Cogbites Interview Series: Alex Knopps

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 own 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 Madhura Lotlikar, a first year Ph.D. student in McGill University in the department of Neuroscience.

Alex Knopps

This week we interview Alex Knopps, a second-year graduate student in the Psychology and Discipline Based Education Research programs at North Dakota State University. Alex works with Dr. Kathryn Wissman investigating student learning and cognition. When he was an undergrad, he wrote a blog post on cogbites about the benefits of taking a break when stuck on a problem.

Here’s our interview with Alex:

Why did you decide to pursue cognitive science? 

I decided to pursue cognitive science because I have always been fascinated by how we think and learn. When I was earning my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Kent State University, I applied what I was learning to my own life. As a result, I saw a massive improvement in my mental health, social connections, and academic performance. My overall career goal is to apply the same concepts of psychology to people’s lives, to improve their lives.

For example, in my experience, I’ve found that not a lot of people know how to study effectively because they have never been taught. This lack of education makes learning very difficult, and leaves people open to incorrect beliefs about how we learn, like believing in learning styles (despite the lack of evidence that they exist). Thus, if I research the cognitive processes of how we learn, I can develop evidence-based teaching strategies, which will hopefully help student’s memory and recall.

What are you currently working on?

Alex and his friends celebrate starting their second year of graduate school.

I currently am working on my master’s thesis research project. This is one of the first challenges I will face in my pursuit of my doctoral degree, as well as developing my area of expertise. I just proposed my thesis project and it was accepted without revision! So now I have the green light to start collecting participant data. My project is investigating the influence of collaboration on creative problem-solving. I should have my results by the end of this semester, and I’ll replicate my study and have those results by the end of the spring semester. My goal with this project is to submit it as a manuscript to be published in a scientific journal.

That’s so exciting, congrats! Speaking of exciting things, what do you think is the most exciting concept in cognitive science?

My favorite part of creativity to talk about is that creativity is not exclusively an ability that you are born with, it is actually a learned skill. The specific research term for this perspective is the “creative cognition approach.” A paper by DeHaan (2009) gives a great overview of this perspective! So, if you ever feel like you’re not a creative person, just remember, creativity is a cognitive process and skill that can be learned and improved!

That’s great advice! What sparked your interest in science communication?

Early on in my undergraduate career, thanks to the cogbites blog and my Psychological Research Methods instructor, I realized scientific literacy is one of the most important skills that needs to be taught but is often neglected. Once I started working as a research assistant and looking towards applying to graduate school, I knew science communication was a skill I needed to develop so I could, at the very least, effectively share the results and implications of my own research projects. On top of that, I found that as I was applying to grad school, I was quickly overwhelmed with the process. Once I was accepted to grad school, I wanted to make this process easier for future graduate students, so I founded a podcast called The Scientists in Training Podcast. My goal with my podcast, blog, and website is to compile advice and tools based on my friends’ and my own experiences in graduate school!

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

I love cooking, hiking, and playing video games.

Alex’s family sending him off to graduate school

I also want to say that I could not make it through grad school without my support network. Specifically, I want to shout out my friends Emily Johnson and Odalis Garcia because I know I could not make it through grad school without either of them. I also want to shout out my family. They’ve always believed in me and their support helped me get this far. I am thankful for my Scientists in Training Team, Emily Johnson, Odalis Garcia, and Emily Hackerson, who continue to help me in my mission to communicate science and create tools to help future graduate students! I want to thank my undergraduate mentor Dr. Michelle Rivers for sparking my interest in research and helping me apply to graduate school. Finally, I want to thank my current advisor Dr. Katie Wissman for being a fantastic advisor and exploring creativity literature with me. I look forward to our weekly meetings the most every week and I have never regretted coming to work in the lab!