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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Faculty Profiles - Psychology

Dr. Christopher Beevers – Clinical Psychology
Dr. Bradley Love – Cognitive Psychology
Dr. Art Markman – Cognitive Science

DR. CHRISTOPHER BEEVERS


Academic Background: Ph.D., University of Miami; Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University; B.A., Psychology, University of Texas at San Antonio

Area of Specialization: Cognitive etiology and treatment of major unipolar depression

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
When I started my undergraduate studies I knew that I wanted to major in Psychology but I did not think I would pursue an advanced degree. However, taking a course in abnormal psychology sparked my interest in clinical psychology and I realized that becoming a psychologist would require an advanced degree. I also learned that in order to get into graduate school, I needed to have some research experience. So, I became involved in a research lab and soon found that I really enjoyed research. At that point I decided to pursue a career involving research in clinical psychology, which meant that I would need to pursue doctoral studies.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
For my dissertation I studied vulnerability to depression. Specifically, I induced people into a sad mood, measured how much time they spent viewing emotional information, and re-assessed depression seven weeks later. I found that people who paid the most attention to negative information after the mood induction were also most likely to be depressed seven weeks later.

What topics do you teach at UT?
Currently I teach Abnormal Psychology to undergraduates and Research Methods to doctoral students in clinical psychology. I also supervise clinical practicum experiences of doctoral students.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
My primary research interest focuses on the cognitive etiology and treatment of major unipolar depression. I believe that understanding normal cognitive processes provides an important foundation for identifying how these processes go awry in clinical depression. My research has examined whether depression vulnerability is associated with negatively biased attention, thought suppression, and poor cognitive change during treatment. I am particularly interested in the interplay between biology (e.g., variants of the serotonin transporter gene), cognitive risk factors for depression, and reactivity to transient mood states. Finally, I am interested in whether treatments modify putative risk factors for depression.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
I am currently conducting a number of research projects. The largest project is funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health. The goal is to examine genetic associations with cognitive vulnerability to depression. That is, we know that depression is highly heritable, but we do not fully understand the pathways that connect genetic vulnerability to the onset of depression. My project examines whether specific genetic variants (e.g., a polymorphism that influences the transport of serotonin in the brain) are associated with how people orient, attend, and remember emotional information.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
One hot topic is whether genetic variants combine with environmental adversity to predict the onset of psychopathology, such as drug abuse and depression. There is plenty of evidence that the environment and genetics both influence the onset of mental disorders. However, the idea that some people are particularly vulnerable to psychiatric disorders in certain environments (e.g., following stressful life experiences) is much more controversial because the research findings to date have been quite inconsistent.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As an undergraduate I studied whether depressed people experienced more negative thinking in part because they try to suppress negative thoughts. This was a very influential experience for me; it basically started me on the path to becoming a faculty member. So yes, I would definitely recommend that undergraduates get involved in all aspects of research. There is a lot of excellent research in the Department of Psychology, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

What makes a good grad student?
First and foremost, good graduate students are passionate about their work. This is important because the research process can take a long time from start to finish, there is often not much positive reinforcement along the way, and it can be easy to get distracted. Passion for what they do helps sustain students through this process. Good students are also highly motivated to succeed and willing to work very hard. Being smart, curious, a good writer (maybe even enjoying writing!), and having good quantitative skills also helps.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?

  1. Fit between your research interests and those of the advisor you are applying to work with is probably the most important aspect of your application. Not just in terms of your stated interests, but also in terms of your experiences. For instance, if someone is interested in studying alcohol disorders in graduate school, the most competitive students often have worked in an alcohol research laboratory as an undergraduate.
  2. I would also recommend doing well on the GREs, particularly the verbal section. This is one of the few ways faculty can compare students across a level playing field.
  3. Finally, know that most people do not get into graduate school the first time they apply. Our doctoral program in clinical psychology only accepts 3-5 students from approximately 350 applications every year.
  4. I would also recommend verifying that the faculty member you would like to work with plans to accept a graduate student that year.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
The top programs in clinical psychology include University of California – Los Angeles, University of Washington, University of California-Berkeley, Yale University and Duke University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
The majority of our students go on to pursue research careers, typically as faculty in Psychology departments or research faculty in medical schools. Some students (from the clinical area) go on to have clinical practices.

