Professor Receives $500K NSF Grant

Occidental assistant professor of psychology Andrew Shtulman has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant worth nearly $500,000 to conduct research over the next five years. 

CAREER grants support junior faculty "who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations," according to the NSF website. Last year, only 425 CAREER grants were awarded nationwide out of 2,500 proposals, mostly to scholars at large research institutions. This is not the first time an Occidental faculty member has won the award: chemistry professor Eileen Spain was honored in 1997.

Shtulman was selected for his proposal, "Investigating the Causes and Consequences of Conceptual Change," which detailed a series of 12 studies to be conducted over the next five years. One of the studies will attempt to resolve competing ideas in the literature about whether complex scientific phenomenon, such as evolution by natural selection, cannot be taught until high school, or whether these topics can be taught at earlier grades. Shtulman hypothesizes that since younger children may have fewer beliefs and experiences that might interfere with their learning, it should be easier to bring about a change in knowledge and skills about a particular science concept at that age.

Finding out that he won the award was a relief, Shtulman says. "I submitted my proposal in July of 2009 and, naively, thought I would know the outcome, one way or the other, six months later. The whole process, from submission to award, took around 13 months!"

But now that he has garnered the $470,752 award, which will pay out in installments over the next 60 months, "I can't wait to get started on the actual research. It's research I've been wanting to do ever since I arrived at Oxy but have not had the time or finances to pursue at full speed," he says.

The award will allow him to spend two full years on research and also enable the funding of 15 undergraduate summer research fellows (three per year for the next five summers). Shtulman's students will be part of Occidental's nationally recognized summer undergraduate research program, in which students work directly with faculty in a wide range of disciplines. He also hopes to use the resources to develop a new course on conceptual change, his area of expertise, and to use that course as preparation for writing a trade book on the subject.

"It is an extraordinary honor and Andrew is most deserving," says professor Jaclyn Rodriguez, chair of the psychology department. "We are happy for him and proud of his contributions to the discipline at large, and in particular to the intellectual lives of our students at Oxy."

Shtulman received his bachelor's in psychology from Princeton and his doctorate from Harvard, and completed his post-doc at MIT. He received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship from 2003 to 2006. He joined the Occidental faculty in 2007.

For more information on the National Science Foundation, go to http://www.nsf.gov/