Wu ’15 uses Dill funds for summer research at Harvard

Poster presentation that is open to the social sciences community at the William James Hall at Harvard University

Hi, Wabash! This summer, I worked at the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University with Prof. Jesse Snedeker and a graduate student at the lab.

In our study we explored the relationship between executive function and sentence processing. People encounter a lot of sentence ambiguities in our everyday life. For example, “The old man the boat.” The sentence might seem awkward at first, but as adults we are able to eventually understand that the sentence means “the old people are sailing the boat.” But children have difficulty tackling these ambiguities. Previous neuro-imaging studies have suggested that cortical areas responsible for executive function might be involved during sentence processing. Thus, the deficit might be related to children’s underdeveloped executive function. Therefore, in our study, we directly measure children’s executive function and see if previous premises are true. To do this, we compare the differences of executive function between bilingual children and monolingual children because bilinguals are found to have an advantage in executive function compared to their monolingual counterparts. We will continue collecting data to obtain significant results.

The experience was phenomenal. In terms of career development, the internship offered extraordinary opportunities to meet and talk with the director of a big research lab, who is one of the biggest names in the field, and get hands-on experience on an ingeniously designed research topic. I helped with participant recruitment, data collection, data coding, data analysis and presentation of my work. It was my first time to work in a developmental lab with children. It is different than but every bit as rewarding and challenging as testing adults. The process is a lot of fun as well. Not only was I able to call and schedule subjects from an extremely diverse pool in the greater Boston area (where there are a lot of Chinese bilingual families and I spoke Chinese with them on the phone!), but I was also able to actually operate on delicate and expensive facilities like the Tobii eye-tracker!

My Wabash education has prepared me well for the internship. Thanks to my first research experience with Prof. Gunther, I was very detail-oriented when I was learning the research design and conducting the procedure. The statistics class had also familiarized me with data analyses. I was able to figure out what tests to run, and how to run them on SPSS (with the help of my stats binder!). During the internship, we had three presentations including a poster presentation at the end. I was so surprised at my level of clarity and confidence when I was presenting to a room full of Harvard PhD students, post-docs and professors!

Besides serious and dedicated work in the lab, there are a lot of interesting activities for interns who represent 5 countries and 16 different prestigious institutions. We had reading groups every week where we read well-known theoretical and empirical articles from different fields of psychology and discuss some big issues including free will, Sapir-Whorfian theories, computational neuroscience, the origin of human concepts etc. Some discussions were so heated that they were carried on for hours at the barbecue after the reading group. Further, interns have coffee hours every week, which is an informal meeting where interns get free coffee while chatting and bonding with each other. Other “interntainments” including Harvard museum tours, Chinatown tours, Bowling nights and so on brought us very close. As a fellow intern commented on the internship, “It finds me talented people who share the same interests and can talk about psychology at the same level of understanding. These people help me understand better who I am and what I want, and thus make me feel less lonely.”

Thanks to the Wabash Psychology Department and the Dill Grant for making the internship possible!

-Charles Wu ’15

Summer research experience – Andy Walsh ’14

This summer, Dr. Olofson and I worked diligently on a new project. We collaborated with his graduate advisor, Dr. Dare Baldwin, from the University of Oregon on studying children’s dwell time during theory of mind tasks. We are attempting to measure changes in children’s understanding of others’ mental states by observing how long they dwell on a certain stimulus. This project is very interesting to us because we may be able to pinpoint the exact time in which a child begins to develop his or her theory of mind.

This internship benefited me far beyond what I expected. I attended the Association for Psychological Science conference in Washington, D.C. with Dr. Olofson in May and was able to take a lot away from it. I attended different symposia and poster sessions that allowed me to better understand how to structure methodologies in experiments and broaden my understanding of other fields of psychology, such as cognitive and clinical. In my time on campus, I researched many empirical articles and had many intellectual conversations with Dr. Olofson regarding our topic. Dr. Olofson was also involved with another project, so he trusted me to continue working on our project on my own. Therefore, I worked alone in finding relevant research backing up our questions and hypotheses, as well as critically thinking about our methodologies and stimuli.

About halfway through the internship I was already far more advanced in my psychology career than I ever was before. I was able to work on my own and think about effective manipulations and how different theories correlated. I could effectively research articles and pull out specific details relevant to our topic. These characteristics that I developed this summer are none that I could have gained if it were not for this internship and that I know will prepare me tremendously well for graduate school. Many of the tasks in which I completed are those equivalent to a graduate student experience. Due to this internship, I believe I will be ahead of the game when it comes to graduate school and other students who may have taken broader classes but did not receive similar research experience.