general Q&A

Here are my answers for potential interview questions.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Grew up in small town Wisconsin.
  • At UW-Madison, I worked w/ Drs. Saffran, MacDonald and Seidenberg.
  • After graduating, I worked w/ Dr. Snedeker.
  • That brings me to today – excited to hear more about this program!
  • Tell me about a recent book you’ve read or movie you saw.
  • “Saving Fish From Drowning” by Amy Tan.
  • “Killing Them Softly” w/ Brad Pitt, by Andrew Dominik.
  • What hobbies/activities/outside interests do you enjoy?
  • Reading, knitting, sewing, cooking.
  • Hiking, rock-climbing, running, goal to travel more.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a student?
  • Strengths = Executing research projects, working with labmates, etc.
  • Things I’m working on = Statistics w/ R, delegating more to RAs.
  • Do you feel your GPA/GRE scores accurately reflect your abilities as a student?
  • Short answer is yes.
  • Long answer = GRE doesn’t predict success, esp. for women and POC.
  • GRE score reflects my ability to ask for help and to work hard on a goal.
  • Tell me about a research project you completed.
  • How kids comprehend negation – “DW didn’t eat one of the apples.”
  • Negation is produced early, but kids struggle in comprehension tasks.
  • Not enough inhibition for A form, or not enough pragmatic support for N form?
  • Tested kids w/ pragmatically supportive context (a story about DW and her apples).
  • 3-year-olds are really good at this, but 2-year-olds need a blocked design.
  • Suggests pragmatic support is necessary but not sufficient for processing negation.
  • What are the next steps for the above project?
  • Writing the paper – submit by June.
  • Follow-up studies? Strip away context and see if inhibitory hypothesis holds.
  • How have your prior experiences prepared you for our program?
  • I know what I’m in for, and I have the skills to do it.
  • Worked in 3 labs, studying language and cognition.
  • Presented at 2 conferences and am writing my first paper.
  • Audited 2 Harvard graduate courses.
  • Do you have any special skills?
  • Fluent in Spanish. Working knowledge of several coding languages.
  • Comfortable working w/ families and kids in research setting.
  • Know how to work at the admin level (e.g., IRB, Simons Foundation, public schools).
  • How would you contribute to our program, and why should we choose you over another candidate?
  • Good match professionally and personally.
  • Can run multiple concurrent projects with minimal oversight.
  • What motivates you to pursue a PhD in this field?
  • Could do a lot of things for a living – but want to be proud of what I do.
  • Academia is how I contribute to the greater good, and I enjoy it.
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Short-term = Get accepted to PhD program!
  • Long-term = Career in academia – research and teaching.
  • What skills/abilities do you want to work on during grad school?
  • Learn more coding languages. Improve statistics knowledge.
  • How does this program fit into your career goals? What will you do with what you learn?
  • Career in academia – both research and teaching.
  • Tell me about a goal you’ve achieved or are working on now.
  • Professionally, gave a conference talk, and working on the negation paper.
  • Personally, working on running, traveling more, various crafts.
  • Tell me about how you contributed to a group project.
  • Started the autism project w/ Jesse ~2 years ago.
  • Wrote IRB proposal, coordinated w/ The Simons Foundation.
  • Helped design a battery of tasks, wrote all the eye-tracking scripts.
  • Worked w/ a freelance developer to create an iOS app for training intervention.
  • Supervised an army of RAs and coordinated travel for data collection.
  • Did some basic analyses for interns’ posters, but data collection is ongoing.
  • Tell me about a time you took on a leadership position.
  • Teaching – advocate for disadvantaged students.
  • Psi Chi and Psychology Club – advocate for community service.
  • Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict with a lab-mate.
  • Another senior thesis student was also testing 14-month-olds.
  • We wrote a script to randomly split the list between us.
  • Tell me how you handle stress.
  • Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Make a plan. Execute the plan.
  • Take care of myself. Rest, relax, read, and run.
  • Tell me about a recent problem/mistake/failure and how you handled it.
  • Recently took up running again after ~10-year hiatus.
  • Pacing was a struggle – felt like a failure.
  • Started using a HR monitor, because DATA IS AMAZING!
  • What’s the best paper you’ve read recently?
  • Edwards et al, 2014 – dialect density predicts SAE comprehension
  • What’s the most interesting finding you’ve read about recently?
  • Fernald et al, 2013 – The 6-month gap in lexical processing
  • What do you think are the major current trends in our field?
  • Combining behavioral studies with computational work.
  • Using more technology (e.g., LENA, iOS Apps) for research outside the lab.
  • What idea/theory in our field do you think is interesting, but wrong?
  • Embodied cognition – as applied hard-line to language comprehension.
  • Recent paper by Rolf Zwaan discusses levels of embeddedness.
  • Why did you decide to apply to our program?
  • Match w/ specific prospective advisor.
  • Match w/ other faculty / generally outstanding program.
  • What other programs are you considering?
  • UCSD, Harvard, Stanford, UPenn, Rochester, UMD.
  • What will you do if you aren’t accepted here?
  • At Princeton: Pray the UCSD interview goes better!
  • At UCSD / subsequent interviews: Take it one day at a time.
  • If you weren’t getting a PhD in this field, what would you do instead?
  • Get a PhD in Library and Information Sciences – study literacy development.
  • What research do you want to do? What questions do you hope to answer?
  • I’m interested in diversity in language development.
  • What is “typical” development, and how can we test the full bell-curve?
  • How does the environment shape the language processing system?
  • What factors influence both spoken and written language development?
  • What factors drive the “achievement gap” and how can we close it?
  • How can science become more approachable for the general public?
  • If time and money were not a concern, what project would you do first?
  • Make research participation standard in all public schools.
  • Integrate Head Start programs with research components.
  • Use projects like the Bing Nursery School as a model.
  • Describe a first year project you’d be interested in doing. (How would you test this?)
  • Does SES influence how children comprehend prosodic cues?
  • Use similar/same prosody tasks as in autism project – implicit and explicit.
  • Also test w/ CELF and KBIT.
  • What would you expect to find in the above project?
  • During online comprehension, low-SES children may use prosody equally well, or better than their high-SES counterparts (i.e., garden-paths, correct inferences about desired referent).
  • This would be an interesting contrast to recent work demonstrating slower lexical processing in low-SES infants (Fernald et al, 2013), suggesting that the environment (as defined loosely by SES) plays a more complex role in the development of the language processing system as a whole.
  • What if the findings from your study were the exact opposite of your predictions?
  • This would generally be in keeping with prior findings (Fernald et al, 2013).
  • BUT – What other factors are involved in integrating prosodic cues?
  • I could run follow-up studies/analyses to assess the role of executive function (i.e., greater EF skills => faster integration), and the role of dialect (i.e., group differences in dialect could be driving slower comprehension).
  • What excites you most about our program’s/lab’s research, and why?
  • Princeton: Dr. Lew-William’s new lab in Trenton and SES studies.
  • UCSD: Dr. Creel’s work on dialect comprehension (especially her talk at BUCLD).
  • Rochester: Dr. Kurumada’s work on prosody comprehension (see emails).
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