Download Dr. Beevers' Profile

DR. ART MARKMAN


Academic Background: M.A. & Ph.D., Psychology, University of Illinois; B.A., Cognitive Science, Brown University

Area of Specialization: Cognitive Science – Similarity and Analogy; Categorization, Decision Making and Consumer Behavior; and Knowledge Representation

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
After my freshman year in college, my mother and I got in a heated discussion (or perhaps an argument) about whether I would go to graduate school after finishing college. She wanted me to go on to grad school, but I wasn’t so sure. I hadn’t found anything my first year in school that really sparked my interest.

At the end of my sophomore year, I realized that there was a stream of classes I really enjoyed, but that they did not come from the same department. I liked my computer programming classes, and my intro psych. I enjoyed a linguistics class and an anthropology class. After talking to an advisor, I found out that all of these topics could be combined through a Cognitive Science major. After that I was hooked. I loved the topic, and wanted to get involved in research in Cognitive Science. A PhD program was the obvious choice after that. So in the end, my mother was happy too.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My dissertation research focused on how people make comparisons in order to see things as similar. It might seem strange to focus on comparisons, but actually they are quite fundamental to people’s everyday psychology. You are able to recognize some new object based on how similar it is to things you have seen before. You often make decisions by choosing something that is similar to what you selected in a similar situation in the past. You make guesses about how new people are going to act based on how similar they are to people you have encountered before. So, understanding something about similarity actually has far-reaching implications for our understanding of psychology in general.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I currently teach a range of graduate and undergraduate classes. For undergraduates, I teach an introductory class in Cognitive Psychology as well as a more advance class in Reasoning and Decision Making. I am also fortunate to be able to supervise our department’s honors students. At the graduate level, I teach classes in Motivation; Reasoning and Decision Making; and Knowledge Representation.

Can you tell us a bit about your areas of specialization?
While I started out focusing my research on the way that people see things to be similar, my research has broadened over the years to encompass a variety of aspects of thinking. First, I felt I had to pay off the promise that if I learned something about similarity, it would affect other areas of thinking. So, I began to do research on how people form and use categories and how people make decisions. Each of these topics led to other questions that I elected to pursue. For example, after studying decision making for a while, it became clear that you cannot understand people’s choices without also understanding their goals and motivations. So I began to do research on goals and motivations.

I have had a few graduate students from overseas, and they felt that the research literature did not always address aspects of thought that rang true with them. So, I also got involved in research on cultural differences in thinking. Finally, because of my background in cognitive science, I have always been interested in the philosophical basis of the field, and so I have collaborated with philosophers to explore basic questions about the way research on thinking ought to be carried out.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
One area of research of interest to me right now focuses on the influence of motivation on thinking. A key question for psychologists is to understand the conditions that make someone think flexibly. We are examining ways that incentives (like the possibility of getting a bonus at work or the possibility of losing a job) can influence flexibility in thinking. We are also interested in understanding the circumstances in which flexibility is useful for thinking. You might think that people should always be flexible, but sometimes people are better off sticking to a single strategy and persevering with it rather than flexibly trying different strategies.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
Psychology is a huge growth area. There are lots of hot topics including: the relationship between body and mind; the influence of our evolutionary history on the way we think today; the role of cultural differences in thinking; and the use of our understanding of psychology to make machines and products smarter and more user-friendly. In addition, the broader community has begun to appreciate the value of understanding psychology. Companies are beginning to use psychological insights and psychology research techniques to understand their customers and to improve the way they do business.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
As an undergraduate, I participated in an honors program. In our honors program, I did a project supervised by a member of the faculty. As a cognitive science major, my project was focused on building a computer model. I used emerging techniques in neural networks to try to understand why thinking about one concept makes you better able to think about related concepts (e.g., thinking about doctors makes it easier to think about nurses and hospitals).

What makes a good grad student?
There are two features of a good graduate student in Psychology. The first is some basic mathematical and computational competence. We use a lot of statistics and computer models in our work. In addition, we often find it useful to program computers to run experiments. So, these skills are crucial.

More importantly, though, a good grad student is one who loves the work. In order to be competitive for jobs when you get out of graduate school, you have to put in long days. And you have to put in a lot of long days. And you have to put in those long days for the entire length of a PhD program (usually 5 years). You can’t do that unless you really love the work. If you love it, then it isn’t work.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?

