applying to grad school

final decision

Today I decided to accept the Princeton offer. This is an incredible opportunity, to say the least of it. I’m so privileged to work with creative and inspiring faculty members in the psychology and neuroscience departments, and I’m already thinking of ideas for prospective research projects. Dominick and I are very excited to begin this new chapter in our lives, and I’m confident that Princeton will be great for both of us.

The interview process itself was a wonderful learning experience for me, and I’m glad that I had the chance to talk to so many outstanding faculty at UCSD, UMD, and Rochester as well. Having a critical dialogue with other researchers is what helps me to grow as a student, so I really enjoyed answering the “tough” questions. As I said in a prior post, I’m still thinking about some of those questions now! And as I’ve gone through the interviews, I’ve realized that that’s okay. I have 5 years (and my whole career, really!) to think about those questions.

Most importantly, today I’m thinking about my family, friends, and mentors who always support and encourage me. I don’t know where I’d be without them. (After all, it wasn’t too long ago that I was a truck stop waitress!) I’m most fortunate to have such unparalleled colleagues in my field and cheerleaders of all sorts who keep me going day-to-day. I hope to make them proud.

UMD and Rochester visits

Yesterday I got home from visiting the University of Maryland Hearing and Speech Science program and the Rochester Brain and Cognitive Science program. Here are some photos from my adventures!

Taking off from Boston en route to DC, with a view of Cape Cod on the way:

IMG_6378 IMG_6388

Interviews are surprisingly good for you! My phone gives a coarse estimate of how many miles I walk per day. You can clearly see when I’ve been at interviews – exploring the campus and meeting faculty in different departments.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a direct flight from DC to Rochester (Never fly US Airways if you can avoid it!) so I flew from DC to Boston to Rochester instead, spending most of my day in transit. On the bright side,  I got to see a lovely view while taking off from Boston at sunset:


Of course, I enjoyed touring the developmental labs at both programs. I was so excited to see this little guy – It looks like a zebra! – in Dr. Chigusa Kurumada’s lab:


It was finally time to go home after nearly a week of travel, but alas, the weather had other plans! So I stayed in Rochester for one more night, and arrived home yesterday morning.


I had a wonderful time at both these schools, and really enjoyed talking to faculty who challenged me with tough questions. Do you have to have lots of bottom-up input to become efficient at integrating top-down cues? How are our prior expectations set, and how do we update those expectations in real time? When/why do behavioral results conflict with measures of online processing (i.e., Why use eye-tracking paradigms)? I’ll be thinking about these questions for some time to come!

three admissions offers

I now have three admissions offers! There are some tough decisions ahead…

Here’s where I stand with each school:

  • UMD – offered admission, visiting 2/25-2/26
  • Princeton – offered admission
  • UCSD – offered admission
  • Rochester – interviewing 2/27-2/28
  • UIUC – declined
  • Harvard – waiting
  • Stanford – waiting
  • UPenn – waiting

Having this many offers frankly never really occurred to me – I mean, WOW! – and I wasn’t sure how to proceed from here, so I asked my mentors for some advice. Taking their wisdom into account, I think I should review the official offer for each school before making any serious decisions. As soon as I can review the details, I’ll politely decline 1-2 schools and move forward with the interview process.

three interviews, one admissions offer

Today I got an admissions offer from the University of Maryland! The administrative email was pretty frank (i.e., We are offering you admission. Please accept or decline.) so I wrote to request additional information, and we’ll see what happens.

So, here’s where I stand with each school now:

  • UMD – offered admission!
  • Princeton – interviewed
  • UCSD – interviewed
  • Rochester – interviewing 2/27-2/28
  • UIUC – declined
  • Harvard – waiting
  • Stanford – waiting
  • UPenn – waiting

Now that I have an actual admissions offer, I feel much better about everything. I’m not the type of person to count my chickens before they hatch, so even having interviews wasn’t enough. But now I have a real life offer, and it feels great!

one interview done

Princeton went incredibly well, and I had a great time talking with the faculty. It felt a lot less like a scrutinizing interview and more like a casual chat about mutual interests. I especially enjoyed the language group lab meeting, wherein each faculty member in the area gave a brief presentation of their current work and future directions. What a wild ride!

just some jokes

My lovely friend, Christine, said she likes to have a joke or two on-hand for the “rogue interviewer” who asks for one, or just to have something to break the ice here and there. So here are a few that make me giggle:

From Christine: What is Whitney Houston’s favorite neuro exam? Hand EYYYEEEE!

From Dominick: How do you tell the difference between and introverted scientist and an extroverted scientist? The extrovert is looking at your shoes.

From I-don’t-remember-where: A psychologist gave birth to twins, but only had one baptized. She kept the other as a control.

questions for the questioners

In addition to fielding questions from faculty, an important part of the interview is my ability to ask them questions. Here are some questions I’d like to ask. The list will likely grow as I go…

  • What are your current projects and where do they stand?
  • Would I work on your projects, my own projects, or a combination?
  • Who are your main collaborators (e.g., linguistics department)?
  • How would you describe your style as a mentor?
  • How would you describe your lab culture?
  • If your lab had a motto/mascot, what would it be?
  • How many students do you have, and how many are you taking?
  • How often do you meet with your students individually, and as a group?
  • How are your students funded? Research, teaching, or a combination?
  • How many courses do students typically teach?

And here are some questions for the graduate students:

  • What is your favorite part of this program/lab?
  • Is there anything you wish you’d known before coming here?
  • How many hours per week do you work (including courses, meetings, and lab)?
  • How would you describe my potential mentors’ style?
  • Do students collaborate well (e.g., study groups, publishing together)?
  • Do students work in more than one lab? What are the pros and cons of that model?
  • How have you funded your time here? Any problems or need for student loans?
  • What’s the cost of living here? How much do you pay in rent, groceries, etc?
  • What’s the social life like here? What do you do in your free time?

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).