Hendricks earned a B.S. in Cognitive Science from Vassar College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2013, and received her a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from UC San Diego in 2017, where her graduate research explored the ways that linguistic metaphor can affect cognition.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be just like Harriet the Spy. Harriet traveled around her city observing people and writing down her observations. She did this as a way of learning everything she possibly could. I wasn’t sure if it was a real job, but I spent quite a bit of time honing my spy skills.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
“Just try.” My parents told me this as I was nearing my final year of undergrad, referring to applying to PhD programs. Even though I had a good idea of the topic I wanted to research in grad school, I was convinced that I could not be accepted with “just” my liberal arts background and some short-term research experiences. Apparently, my conviction was misguided, since I was accepted to UC San Diego’s Cognitive Science department, which had become my coveted grad program. Since then, I have tried to be more mindful of times when I can be better served by a “just try” mindset.
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
My liberal arts education taught me to seek connections where they might not be obvious at first and to seek insights from a variety of bodies of knowledge. For example, in one course we had to hypothetically redesign the college library. This wasn’t an architecture course, though; it was Cognitive Science, and we were tasked to consider what we know about the mind and optimal learning conditions in our design. Another course drove home the intimate connections between music and science by teaching introductory physics principles almost entirely through an exploration of sound. Solutions to society’s most pressing problems like climate change seem most likely to come from people who are able to connect seemingly disparate fields, to see connections among ideas that might not be apparent when pigeon-holed by a single discipline.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
I was considering a major in Cognitive Science when I took a required course on language and cognition. The readings and discussions in this class gave me a deep appreciation for our remarkable human capacities to learn, understand, and produce language, and exposed me to questions that cemented my decision to pursue Cognitive Science in graduate school. For instance, are some things unthinkable without language? How does bilingualism affect our brains and behavior? And how should we even define language to begin with?
You were recently a member of the Leadership Team for ComSciCon, a workshop series focused on science communication skills. Why do you think it’s important for scientists to learn how to effectively communicate their research to both scientific and non-scientific audiences?
I often think of this quote by Carl Sagan when asked why it’s important for researchers to communicate their science:
"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
Science is a major part of our lives. But for people to take scientific information into account, for example in deciding which groceries to buy, how to commute to work, or which candidates they support in an election, they need to have access to that information. Beyond practical day-to-day decisions, when researchers communicate their science effectively, they have a chance to interest students who might someday become scientists. I feel confident that I wouldn’t be a scientist if I hadn’t encountered some effective science communication when I was a student, so it’s important to me in turn to communicate what I learn.
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts? Anything you'd recommend?
I love World War II fiction and have just finished All the Light We Cannot See. I also treasure my Atlantic magazine that comes in the mail each month. I learn about issues I didn’t even know I was interested in before picking it up.
My favorite podcast is called The Black Goat. It’s hosted by three social psychologists who have really interesting discussions on academic topics like open science, replication, academic culture, and science communication.
What is your favorite cultural excursion or experience in your town?
One of the most culturally appropriate things I do in San Diego is to be active outside. I’m torn between two favorites. One is to hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve. After climbing a hill, there are paths with phenomenal views of the ocean. My other favorite is free outdoor yoga. Every Sunday morning at least 100 people gather in Balboa Park for an hour of downward-facing dogs and tree poses.
What do you want to learn next?
Ich lerne Deutsch! I love learning languages, and a recent trip to Germany inspired me to learn this parent language of English. I love the app Duolingo for helping me practice in small chunks when I have a moment of down time.
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