We began the Fall 2019 semester with a visit from Dr. Richard Prather, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland. His BRiDGE2Impacts talk, “How I learned to put cognition in context”, covered his journey through academia and taking cognitive science outside of the laboratory and into the real world.
A great deal of psychological research happens in the laboratory setting, and often completely ignores the surrounding environment and context that people live in every day. Dr. Prather is actively working to combat this problem. His most recent collaboration will measure the behavioral and neural markers of cognitive development in context, considering factors such as local air pollution and how caregivers talk about math in the home. In doing this, he is also taking advantage of new technologies, such as portable air quality monitors and EEG systems. Use of these portable technologies means that research can be done in the home. This can go a long way towards making participation in research studies more accessible, compared to those which require that participants travel to lab spaces that may be difficult to get to. Reaching out to local schools and science classrooms can help combat this too.
Dr. Prather also spent time speaking with the audience about his career path through academia, which he described as “happenstance”. Familiar to many of use, he described a path where things did not always go as planned, and emphasized the importance of being flexible and having a plan B. Additionally, he gave several helpful suggestions, particularly for undergraduate students in the room. To learn more about academia and challenges in higher education, he suggested reading the Chronicles of Higher Ed. He further demonstrated that Twitter can be a great place to network, find job openings, talk to other scientists, and break down barriers in STEM fields. In particular, following hashtags like #BlackandSTEM can help find communities of scientists to chat with. Dr. Prather demonstrated the importance of breaking down boundaries around research and STEM education.