The Thoughtful Animal

APS Recap, Day 2

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Another awesome day of psychologically scientific hilarity and awesomeness.

The day started for me with a session entitled “Teaching Applied Cognitive Science,” given by Roberta L. Klatzky. Fascinating to learn some of the ways that cognitive science gets applied in the real world (some things were even new to me), and also some of the best ways to incorporate these real-world applications into classroom curricula.

I tweeted one thought derived from the session:

  • Teaching: Disconnect btw apps of psych according to students, profs, and curricula. Should focus on concrete, not just “relevant” #apsconv

That is to say, calling something “relevant” is not enough. We can say that understanding the extent of verbal short term memory is relevant to education. And it probably is. But students expect concrete things – like how spatial navigation research is being used to develop navigation aids for blind children and adults. Actual products and programs, not just “promissory notes.”

Moving on, I went to one of the sessions sponsored by the APS Student Caucus. Like many other similar sessions offered at many conferences, it was called “Surviving Graduate School.” I have problems with this:

  • Why is the focus always “surviving” grad school? I think grad school is fantastic. about 12 hours ago via txt
  • What is this with “balance”? sometimes you are all scientist, sometimes all “other”. Not half and half. #apsconv about 12 hours ago via txt
  • I say: if you don’t have others in your program in a similar situation as you (e.g. Parent, homeowner, part-time), go to the blogs! #apsconv about 12 hours ago via txt
  • Zen chimed in:

  • @DoctorZen: Heh. Talk of “grad school survival” shows how low the bar is set for mentors. ‘Tis a serious problem. #apsconv about 12 hours ago via txt
  • And I responded:

  • @doctorzen yes. Often advisors focus on cultivating researchers, not cultivating lifestyle academics. about 12 hours ago via txt
  • @Miss__Tina asked: Maybe the “surviving” part has to do with actual survival: i.e., money for rent, etc.

    And I responded:

  • @Miss__Tina not at these sorts of panels… they’re about things like “balance” & “advisor-advisee relationships” and stuff. not about rent. about 11 hours ago via TweetDeck

I think Zen is right, and the ubiquity of these “survival” sessions reflects a real problem in the way we think about grad school. Grad school should be the beginning of a career in research (assuming research is the thing you want to be doing – some train to be clinicians, in this field) not some sort of fraternity hazing ritual. Yes, it is supposed to be a lot of hard work, but you should – at least most of the time – truly enjoy the hard work, because it’s the thing you are really motivated about. The phenomenon or organism or problem that you investigate should make you excited. You should be awake at night with the “science crazies” not “grad school anxiety” (though a little anxiety from time to time is good).

You shouldn’t “survive” grad school, you should “thrive” in grad school. And I think part of the issue is that advisors and mentors often train people to be researchers instead of training people to be lifestyle academics, more generally. I’m interested in others’ thoughts on this. Feel free to comment anonymously, if that’s your thing. Perhaps I’ll recommend a session for next year called “Surviving Grad School? Rethinking the Advisor-Trainee Relationship.”

Around lunchtime, my labmate and I took a short break from the conference to enjoy the beautiful Boston day, so we walked to Boston Common. And I was on a mission. Last June, I was in Boston for the SSSR conference and I looked and looked and looked and could NOT find the duck statues. This time, I HAD to find the duck statues. Finding real ducks was no problem since they were all over the swan pond and the frog pond.

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Figure 1: Swan pond ducks.

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Figure 2: Frog pond ducks.

Finding the duck statues was important for me: when I was a kid, Make Way For Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, was my favorite favorite favorite book.

Not having found it, I asked a nice looking man wearing a cookie monster shirt and a clown costume, who was making balloon animals, if he could point me in the direction of the ducks, and he did. Then while walking away, he proceeded to berate and scold me for who-knows-what. There is something oddly pleasing about being yelled at by a man in a clown suit selling balloon animals in Boston Common.

So we found the statues. Good times.

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Figure 3: Mama duck with her ducklings. We later saw a similar scene made out of real ducks, on the swan pond.

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Figure 4: One of the ducklings, for whom you must make way.

Steven Pinker gave an awesome talk on indirect language (i.e. innuendo, euphemism, etc) as a window into social relationships. This was too awesome to tweet the awesomeness.

Then after a short break came the Presidential Symposium:

  • Pres symposium on spice & flavor – we LIKE pain via spiciness. McCormick Science Institute findings suggest some health benefits from spices #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Fruits have tasty things in them. But spices have nasty compounds, so why do we like them so much? Stimulation, sensation. #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller get this: Many small courses re-capture attention. Release senses from inhibition. #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Adria uses pleasure of visual surprise: make ravioli shells clear 2 see filling. Melon looks like caviar. Eat with eyes before palate. #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Sensory mismatch also surprising and pleasing: flavors paired with wrong colors or textures #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Anna Sortun of Top Chef Masters takes the stage to discuss combining spices to make entirely novel flavors and depth of flavor #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Sortun: what gives percept of “greek” or “turkish” or “italian” flavor? Combos of spices. #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Why is presidential symposium about flavor? APS pres Linda Bartoshuk‘s research is sensation perception cognition of taste & flavor #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt
  • Now we get to taste Chef Sortun’s spice filled snacks! And free spice samples from McCormick! #apsconv about 3 hours ago via txt

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Figure 5: The snacks from Chef Sortun: (1) Gravlax, (2) goat cheese w/ tomato, black pepper, and olive oil, (3) spiced fig with [something].