The 8th of March is the International Woman’s Day 2017. We’re using the whole week to celebrate the achievements of our women scientists at the Department of Experimental Psychology.
As part of our celebrations, we have developed a blog series featuring our female researchers.
Jenni Rodd is a Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Experimental Psychology.
1. If you would have to summarise your research interest in one question, what would it be?
“How do people understand the meaning of the words that they hear and read?”
2. How did you become interested in your current research topic?
“I started off my studies wanting to become an engineer, but at the start of my second year at university I became insanely jealous of the psychology students whose lectures seemed to be far more exciting than mine. It was a textbook on perception that first got me hooked: it was so much more interesting to me than my thermodynamics textbooks J. So I switched subject and ended up with a psychology degree. My interest in language cam a bit later on. I loved the kinds of computational models that language researchers were using at the time. I think that it was the models rather than the topic itself that first attracted me to the study of language.”
3. What were the key experiences that have shaped your interests/your career?
”It may sound corny, but having children has had a HUGE influence. All my research so far has focused on how adults have processed language, but watching how some kids struggle disproportionately with understanding language, and seeing the enormous amount of time and effort that goes into trying to improve kids’ comprehension skills in schools has made me keen to try and apply what we’ve learned from adult studies to understanding how comprehension skills develop through childhood and what factors help these skills to develop as smoothly as possible. But this is still work in progress – I’m currently working hard to try and get funding on this topic .”
4. If you would have to name a book that has been influential for you, what would it be?
“Steven Pinker’s “The language instinct” had a huge influence. Although I now disagree with many of the arguments in the book about how people learn language, it opened my eyes to how amazing our language learning/processing skills are. The fact that most of us can usually process language without much effort can distract us from the complexity and ambiguity in natural language. It is miraculous that we can communicate at all!”
5. What’s your favourite part about being a researcher?
“I love designing new experiments. I love the collaborative processing of figuring out how to construct tasks and materials that will allow us to answer a specific research question. I’d happily let someone else do all the data collection/analysis/writing if I was allowed to spend all my working life designing new experiments!”
6. What are the current challenges for female researchers in your opinion? How do you deal with them?
“I believe the pervasive gender stereotypes that still shape our society and all of our minds are the main source of additional obstacles for women in science, in addition to also causing men to be trapped in similarly rigid and narrow categories. I believe that our lack of awareness of our own biases (e.g. the presumptuous self-proclamation of being “fair” or “gender-blind” often heard from both men and women) is especially perverse. It explicitly prevents reflexion, communication and improvement. My strategies include identifying consistent allies in my immediate environment, and acting as one to the best of my ability, seeking out diverse mentors and peers as sources of inspiration and support, and learning to pick my battles.”
7. Is there something you still want to discover with your research in future?
“I still see evidence of considerable sexism in how female researchers are treated. We are less likely to be invited to give talks, less likely to be keynote speakers, and to less likely to win awards. I don’t think this is deliberate on the part of our institutions – it is more implicit bias that means that whenever organisers sit down to think of ‘eminent’ and ‘important’ people to contribute names of male researchers often come more easily to mind. I strongly feel that both men and women need to make a more concerted effort to speak up when we see women being underrepresented at prestigious events, and if necessary boycott events where women are not given appropriate opportunities. I also think we need to be very careful when evaluating the work of junior researchers, not to make gendered assumptions about their contribution to the work that give credit to their more senior (male) co-authors”
Learn more about Jenni’s research here.