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Exploring Cognition

Cai Guo '16 poses in Harvard University's Laboratory for Developmental Studies, where he interned in summer, 2014.

Cai Guo '16 poses in Harvard University's Laboratory for Developmental Studies, where he interned in summer 2014. Photo courtesy of Guo.

Cai Guo '16 discusses his internship at the Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies


Philosophy and psychology


Psi Chi, Alpha Lambda Delta, Psychology Club and Neuroscience Club

Why I chose this internship:

As a psychology and philosophy double major, I have long been interested in the development of [human] cognition and intelligence, and I wanted to work on a project that uses empirical methods to investigate philosophical questions. The research program in the Harvard University Laboratory for Developmental Studies combines psychological approaches with philosophical inquiries to research many deep philosophical questions [regarding the] human knowledge system, conceptual structures, cognition and consciousness and the theory of mind, and the program’s principal investigator, Professor Susan Carey, is not only a psychologist but also a philosopher.

Before applying for the internship, I read a paper by Professor Carey that made me even more interested in working in her lab. Her paper was about the acquisition of concepts related to numbers, and I found something in it that supported my own experiences as a volunteer teacher at an orphanage.

What it was like:

Life was pretty busy in the lab. As a research assistant (RA), my initial tasks included scheduling new kids for our studies, explaining the research projects to the parents and running the tests in the testing rooms. It required a lot of patience, as the children could be very shy or uncooperative. The RAs also were in charge of coding the data we collected and running statistical analyses. We had a weekly meeting with Professor Carey to report on our progress and to discuss related reading assignments about current trends and issues in cognitive science. We also had a presentation and a poster session [summarizing our work].

Because I am multilingual, I also helped with English-Chinese translations of [institutional review board] documents relating to a new study about the difference between English and Chinese speakers. I also translated for Chinese parents who did not speak English very well. I even spoke to one family in French as I helped schedule their child for a study.

In addition to working in the lab, the RAs had a lot of fun together. The lab hosted biweekly barbecues, and we visited the Boston Harbor Island, attended a Red Sox baseball game, went bowling and went out to eat as a group.

The best part of my internship:

This internship made me realize how much more capable I am as a result of the liberal-arts education I am receiving at Dickinson. With the foundation Dickinson has provided through statistics, psychological science, philosophy and foreign-language classes, I was able to achieve much more than I had expected.

Other internship and volunteer experiences:

For two years in high school, I was a volunteer at Wuhan Children Welfare Institution, back in my hometown [Wuhan, China]. I was in charge of teaching basic living skills, Chinese language and math to orphans who had developmental disabilities and/or physical or mental impairments. The majority of the children [were diagnosed with] autism, Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and depression.

I was also a volunteer at Wuhan Art Museum [China]. I performed translation work for exhibitions for communications with foreign artists and visitors.

I plan to find another research-assistant position in a clinical-psychology lab for next summer.

My advice to students considering an internship:

Be sure that you are really interested in an internship before you accept it; don't just go for the one with the highest stipend or the best reputation. Also, remember to be as confident and relaxed as you can during the interview process.

Post-Dickinson plans:

Pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, philosophy or both.

How my internship helped prepare me for the workforce:

This internship offered me hands-on experiences in psychological research, so I could apply what I had learned in class. I also got a glimpse of what it’s really like to study and work as a graduate student at a research university. These experiences will definitely be very helpful as I apply to graduate schools.

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Published August 7, 2014