Cogbites Interview Series: Becca Dyer

Welcome back to our cogbites interview series, where we interview cognitive scientists by asking them a few questions about their interests in science and what keeps them engaged both in and out of the lab.

As a reminder, you can learn a little about our team of contributors by reading their bios (either on our author page or at the bottom of each post), but this is a chance to get to know some early-career scientists even better. Our last interview was with Alexa Ruel, a PhD student at Concordia University.

Becca Dyer

This week we interview Becca Dyer. Becca is a final year student on the research masters Brain and Cognitive Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience track at the University of Amsterdam. She is currently in the last stages of a research internship investigating the perception of cues for turn-taking with the CoSI Lab in conjunction with the Max Planck Institute and the Donders Institute. Once complete, she will begin a second internship in the same lab investigating the perception and use of cues for turn-taking during conversation by autistic people. Both of these projects are supervised by Dr. Judith Holler and Dr. James Trujillo.

Becca also works for a number of science communication and activism blogs and journals. She recently wrote an article for cogbites summarizing White & Carlson’s (2021) finding that pretend play improves inhibition.

Here’s our interview with Becca:

Why did you decide to pursue cognitive science?

Becca: It sounds very cliché but I have always been interested in how other people’s minds worked. From the age of around six, I was already asking whether everyone heard their thoughts as a voice in their head, and why we dreamt. At sixteen, when I began Sixth Form (the English equivalent of High School), I was finally able to take a Psychology course. I was fascinated by the variety of methodologies for delving into the human cognitive condition, and chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Language Sciences with UCL. Here I learned about the field’s problems, such as the replication crisis, and was particularly interested in the failure of autism research to serve and support the autistic community. Now, I am completing my master’s degree in the topic of Cognitive Neuroscience while completing research internships and engaging in scientific journalism in order to prepare myself for a future in which I can work with other scientists and autistic people, themselves, to improve autism research such that the community we serve is actually supported by us.

What are you currently working on?

Becca: I am currently engaged in a number of research, science journalism, and activism projects. In terms of research, I am currently finishing my research thesis about the perception of cues for turn-taking, while beginning an internship investigating the perception and use of such cues by autistic people in conversation.

Meanwhile, in terms of my science journalism, I am a board member of the ABC Journal, where I lead the writing and social media teams, and participate in the peer review and blog teams. We recently published the twelfth issue of this journal, in which I have written an article discussing gender differences in autism. As a fun side note, one of my illustrations was published alongside this piece. I will also be publishing an article about the portrayal of autism in the media with the ABC blog in the coming weeks.

Finally, in terms of activism, I recently began a collaborative blog called “Diverse Academia” which aims to highlight the barriers to higher education for marginalized communities. We recently published our first piece, and our writers have two articles nearing publication.

What’s the most exciting thing about cognitive science?

Becca: I think the recent move towards interdisciplinary research is one of the most important developments in the cognitive sciences. The consequently improved communication between scientists from different fields will lead to more unique and inspirational methodologies, techniques and perspectives that have the potential to provide more comprehensive answers to our questions. Personally, I don’t believe that you can ever truly understand something with only one perspective or point of view, so this holistic approach is necessary to really gain some insight into the concepts explored within the cognitive sciences.

What sparked your interest in science communication?

Becca: I’m not entirely sure where my interest for science communication began. However, I am so glad that I found myself here. For myself and, I think, for many scientists, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the great need for science communication. The world collectively experienced quite a tragic crisis in which its population suddenly required a basic understanding of viruses, their transmission, their consequences, and their prevention. For the most part, this information spread quite quickly, with non-scientists talking about R numbers, self-isolation and the protection of more vulnerable groups within weeks of their learning about coronavirus. However, as we’ve seen from the debates surrounding the measures (masks and social distancing) and the vaccines, there were some holes in the communication of the science behind these things. Improving the communication between scientists and the public could have reduced the unease felt about these measures.

Outside of the COVID-19 example (and more specific to my interests), if we look at the stigma surrounding conditions like autism, a lot of it stems from a lack of understanding of the condition. Science communication can intervene here, improving public understanding and, consequently, reducing stigma. I think, as a group, we (cognitive scientists) have a responsibility to facilitate this understanding.

Some of Becca’s art.

Is there anything else you want us to know about you?

Outside of my more sciency pursuits, I love to sing, and occasionally do so on TikTok. I also play the piano, guitar and ukulele quite frequently, and can play a few tunes on the kalimba, harp, merlin m4, clarinet and recorder. Aside from music, I enjoy creating art (though I currently have art-block), playing Overwatch, playing board games, writing poetry, and crocheting. Finally, during the pandemic, I opened a small online jewelry shop on Depop to try to make back some of the money I lost as a result of the UK’s regulations. You can check out my shop here.