2012 Janet Taylor Spence Award

Hakwan Lau

Columbia University

This is a photo of Hakwan Lau.What is the focus of your award-winning research?

I study why some cognitive and perceptual processes are conscious while others are not.

How did you develop an interest in this area?

I studied philosophy as an undergrad in Hong Kong and was introduced to the debates on
consciousness by my excellent professor, Joe Lau.

Who are your mentors and/or biggest psychological influences?

Richard Passingham trained me in neuroscience when I started out as a graduate student with little background, and I’m eternally grateful. And then there is an endless list of collaborators and colleagues, scientists and philosophers alike who have given me a lot of inspiration. But above all, I’ve learned the most from my own students, especially Dobromir Rahnev and Brian Maniscalco.

What unique factors have contributed to your early success?

Great teachers, culture-shock-and-loneliness-induced diligence in grad school, and a lot of luck.

What does winning this award mean to you both personally and professionally?

Of course, personally it’s a great honor. But I feel particularly happy that my kind of work is being recognized by APS, perhaps because consciousness is still sometimes seen — at least in some circles — as a topic too abstract or vague to be studied seriously by young researchers. I hope this recognition may be good for my field.