funding opportunity and tell us about the application/waiting process?

I heard about the APA Dissertation Research Award from the psych-grads listserv. Applications for this award are nominated by the department and are due at the end of August. Awards are announced by the beginning of November. The short waiting period in combination with the modest application packet definitely make this an award worth applying for.

How did you feel when you learned that your application was accepted and that you will receive funding?

The APA Dissertation Research Award is the first competitive award I’ve received for my research in psycholinguistics. It was incredibly satisfying and encouraging to receive recognition for a proposal I had developed myself, and inspiring that people were excited about the applications of this work.

What is the name of your project and the funding source?
The name of the project is The role of native language comprehension in second-language learning ability. The funding source is the American Psychological Association (APA).

How might your research change the world?
Much of what we learn throughout our lifetimes depends on our ability to extract information from written or spoken language. Academic achievement is particularly contingent on this skill, especially when learning takes place in a second language. However, the way in which we extract information through language is not homogeneous and there are are systematic differences in the type of linguistic information people attend to and learn from. Given that language comprehension is a critical barrier for lifelong learning, the goal of my research is to understand how people vary in the way they process language and in turn, how it affects the way they learn. I hope this project will inform ways in which we can leverage learners’ intrinsic linguistic abilities to promote educational environments that increase learning outcomes.

Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for others who may apply to this opportunity? About graduate study in general?
As with any grant application, it’s worth understanding what kind of research this award tends to fund. The APA website has a list of winners and their project titles and/or descriptions available to review.

One of the things I’ve learned about graduate study is that while it doesn’t get easier, it just gets harder in different ways. The good news is that this means that you’re learning and becoming more capable of dealing with bigger and different kinds of problems. It’s also important to remember that graduate school is all about training for your career, regardless of what shape it ends up taking. Ensuring that you’re getting the intellectual and skill training you want for your future will help you make the most of your graduate career and will make completing it more fulfilling along the way.

What do you hope to accomplish with the funding and/or while in the UW Psychology graduate program?
The funding I’ve been awarded will help me complete data collection more efficiently and provide me time to receive training in a complimentary EEG method to the one I am primarily using in my project. I hope to conduct this additional analysis on my dissertation data and become a more competitive applicant for comprehensive training in this method in the future.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

What spare time? (I know, oldest joke there is.) When I have the time, I enjoy trying out new recipes in the kitchen, developing film in the bathroom, and growing vegetables in the garden.

The last book and/or movie you saw and enjoyed?
I really love this book called Crap Taxidermy, which is a collection of some of the worst and most hilarious taxidermy there is. There are also instructions on how to do your own mouse stuffing, but I’ve yet to get any BNS students on my side for that craft project.

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

Nap and travel. I’m not sure if I’ll end up pursuing a position in academia or in industry, but I’ve really enjoyed my teaching opportunities and I know I will definitely continue teaching in some capacity when I complete my PhD.

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