Cog Sci Program’s Strength Shown at Conference

Cognitive science was among the first research areas established at UC Merced – its foundation was laid a year before the campus opened.
Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced will be the top program represented this summer at the discipline’s premiere conference, Cognitive Science.

There will be 25 presentations from the program’s faculty, researchers, graduate students and undergraduates, the most from any one university, according to conference data analyzed by UC Merced’s Rick Dale, professor and Cognitive and Information Sciences graduate group chair. Indiana University will have 21 presentations; UC San Diego will have 20; and Stanford University will have 19.

“We hope Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced will quickly become known as one of the top research programs in Cognitive Science in the world,” Dale said. “These data suggest this status is not just a long-term dream, but a feasible outcome of our plans in the near term.”

The international conference is now in its 35th year and this year’s theme is “Cooperative Minds: Social Interaction and Group Dynamics." It runs from July 31 to Aug. 3 in Berlin. More than 1,000 people will attend it, coming from hundreds of universities and research institutions. The campus’s representation is an example of the excellent research for which the UC Merced is becoming known. UC Merced cognitive scientists are slated to organize this conference in 2015.

Cognitive science was among the first research areas established at UC Merced – its foundation was laid a year before the campus opened. At the time, the only other cognitive science Ph.D. programs in the University of California system were at UC San Diego and UC Irvine, said Teenie Matlock, the first cognitive scientist to join UC Merced’s founding faculty in 2004.

"We established the program when cognitive science was gaining popularity internationally, and worked hard to recruit talented faculty from across the country," Matlock said. "Some of these individuals had been stuck in rather traditional departments and were excited about joining an interdisciplinary group and taking their research in new directions.

“Cognitive science crosses several disciplines. Within that mix, you get interesting synergies and ideas that make for innovative research and unique funding opportunities,” Matlock said.

Additionally, Matlock said the program’s research has been funded by a number of grants, for instance, from the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The group has also benefitted from a generous gift from UC Berkeley Professors Robert Glushko and Pamela Samuelson that supports the Mind, Technology and Society talk series, which brings cognitive scientists from around the world to talk on campus.

Five years ago, UC Merced had only a few papers at the conference. This year, using a variety of metrics, UC Merced is among the top five institutions. It will have the most total presentations. If only the top talks are counted, UC Merced ranks fifth.

The campus’s representation is significant, especially considering the program’s small size compared to others. This year, presentations will be delivered by eight faculty, almost all of the program’s 21 graduate students, postdocs and even three undergraduate students.

“It’s really exciting and rewarding to see the program evolve,” Matlock said. “At a local level, it shows what you can do as a brand new campus.”

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