Tammy Rosner, PhD Candidate in Cognitive Psychology

Tamara Rosner
28 March 2018

Tell us more about yourself

I am currently working on my PhD in psychology at McMaster University. Although I spend a lot of time reading research articles, I still put time aside to read books for fun (usually I end up re-reading Harry Potter). While I’m not in the lab doing research, I am likely crocheting, playing board games, or listening to podcasts (usually related to science or Harry Potter).

What is your research about?

My research is in cognition, which is the science of how we think. I look at how repetition impacts our memories. I’ve found that repeating information is actually not helpful for remembering. People can have better memory for words they see once than words they see twice! Now, I’m trying to understand why this happens.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

I love that I get to discover how our brains allow us to interact with the world around us. Cognition is all about figuring out how our brains do things that we take for granted. For example, how are we able to remember and share a funny story? How are we able to read these words right now? Knowing how we are able to do these things that seem so simple (but are actually very complex) is incredibly exciting.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The biggest challenge comes in understanding that research is slow. Sometimes the results of an experiment won’t end up answering a question I had. Other times, they will create even more questions. This can be frustrating, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into an experiment and don’t feel like I learned much from it.

However, this is a key part of science: understanding that it takes time to really know what you’re looking at, and realizing that there are bigger, more exciting questions for you to answer. While this certainly is challenging, it is also part of why I enjoy research so much!

How has your research influenced your career path?

One of the most enjoyable parts of research for me is the sense of discovery that I get to share with my mentor and collaborators. To me, wanting to know and find out more is what science is all about. Throughout my time as a graduate student, I’ve realized I want to share this excitement with others, and am hoping to one day have a career in science outreach. (This is also why I am excited to be involved with Let’s Talk Science!)

How has your research impacted the world?

My research shows that we really don’t understand what our brains are doing with the information we give it, and that what we think is “obvious” may not be the case at all. This research can help inform how we try to learn and remember information.

For example, it explains why re-reading your notes is not a great way to study for that upcoming test, since we don’t seem to remember repeated information as well as new information. This means it may be more useful to study in lots of different ways, such as testing yourself or having someone test you on the material, in addition to going over the information from class.

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field?

So far, the area of cognition I am studying has been kept separate from areas of neuroscience (using different techniques to see which areas of the brain are active during different tasks). I think that as we understand more about how we think and behave, and as neuroimaging techniques become more refined, these two areas of study will become less and less separate.

What motivates you to do research?

For me, it’s all about having a chance to learn more. There’s always one more experiment I can do to answer the next question I have. Getting that answer (and as I said, sometimes even more questions!) is very motivating. Being able to be in an area that can help me understand how my brain works is incredibly satisfying, and the more research I do, the more I understand!

What was your “Eureka!” moment?

My “Eureka!” moment was when I was able to explain my research to my family in a way they could understand. Most of the people in my family didn’t study science (and the few that did weren’t in psychology), so the moment they were able to understand why my research was important was very motivating to me. Seeing them get excited about what I do every day (and being able to relate to why I was excited, too!) was one of the moments that helped me realize how important it is to share my science.

Tamara Rosner

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