Prospective Graduate Students

I will be accepting students for Fall 2024 into my lab, the Science of Learning and Metacognition (SLAM) Lab.  In this lab, we focus on questions at the intersection of cognitive, socio-motivational, and educational psychology.

Note that I accept students through the Educational Psychology Department, under the Human Development, Culture, and Learning Sciences program. I do not accept students through the Psychology department or through other programs. Note that we have now permanently waived the GRE—it is no longer required for the HDCLS program.

To make sure that everyone has equitable access to information and to make sure that I prioritize my time for my current grad students, I have a policy of not meeting with prospective students until all the applications are in (Dec 1). This page, however, serves to provide information about me, the lab, and some general advice that I give to anyone applying to graduate programs.

Current Research Interests

Starting from a core of cognitive psychology, I am particularly interested in the processes that underpin long-lasting learning and the strategies that foster these processes. Among other things, I conduct cognitive, behavioral experiments on strategies such as retrieval practice, pretesting, and interleaving; these studies focus both on developing and testing theory (example; request PDF) and scaling up to educational contexts (example; non-paywalled version), but note that I tend to place larger emphasis on developing theory.  

Strategies are only useful if we can convince others to use them. Hence, I am particularly interested helping students incorporate these strategies into their own self-regulated learning. I have recently received an NSF CAREER grant (2023-2028) in which I will be working toward developing an intervention to support students’ self-regulated learning. Along the way, studies will examine the metacognitive and motivational barriers and facilitators to effective studying (example). It is in this context that my work focuses on motivation and mindsets. 

Each student also brings with them (and develops during the course of the program) their own interests that fall under the broad umbrella of the “Science of Learning and Metacognition”. For example, current and past students have been interested in the cues that students use to make their metacognitive judgments, the benefits of prequestions and pretests, and the consequences of beliefs about difficulty.

Taking a look through my recent publications will give you a very good sense of what research I do, and the types of research methodologies that you will gain experience in my lab.

FAQ: What will I be unlikely to work on in the SLAM lab?

Because self-regulated learning is particularly important in college and beyond, my research tends to focus on young adults, rather than on younger children. If your interests involve working with children or with patients, then I will not be able to be a good mentor to train you in those areas. Moreover, I do not have the resources or the knowledge to train students on neuroimaging methods, so if you want to do neuroscience research, my lab will not be a good fit for you.

Mentorship Style

Grad school is not just about checking off some courses and churning out a dissertation. Grad school is about being a researcher-in-training. I work closely with each of my graduate students in their development. I’m very transparent—you’ll hear me talk about my own failures, rejections, and mistakes (I still make plenty of them! see here for my CV of failures). Learning never stops, and that is how I want all my mentees to think about being in academia. My mentoring also does not end with the PhD degree. The people in my lab are in my academic family for as long as they want to be.

I understand that not everyone wants to become a professor after doctoral training, so I focus on preparing well-rounded researchers, who would have multiple paths available to them after the PhD. Therefore, I focus on supporting my students in developing advanced quantitative skills and studies that use a variety of methodologies (e.g., experimental, mixed-methods, survey). Graduate students should expect to start with one project in their first year, but then take on multiple projects in subsequent years. 

I have weekly individual meetings with my students, as well as a joint lab meeting that includes Dr. Katherine Muenks, Dr. Patricia Chen, and their students. These meetings serve as a forum for the researchers in the joint lab to discuss their work and share ideas with each other. The meeting provides a space for researchers to receive feedback, discuss challenges, collaboratively develop solutions, and facilitate the development of research ideas. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a strong applicant to join your lab look like?

What I look for when reviewing and interviewing applicants is whether they will be a good fit with my current and near-future programs of research and expertise and whether I will be able to help them develop the skills that they seek. I’m particularly eager to accept students who want to pursue a path involving quantitative research (whether that is in academia or industry) and are interested in developing strong statistical skills. Statements should include the reasons why you want to get a PhD and why specifically in my lab, how your experiences have informed your research interests, the skills you would like to develop through a PhD, and example research questions that you would be interested in working on.

Do you work with both master’s and doctoral students?

Yes! Note however that there is a big difference in the application for MA versus PhD. PhD students are directly accepted with the understanding that they will work primarily with one or two PhD advisors in their lab(s). MA students are accepted to the program more broadly—some students join the MA with an idea of which professors they might want to work more closely with, they might develop more specific interests during the program and subsequently work more closely with them, or they may remain unattached to a particular faculty member throughout their program. Whereas PhD students are accepted with an understanding that they would be primarily focused on getting trained as researchers, the goal of a MA degree is much more variable.

How are PhD students funded in the HDCLS program?

In the HDCLS program, doctoral students are funded across the years through a combination of fellowships, teaching assistantships, and graduate research assistantships. These positions cover tuition, health insurance, and provide a stipend. All students who want this funding have been fully funded via these mechanisms.

Does your program application require the GRE?

No. We have permanently eliminated the GRE requirement.

General Tips for the PhD Application Process

  • Research fit is the #1 most important thing!! Professors are looking for people who are interested in the type of research that they do and you should be looking for an advisor who can mentor you in the type of research that you want to do!

  • Finding professors with a good research fit: If there are journal articles that you have found particularly interesting and relevant to your interests, go find out who are the authors, what departments/programs they are in. Look at what other papers they cite and hence who else is in that field. These are the places where you should target your PhD application.

  • Find out if the professor is likely to be accepting students in the next application cycle. Not everyone has room in their lab and programs might limit the number of professors who are able to accept a student in each cycle. This might be information found on their websites, or this is something you could directly email a professor to ask.

  • If you cold-email professors, they may or may not respond. This is not an indication of anything in particular. Some, like me, have blanket policies of not meeting with applicants prior to the deadline. It’s also possible that your email got buried (we get a LOT of emails!).

  • Tailor your personal statements. This usually involves changing one or two paragraphs out of the whole statement for each application. For application to the HDCLS program at UT, you should mention at least two professors whom you would be interested in working with.

  • Make sure that you are open in communicating with your [potential] advisors about the mentoring style that suits you best. What you need from a mentor is also likely to change as you grow, so keep this as an ongoing conversation, not one-and-done.

  • PhD degrees are funded; you should never pay out of pocket for a doctoral degree. At public state universities, however, this funding never means a full five-year fellowship. However, our doctoral students tend to be funded across the years through a combination of fellowships, teaching assistantships, and graduate research assistantships. These positions cover tuition, health insurance, and provide a stipend. All my doctoral students have been fully funded via these mechanisms.

  • When are you deciding between offers, make sure that you talk with former and/or current graduate students who work with the professor. Get honest perspectives about how it is to work with that professor and to be in that program. PhD is a five-year (or longer!) commitment—you want to get a sense of what your life will be like. A culture that is supportive and collaborative will help avoid burnout. Happy people are more likely to thrive. 

Below are some other resources that provide tips for applying: