GWISE interviews NSF GRFP winner Tori Peña

GRFP winner Tori Peña
Photo credit: Miriam Sarwana

NAME: Tori Peña
EDUCATION: I earned a B.S. in Biological Anthropology and Psychology from SUNY Binghamton University in 2018.  Currently, I am a third-year Cognitive Science doctoral student at SUNY Stony Brook University under the advisement of Dr. Suparna Rajaram.
RESEARCH: My primary research interest is social memory, specifically how collaborating with others to remember information shapes memory at the individual and collective level.
FUTURE GOALS:  My ultimate goal is to become a professor at an R1 university so I can mentor undergraduate students and conduct research.  Hopefully I can work for a CUNY or SUNY university so I can mentor undergraduate students from a wide range of backgrounds.

When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science? Who (or what) sparked your interest in this field?: I joined Ralph R. Miller’s learning and memory lab where I reviewed some classic associative learning papers and I learned to appreciate the methodological precision in cognitive science.  My research experiences at Binghamton taught me a lot about pursuing higher education and inspired me to pursue a degree in science.

What is your research topic and why is it important?:  My research examines how people use hints, or cues, to help their memory, particularly assessing the influences of social and nonsocial cues to improve memory performance. While ample research shows that cues have a complex relationship with human memory, people continue to believe that cues help more than hurt memory. My proposal provides a precise test of these beliefs.  The extent to which social and nonsocial cues help or hurt memory across the lifespan has wide implications for education and in aging to help improve cognitive performance.

Tori gives a talk at the Eastern Psychological Association conference
Tori presenting at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference

You recently won the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) Award. How did that feel? What was the first thought that went through your head?:  It was definitely a surprise!  Honestly, the first thought that crossed my mind was that it was a mistake.  I feel extremely honored and grateful to have received the GRFP.  It’s still so surreal to me.

Do you have any tips or advice for others applying to the GRFP?:  You should begin your drafts as soon as you can!  I started my drafts really early so I was able to receive advice from my advisor, friends, and family before submitting.  They were a huge part of my drafts being in good shape.  Also, you should take appropriate breaks between drafts before revising if you give yourself time!  

What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science?:  I think it’ll take a lot of work for there to be more women in science.  We’ll need to first deconstruct stereotypes and biases about women.  This is an especially important point because these biases are presented in class evaluations, letters of recommendation, and, even, expectations of women in science.  Organizations like GWISE, WISE, and WICS (Women in Cognitive Science) are all working towards deconstructing gender stereotypes and addressing serious gender issues.  These organizations need our support so we, the scientific community, can encourage more women to be in science and stay in science. 

Author: sbugwise

We are the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering group at Stony Brook University and we are dedicated to supporting women in STEM fields.

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