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