Work and Fun Under the Sun
July 29, 2013
Blogger: Evan Thomas
When my high school self imagined college summers, the scenarios often took place in Los Angeles--but they didn’t involve me sitting in a room amongst distinguished researchers and theorists of science education from colleges and universities across the country. Even if I had imagined such a scenario, I wouldn’t have guessed these professors would bother to ask me to introduce myself and speak about my research findings. Don’t scholars have plenty to discuss amongst themselves, and have neither time nor need to hear from undergraduates? But to my surprise, Oxy provided me with this experience, as I’ll discuss below.
I’ll keep my personal introduction short so I can discuss what incoming freshmen and prospective students actually want to know about: the opportunities the College offers over the summer. I’m a cognitive science major. Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind. How do cognitive scientists make claims about the mind? They borrow methodologies, theories, and findings from artificial intelligence, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. Because cognitive science is an interdisciplinary major, it offers students the freedom to enroll in virtually whatever relevant classes pique their interest. And because Oxy is a small school and encourages student-faculty interaction, there is ample opportunity to assist professors with research in these fields, as I am doing this summer.
I am a rising senior. This summer I didn’t spend much time back home in Oakland. Instead, I stayed here in LA to assist a professor in the psychology department. Oxy's Thinking Lab studies people’s conceptions, or the mental models humans create of objects, mechanisms, and phenomena by manipulating or rearranging concepts, the building blocks of thought. Specifically, I am assisting in the study of undergraduates’ understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. This work is part of a growing body of research that explores the misconceptions about scientific theories and the physical world. This sort of research is important, considering the country lags behind many developed countries in science and math education. Of course, not all summer research opportunities are in the psychology department. Students can also propose their own projects, if no professor is researching a subject that appeals to them.
I am preparing a final presentation about the research I helped carry out this summer, which has made me realize that summer is coming to an end. I haven’t just worked this summer. I had ample time to explore Los Angeles and the surrounding area. I finally saw the Getty, which was, of course, spectacular. I visited the Natural History Museum with my research group. How had I not seen these places earlier? I also met up with my family in Newport Beach for the Fourth of July--what a crazy place on the Fourth!
The program ends in just a few days, which leaves me time to go home and visit my family. I am glad I got to spend the summer at Oxy. My only regret from this experience was realizing I could have done it every summer--now I’m kicking myself for not taking advantage of the opportunity earlier. The Summer Research Program provides a great core experience and home base, from which I was able to explore parts of southern California I hadn’t yet seen.