2: Andrew McCullough

Department

Psychology

Program and year of study

Psychology Doctoral program (Perception, Cognition, & Cognitive Neuroscience discipline), 7th year

Previous degrees and colleges

MA Psychology, University of North Carolina Wilmington

BA Psychology, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Where did you grow up?

A small town in western Ohio… farm country

Where do you live now?

A small town called Davis, CA… warmer farm country

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

My backyard or the Rocknasium

How do you relax?

On weekdays, I walk, bike, run, or otherwise spend time with my amazing dog, Seneca. And read for pleasure when possible. On weekends, I like to explore California – hiking up mountains, swimming in cold lakes, rock climbing, and general adventuring remind me that even the most difficult challenges can be conquered.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Highly recommended, and complete with interesting facts about Emil Mrak.

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

Inside Out. In 2015. I don’t go to movies often.

Research interests

I am interested in how human memory functions – why we remember what we remember, and why we forget what we don’t remember. I am also interested in a variety of other amazing abilities of the human brain.

Dissertation title or topic

An examination of the effects of post-encoding stress on recognition memory and on the neural correlates of memory.

Please share a surprising or unusual fact or finding from your research

In contrast to most people’s assumptions, stress can be very good for memory. In particular, physical stress (rather than social stress) that is experienced just after learning tends to improve memory. So: exercise after studying, and watch horror movies or comedies after class. Not only will you enjoy these activities, but you’ll remember the material better and for longer.

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Dr. Jeff Toth at UNC-Wilmington first introduced me to the fascinating topic of human memory.

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

On the Origin of Species. It conveys a theory very elegantly, and it altered the public’s view of the entire world. I also think I would have enjoyed living in that time period.

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Kwan-Liu Ma leads a team of researchers at the UC Davis Center for Visualization who specialize in designing computer software for visualizing large and complex data sets. I really like the concept of imagining new ways to visualize vast amounts of data.
In the Department of Psychology, I’m really fascinated by the work from Petr Janata’s lab. They study how humans perceive, interact with, and remember music, and I’ve always thought of music as a really unique human ability or experience.

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

Scheduling freedom. One of the best things about being a grad student at UC Davis is the faculty treat you as peers. They respect your input on scientific theory and experimental design, and are very inclusive with respect to their research endeavors.

What’s the worst?

The near-continuous feeling that you can’t possibly get everything done… but you must get everything done!

What wisdom can you offer to someone considering grad school?

Think long and hard about what you want to study and why you want to pursue a graduate degree. Is your source of motivation enough to withstand a few years of stress and obstacles?

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

Gardening and continuously making additions on a house built into a mountainside.

Finally, please ask yourself a question

What is one thing you’ve always wanted to see?

The northern lights, ideally from space, but I’ll take what I can get.

 

—February 2017

 

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