My journey (So Far)

Hi, I’m Aarti,
a PhD student studying cognitive development at Boston University

The theme of my story so far has been: life gets better when you embrace what is unexpected. My path has taken lots of twists and turns and I’ve learned a lot. Here’s a short version of my story so far.

When I started college a good 7 years ago in 2015, I didn’t expect to end up where I am now- I had a completely different about how things would go. But life rarely goes the way that you expect.

Growing up, many of the family members and friends I’m close to either work in chemistry, biology or tech (engineering, etc), so that’s the direction I thought I’d be headed in. I also knew that I was interested in more social sciency stuff- I loved the anthropology class I took in high school- but from what I’d been told, there wasn’t much money to be made here. Still, I’ve always been interested in the question “Why are people the way they are?”, and I made it a goal to find ways to explore this question.

After just two quarters of college, I realized that although I found my chemistry, bio and engineering classes interesting, what I really loved was learning more about how and why people think the way they do, and how thoughts are influenced by the social and physical world- things I learned about in my psychology classes. I also realized that I really loved learning about mental health, and how mental health, mental illness and available treatments look different globally.

I decided to pursue this path by applying to be an honor’s student in a global mental health lab. Sadly, this opportunity did not work out for me. While looking for other labs I could pursue departmental honors in, I found a lab that studied infants. Once I started working in this lab- getting to play with infants while doing research!– I knew that this was it for me. Specifically, what I really loved was seeing the curious looks on babies’ faces when they saw something unexpected happen. To me, this was like watching cogs turn.

I knew that I’d eventually want to get a PhD in Developmental Psychology, but in my senior year, I wasn’t sure what kinds of research questions I’d be interested in asking through a PhD research program. So, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree at Villanova University. I found Dr. Deena Weisberg’s Scientific Thinking and Representation (STAR) Lab, which provided the perfect opportunity to watch kids’ “cogs turn”.

As a Master’s student in the STAR lab, I got to conduct research on scientific media for children, and I ran our lab’s studies on children’s science learning in preschools, in museums and over Zoom during the pandemic. Through all of these experiences, I realized that the kinds of questions I was interested in asking involved how children think about science in real-world settings outside of school, and how their learning and understanding of science may be influenced by social factors like how their parents might think about and talk about science, their access to quality science education, and children’s science identity.

These are the kinds of questions I am now pursuing as a PhD student in the Child Cognition Lab at Boston University. As a PhD student, I will continue to run research projects in informal public settings like parks and museums, but I’m also involved in our lab’s Evolving Minds education intervention project. Outside of my these research interests, I’m also hoping to learn more about education policy and statistical methods.

To learn more about my budding research program, you can visit this page (coming soon!). Otherwise, I’m always happy to answer questions and learn about other people’s interests, and you can reach out via email (!