  1. Students who want to apply to our program should start by getting some experience with computer programming and statistics. These skills are hard to learn without a class and they are hard to pick up from scratch once you’re in graduate school.
  2. Second, students should do some kind of research project. This one is important. Research may look like fun, but until you really get involved, you have no idea whether you love it. As a supervisor in the honors program, I have met a lot of students who discovered over the course of the program that they don’t really love the research process.
  3. Third, when you apply to our program (or any program) get to know the research interests of the faculty. The research of the faculty will have a huge influence on your career prospects after graduate school. Make sure you find a program where the faculty have interests similar to your own.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
UT has one of the best cognitive psychology programs in the country. We don’t generally admit our own undergraduates into our graduate program, though. Once you have been through the department as an undergraduate, it is important to go somewhere else so that you can figure out which things you learned here are part of the particular research culture at the University of Texas and which things are generally accepted. This is similar to the way that a visit to another country can help you to better understand your own cultural biases.

So if you aren’t going to be staying here at UT, there are great programs in cognition at the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, Indiana University, University of California at San Diego, University of California at Los Angeles, and Carnegie Mellon University.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Most of our graduate students get a PhD. There are a few significant career paths for those students. Obviously, many of our students ultimately end up in faculty positions at other universities. Some do a post-doc along the way where they work for a few years at another university to get additional research experience before becoming a faculty member. Of those students who do become faculty, some work at research universities where they are expected to teach classes and maintain an active research career. Others go to teaching universities where they may do some research, but a lot of the job involves teaching classes.

Other students go to work in industry. There are a number of jobs available in the cognitive sciences. Internet companies hire PhD psychologists to help design user interfaces and to think about new ways to search for information. Media companies hire psychologists to do research on the way that people react to programs, advertisements, and other media. Consumer products companies hire psychologists to help them understand their consumers and to help them develop processes to make their businesses more efficient. There are also a number of independent research labs that work with companies defense agencies, and other government agencies (like the TSA) to do research projects. So, the PhD in cognitive psychology turns out to be a versatile degree.

Download Dr. Markman's Profile

DR. BRADLEY LOVE


Academic Background: Ph.D., Cognitive Psychology, Northwestern University – Evanston, IL; B.S., Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University – Providence, RI

Area of Specialization: Learning and Decision Making

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to make new discoveries in cognitive science and the only way to master the necessary skills was to go to graduate school.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
My research examined how people learn categories from examples. Methods used including behavioral experiments in the lab and computational modeling.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach courses in cognitive modeling and a seminar named Psychology of Design that focuses on how lessons from cognitive psychology can inform product design.

Are you currently conducting research? What is your research focus?
Some projects harken back to topics of interest since graduate school. These problems are difficult and are never really solved, but progress is constantly made. Currently, I am interested in using cognitive models to understand fMRI brain imaging data. Also, my lab has a number of projects underway predicting people's eye movements (i.e., the information that interests them) during learning. We are also doing work in reinforcement learning examining how people deal with conflicts between short- and long-term rewards.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of psychology in the U.S. or around the world?
In general, the field is moving toward harnessing a variety of measures, including brain imaging and genetic markers, to understand behavior. Another trend is formulating theories in terms of mathematical models. One overarching trend is increased emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate? Would you recommend research to undergraduates?
I participated on a research project examining why certain properties of human concepts are more central in our thoughts than others, and developed an accompanying computational model. The model ended up being identical to Google's subsequent PageRank algorithm.

What makes a good grad student?
It's hard to say, but certainly determination, willingness to work long hours, intensity, passion, good undergraduate preparation, and the ability to simultaneously listen to advice and work independently are critical.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a psychology graduate program?
Get involved in research, read journal articles in the areas that interest you, go to research talks, take as many courses in computer science and math as you can. You will use everything you learn and always wish you took more such courses.

What are the top five cognitive psychology programs in the US?
Unlike past decades, the best program really depends on exactly what one's research interests are. Defining my area as the kind of research that I do and follow, here are some very strong programs:

• University of Texas at Austin
• NYU
• Vanderbilt University
• University of Indiana at Bloomington
• University of California at Irvine

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
We are exclusively a Ph.D. program. Almost all Ph.D. students take positions in which they direct behavioral research programs, whether the setting be academic, corporate, or governmental.

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