Prospective Students

FAQ for any trainees interested in gaining research experience with the CoCoDev lab, including Masters Students, applying to the PhD program at HGSE, or potential postdocs.


I am a [HGSE Masters Student; FAS Undergraduate] looking for research experience in your lab. How can I get involved? What should I know?

You should be excited about the research topics we already study. I do not take on students who propose projects outside the scope of our lab. Our research bridges Cognitive Development, Computational Modeling, and Education to inform our understanding of human learning. Specifically, we study the structure of children's early causal beliefs, how evidence and prior beliefs interact to affect children's learning and memory, the developmental processes that influence children's belief revision and curiosity, and the role of social factors (such as learning from others) in guiding learning. Our research spans infancy through adult years, with a particular focus on preschool and early elementary school years -- when children are first developing intuitive theories about the world that support common sense reasoning. 

What's it like to be in the lab? Research Assistants will attend weekly lab meetings and work under the mentorship of a postdoctoral researcher or other full-time research staff in our lab. Tasks differ according to the Research Assistant's primary research advisor, and may include collecting data, participant recruitment and community outreach, data processing tasks (including transcriptions and behavioral coding), analyzing data, creating study stimuli, and more. 

Requirements and Expectations: No previous research experience is necessary. Many of our studies involve children and families, so some experience with children is preferred but not required. We seek hard-working, creative, and curious individuals who are interested in research in psychology/ cognitive science, education, or computational modeling. RAs in our lab are expected to spend approximately 9-12 hours/ week on lab tasks. There is no required minimum number of semesters of research participation. However, priority is given to candidates who can work at the lab for 2 or more semesters consecutively as training to work in developmental studies takes some time and significant contributions to projects usually take more than one semester. Students who are able to stay on have increased chances of receiving summer internship funding if available. 

Additional Information: Positions for volunteer and course credit are available and reviewed on a rolling basis. Occasionally we will have funded summer internships. Research labs are located at 50 Church Street, Suite Q-400, in Harvard Square. Studies are run in daycares, schools, online, and in the lab, depending on the age and methods used. We will occasionally recommend that you also attend talks/meetings in the Psychology department at William James Hall and our group has regular joint meetings with our "brother lab" (Tomer Ullman's CoCoDev group in Psych) in the Northwest building.

Contact us.  Please direct any questions about the lab or the application process to our lab manager Jiayi Wang at jiayiwang@fas.harvard.eduTo Apply: Please fill out this application at; it takes about 15 minutes to complete. Note that this application will ask you to upload a resume and transcript (unofficial transcript is fine). We review applications on a rolling basis with priority given to applications received at least a week or two before each semester begins.


I am looking to apply to PhD positions this year. What should I know?

You should familiarize yourself with the HGSE PhD applicant websiteYou will find detailed information about the program, course requirements, and "my" area (HDLT). 

Are you taking students this year (Fall 23 entry)? Will you consider my application?  Yes. I am considering taking new students and am likely "eligible" to take a student (though it may depend on whether other faculty are also taking students and number of lines). The HGSE application process is more centralized than many PhD programs. This means that individual faculty are unlikely to review applicants (or have sway over admittance) in the initial phases of the review process. However, we do weigh in later in the process and interview students in order to ascertain whether there is a good fit with our individual labs.

Will you be able to meet with me prior to my applying? Unfortunately, probably not. There are many students who ask to meet with me and I am unable to accommodate these requests. Further, there are concerns of equity (for students who do not know to reach out.) I recommend reading publications on the website to learn more about the research and lab. If you are offered a position, there will be plenty of time to meet with me and my lab this Spring to learn more about HGSE and whether the fit is right for you. 

Should I tailor my statement of purpose to you or to HGSE more broadly?  This is a good question and there is an art form to writing personal statements/research statements. HGSE is interested in well rounded students that are interested in education (and Human Development, Learning, and Teaching). I am also interested in students that have a solid foundation (and interest) in the basic science questions that pertain to human learning -- particularly students with interest and experience covering the broader learning and cognitive sciences spanning psychology and education, as well as philosophy, computer science/statistics, and neuroscience. You will need to balance your essay and application to convey your broader interest in HDLT topics as well as include a focused section that highlights the kinds of specific questions/methods that might draw you to working with me. I highly recommend reading this thread on writing a successful SOP.

Do I need research experience to apply for the PhD program?  Truth be told, you probably do if you want to be seriously considered by me (I can't speak for other faculty). Students should pursue a PhD because they are passionate about research. They love not only asking the big, deep questions, but they find the process of uncovering answers thrilling. It is difficult to know yourself and your passions if you don't have experience. I am not expecting that applicants have first-authored publications, but you should have at least some lab experiences in the learning and cognitive sciences and be able to speak to the relationship of those experiences to your future interests as a PhD student.

Are you interested in studying language learning/teacher training/school curricular design/other...? Please take the time to learn about our lab members and their research interests, as well as reading some publications -- this will give you a good overview of the kinds of research questions I am interested in. In general, I care about understanding and describing how the human mind learns and develops, but I tend to focus on belief revision/conceptual change in causal reasoning and the sciences rather than other domains. An important piece to this work is describing the nature of our mental representations ("language of thought"). Our spoken language can influence those representations and so could be a topic of interest to the lab, but the principal focus of this work is characterizing the nature of our knowledge, how it changes through learning processes, and explaining why learning systems work the way they do.

Should I be applying to HGSE for a PhD or to Psychology? Well, that depends on who you want to work with as a primary advisor. I am located in HGSE and so if you would like to work with me, you should apply here! Both HGSE and Psychology offer PhDs through FAS. HGSE's program description can be found on the main webpage. You will see that it is more coursework focused in the first few years, and (unsurprisingly) required courses will be focused on HDLT education topics. That being said, the research questions in my lab are studied from the psychology/cognitive & learning science perspectives, so you will likely publish work in journals that span all these areas. PhD students are welcome to cross enroll in classes between HGSE and Psychology, as well as other departments (statistics, philosophy, Computer Science) and even with other local universities, such as MIT -- so there is much flexibility in developing this interdisciplinary training.

What is the lab culture like? This might be the most important question of all -- how silly of me to leave it to the end. I take mentorship very seriously and only take on trainees if I feel I have the time, resources, and ability to maximally support their careers. It's critical to me that all students feel like they can develop research in a nurturing environment. I meet with students weekly and try to help students set reasonable goals, to provide professional advice, and mostly to talk about our science. Trainees in the lab will give constructive feedback to each other at lab meetings, but also often become friends and mentors to each other as well. I encourage students to collaborate with each other (and with other faculty!), but I also try to make sure each student has a unique research focus that will allow them to lauch a them-specific career. I feel happiest when my trainees are thriving, so your success is my primary drive. 

Besides research fit, what are you looking for? I'm looking for students who are able to communicate openly, who have a healthy dose of intellectual humility, who are deeply curious, and who are willing to laugh with me at both mediocre jokes and our failures. I'd like students to be passionate about understanding and explaining how people learn. I also want trainees who have a life outside of research.


I am looking for a postdoctoral fellowship/job in your lab. How can I get involved? What should I know?

Our lab currently has several grants under review. It is possible we will have funding for a position to begin Spring 2023, but currently I do not have openings. I will post job information here (and on various list-serves) if they come up.

Okay -- but what if I have my own funding? Our lab is currently quite large and I am close to my mentorship saturation point, so I am unlikely to entertain prospective postdocs who are writing their own grants or have other external funding options. However, if you feel you would still be a great fit and you do have your own grants/funding sources, please feel free to email me and we can set-up a time to chat.