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Showcase August 2012: The SILC Student and Post-Doc Network

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The SILC Student and Post-Doc Network

Linsey A. Smith1, Corinne A. Holmes2, Neon Brooks3

1Northwestern University, 2Temple University, 3University of Chicago


SILC brings together students and post-doctoral researchers from a variety of disciplines including psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, education, computer science, and physics. There are upwards of 56 students and post-docs spread across Temple University, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Delaware.


Student Leadership Group

The SILC student leadership group is responsible for promoting cohesion across our network of students and post-docs. The Leadership Group consists of a site-wide Student/Post-Doc leader and three representatives from the core SILC institutions.

Student/Post-Doc Leader: Linsey Smith

Student Site Representatives:

Temple/Penn: Corinne Holmes
Northwestern University: Linsey Smith
University of Chicago: Neon Brooks

The Leadership Group’s duties include:

  • ♦ Disseminating SILC news and information to students at their home institutions via emails and regular meetings.
  • ♦ Integrating new students into the SILC network.
  • ♦ Organizing institutional student exchanges.
  • ♦ Facilitating communication between SILC faculty and students within their home institution.
  • ♦ Coordinating between students across institutions.
  • ♦ Responding to students’ requests and questions regarding SILC.
  • ♦ Acting as a liaison between SILC students and those from other Science of Learning Centers (SLCs).

Student Opportunities within SILC

SILC’s vast multi-disciplinary network affords many unique opportunitiesImage3
for our students and post-docs. Importantly, students have a wide array of intellectual and material resources at their disposal, including access to SILC members at other institutions, methodological tools and data sets, and funding for research and conference travel. Access to these resources is facilitated by frequent institutional exchanges, where students are given the opportunity to present their work to other institutions within SILC or engage in intensive training with a new methodology.

Institutional Exchanges

Several times a year, students are invited to present their research to SILC members at other institutions. Last year alone we sponsored seven exchanges between Temple, Northwestern, and University of Chicago. These exchanges allow our students to get feedback from faculty and students outside of the student’s home institution, ensuring the development of well-rounded and informed SILC projects. Below, one SILC student praises his institutional exchange experience:

As a member of SILC, I have had multiple opportunities to hone my project on teaching contour maps through the use of analogy... I was able to travel... to Northwestern University to present my ideas and receive feedback from Dedre Gentner, an expert on analogical reasoning, and David Rapp, who has conducted research on contour map learning....[This experience was] invaluable in the development of this work, and my development as a scholar. With exposure to a vast network of collaborators, I always feel like my ideas are welcome, and any input I get is genuine and with the aim of getting the project to succeed. Without SILC, I'm not sure how much of this would be possible.

~3rd year graduate student, Temple University

Annually, Northwestern and the University of Chicago organize a large-scale institutional exchange-- the “SILC Student Data Blitz,’ where SILC students and post-docs come together in downtown Chicago to discuss current SILC projects. This event serves to reify common threads of research and engender new collaborations.

Methodological Training

If a student wants to learn a new experimental technique but the intellectual or material resources are not available at their home institution, SILC’s collaborative network and resources provide the means for the student to gain training in the desired area. This research support can take many forms, ranging from online meetings to a weeklong visit at another institution. One Temple student reflects on her visit to University of Chicago, where she had the opportunity to augment her knowledge of gesture analysis:

...I presented my research on the gesture and the reading of geologic maps. The opportunity to receive feedback from [Susan Goldin-Meadow] and her students was extremely beneficial. I was given ideas on how to analyze the...gestures that I have collected...[and] how to analyze gestures that belong to a symbol system, something many of [Susan’s] students are quite knowledgeable about due to their research in Nicaraguan home sign language...As my lab is not a lab that specializes in research about [gesture], I found it extremely beneficial to spend a week learning about some of the nuances and fine-grained details that go along with studying gesture that I cannot acquire from the literature...I have brought back with me knowledge and ideas that will help me study the role of gesture in geoscience more effectively.

~4th-year graduate student, Temple University


Image4The SILC network expands both formal and informal mentorship opportunities for students. Students within SILC are not limited to guidance from faculty and post-docs at their home institution—SILC effectively broadens the pool of potential mentors available to a student. This opportunity not only bolsters research during the graduate years, but also aids the student in his or her career development, as key relationships and collaborations have already been established. Below, a graduate student shares his unique SILC mentorship experience:




…SILC brings together a lot of people with expertise that you might not otherwise have contact with. My dissertation research is the development of an early childhood assessment of qualitative motion in one and two dimension problems. Dan Lyons, a SILC post-doc at University of Chicago, has a background in physics and science education and...[is] part of my committee. He has been a great help in ensuring that I am talking about the physics side of my dissertation work correctly so that it can be useful for people in physics, as well as researchers in psychology. Without SILC this opportunity would either have not been possible, or would have been much more difficult to arrange.

~5th-year graduate student, Temple University

Image5Collaboration & Networking

A center like SILC broadens student opportunities and options for research and collaboration. Currently, we have over 30 projects that involve cross-institutional and cross-center collaborations among students, post-docs, and faculty. Our multidisciplinary network makes possible collaborations that would be difficult to establish outside of a center like SILC. One post-doc discusses a new cross-institutional and cross-center collaboration—with students from University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon—that she is involved in:



As a SILC post-doc, I am presented with opportunities to participate in a variety of cross-institutional collaborations, many of which are spurred by discussions with other post-docs and graduate students. One of my favorite current collaborations is a cross-center project (with PSLC) [link to:] that uses basic tenets of cognitive and developmental psychology to inform how to best teach shape concepts to preschool students…My favorite thing about the collaboration is how each of the four main authors bring complementary expertise to the project...from geometry education, to basic category learning in children, to the use of analogy as a learning tool, and on. Because of these differing backgrounds and points of view, each of us learns so much, and I fully expect interdisciplinary projects like these to make important impacts in how we study early geometry learning. We can answer theoretical questions, while at the same time putting different instructional methods through experimental rigor.

~2nd-year post-doc, University of Chicago

In sum, SILC provides unique research opportunities for its students and post-docs. Students have access to a variety of intellectual and material resources that would not be possible outside of a center like SILC. SILC has fostered the development of a close-knit community of new researchers, thus laying the groundwork for fruitful, multi-disciplinary collaborations in the future.

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