Hometown: New York, NY
Research Area: Evolutionary Psychology (DEVO)
Research Specialty: Human Mating Psychology; Psychology of Cooperation
I majored in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, but most of my focus was really on comedy. After college, I started reading about the psychology of humor, which lead me to reading about evolutionary psychology more broadly. Something about evolutionary psychology just ‘clicked’ for me, and I thought I’d enjoy being a professor, so I decided to get a PhD. I got a master’s degree in Cognition and Culture from Queen’s University Belfast (U.K.), then started at UCSB in 2011.
What is a typical day like for you?
It varies wildly. Now that I’m done taking classes, a typical day could consist of running subjects, doing data analysis, reading articles, writing up my own research, or doing work related to the class I’m TAing. I try to do work from at least two of those categories on any given day. There’s a lot of flexibility in what I can do on any given day, which is both a blessing and a curse.
What best prepared you for a PhD in Psychology? What did you do in your undergraduate career that prepared you to be a PhD student (lab work, teaching, research)?
Oddly enough, I think doing improv comedy is what taught me to think scientifically. In long-form improv, we’re taught to find the “game” of the scene: What is the interesting or unusual thing about the world (or about a character) that causes funny things to keep happening? One way to think about it is ask yourself, “If this is true, then what else is true?” That’s basically the same question that scientists ask when they’re testing a theory. You develop a model of the world, and then you try to find all the interesting phenomena that it should produce. People don’t usually recognize the similarity between long-form improv comedy and theory-driven science, but I think the mindset is exactly the same.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Think about grad school as a career choice rather than an educational choice. Ask yourself if you want a career spent reading, writing, designing and running experiments, analyzing data, very often working alone, in which projects take a very long time and the success rate is low. If not, academia might not be for you. Loving the subject matter is important, but it’s not enough.
Why did you choose UCSB?
They let me in. By sheer coincidence, it also happens to be a great place to study evolutionary psychology.
What do you like about getting your PhD in Santa Barbara? What do you do in Santa Barbara in your (precious) spare time?
Santa Barbara is a great place to go to grad school, because there’s enough to do to keep you happy in your free time, but not so much going on that it’s a distraction. The lifestyle here is terrific: great weather, beautiful views, good food, happy people, plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun. I like going on hikes and walks, reading and cooking.
What are your future plans?
I hope to stay in academia, with a career that involves research, writing, and teaching.