Iowa State University, USA
What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on memory illusions and memory interventions. Recently I started to merge these two interests together; the goal is to use memory enhancement techniques such as retrieval practice to reduce erroneous memories. Of course, we have known for a long time that memory can be malleable, so one question that interests me is “what can we do about it?” Memory intervention techniques (such as retrieval practice) can be used to reduce erroneous memories, and they can also be applied to enhance students’ learning in general, but even these interventions can have its limits. One of my research goals is to learn more about these limits.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
My interest in the shortcomings of memory started way back when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria. My social psychology instructor (Liz Brimacombe) introduced me to Beth Loftus’ and Gary Wells’ research, and their work really piqued my interest. At that time I thought memory research was part of social psychology, but my cognitive psychology teacher (Mike Masson) told me that my interest “fits squarely into cognitive psychology.” I remember that quote till this day. I really wanted to do research on memory. Loftus’ work was infinitely inspiring to me.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
As far as mentors go, it has to start with Steve Lindsay (my undergraduate thesis advisor) and Mike Masson (who hired me as a full-time RA). Mike is a very lucid and clear thinker, and Steve is an incredibly smart and hard worker. I learned a lot from them and that really got me a head start before graduate school. My graduate school mentor was Kathleen McDermott. Needless to say, I learned a lot from her. She has an incredible drive and always held me accountable. I feel that she really has instilled a standard of excellence in me and my fellow graduate students. Roddy Roediger has also played a huge role in my thinking and style of research. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I am one of the people who are continuing the “Roediger research tradition.” Last but certainly not least, Endel Tulving has had a large impact on me as well. I didn’t see him very often, but I remember almost every single meeting that I had with him.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
I honestly think I haven’t done anything yet, so this honor comes as a complete surprise. If I have to, I would attribute whatever success I have to my mentors and my fellow graduate students. My work ethic really started before graduate school. I saw Steve Lindsay’s former student Michelle Arnold and Dan Bub’s former student Cindy Bukach working tirelessly in the lab, and that set the tone for me. When I started graduate school at Washington University, I was always talking research with my buddy Yuj Shimizu (Larry Jacoby’s former student). Yuj really helped me understand concepts that were beyond my grasp at the time. My other fellow graduate students and postdocs (e.g., Szpunar, Karpicke, Kang, Butler, Thomas, Bulevich, Watson, Gallo, etc.) all played big roles in my thinking, and they all deserve credit. All in all, Washington University was a really great environment. Of course, lest I forget to mention that the department of psychology at Iowa State has been tremendous to me as well. Obviously, I could not have been productive without the great people here. In particularly, Veronica Dark has helped me a lot in getting through the first couple years of assistant professorship.
What’s your future research agenda?
The overarching goal of my research is to develop techniques that can enhance memory performance both objectively and subjectively. Most of the time it is impossible to assess the true accuracy of a memory. People typically judge the credibility of a memory report based on the overt confidence that accompanies that report, but research has shown that, under some circumstances, the correspondence between objective accuracy and metacognitive judgments can be quite poor. So if we are to truly enhance memory performance, we must enhance it both objectively (as measured my accuracy) and subjectively (as measured by the accuracy of metacognitive reports).
Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
Nothing is more important than perseverance and respect. If you run into a wall, don’t give up, keep working. Respect your teachers, respect your research, and most of all, respect the work that you must put into graduate school to achieve success. Come in with the right attitude and set your expectation high but realistically. Don’t just think about research when you are at work. Immerse yourself in it. I tend to have my best ideas when I am not at work physically. Nothing is as important as a diligent work ethic. You may have lapses of attention throughout the intense graduate school years, but the trick is to never let those lapses take over. Stay true to your work ethic.
What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
Chan, J.C.K., McDermott, K.B., & Roediger, H.L. (2006). Retrieval-induced facilitation: Initially nontested material can benefit from prior testing of related material. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 135, 553-571.
It’s hard to pick just one, but this paper was perhaps the most influential to me because it came out just when I was applying for jobs. If this paper hadn’t been on my CV at the time, I don’t know how my job search would have gone.