Professor of the Month

UPA Featured Professor of January 2006

Dr. Alinda Friedman has been chosen as our Featured Prof of the Month. We'd like to thank her for taking the time to share her experiences with us.

Describe your main research focus:

I am a cognitive psychologist; my main focus is in the general area of spatial cognition.

What projects are you working on right now?

At the moment I am working on four projects:

  1. In the project on Human Behavioural Geography, I am studying how people understand, reason about and remember locations and distances in large scale space (e.g., cities around the world).
  2. I am collaborating with Dr. Spetch (UofA) on a comparison between birds and humans in their ability to recognize static objects and objects in motion.
  3. I am collaborating with a colleague from Oxford Ohio ; David Waller and I are studying Scene Recognition, how scenes are recognized in both the real and virtual world.
  4. I am also collaborating with a former honor's student of mine, Dr Quoc Vuong (Max Planck Institute, Tuebingen , Germany ). We are studying the influence of motion cues in human object recognition.

What classes do you teach?

In the fall I teach Psychology 413 (used to be 402): Design and Analysis of Experiments in Psychology. In both fall and winter semesters I teach Psychology 212: Introduction to Research Methods in Psychology.

Which do you prefer - Coke or Pepsi?

Diet Coke, but I am off caffeine now.

Describe your typical work day:

There is no such thing as a typical work day for me; it is really quite varied. That is one reason I love my job! Most days I try to do a little bit of data analysis, reading, and writing, depending on where I am in my research, teaching and class preparation. I also usually interact with students on most days, as well as colleagues.

What is the best part of your job?

Finding out new things in my research areas. The feeling I get when I actually discover something that's new. It still amazes me to be able to discover new things about the way people think.

What is the worst part of your job?

Long, boring meetings that accomplish nothing. They are ok if something gets accomplished.

When did you know you were interested in psychology as a career?

In Junior year, when I lucked out and acquired a job in an Experimental Psychology lab. Almost everything I love about psychology I learned or was at least exposed to by working in the lab.

Which do you prefer, cats or dogs?

Dogs. I have one named Zachary. But I also like cats.

What were your absolute favourite classes when you were an undergrad?

Physical Anthropology. Finding out how anthropologists work was for me finding out how a scientific mystery can be unravelled. It also illustrated the rewards of patience and tenacity. And the prof was awesome. My second favourite class was a sculpture class. Third was a year-long biology class.

What classes were the worst?

Psychology 100. It was only one term to cover all the topics presently covered in 104-105, I was in a huge class with multiple choice exams, and the topics were boring to me, probably because the prof more or less just read from the textbook. I also think the class was “dumbed down”, and I didn't appreciate that.

What are some of your hobbies?

Exercising, hiking, reading, digital photography, and travelling.

If you could offer any advice or study strategies to students what would it be?

Read the memory chapter in any Cognitive Psychology textbook. Understand the ideas presented in, don't just read the WEB notes passively. Personalize your notes, re-organize notes after class. Don't wait to the last minute to study. Don't cram! Use the concept of Spaced Practice (also to be found in an introductory Cognitive Psychology textbook): If you have 5 hours to study for an exam, it is better to study for one hour 5 days in a row than for 5 hours the night before the exam!

What is your favourite kind of pizza?

Pharaoh's pizza, on a whole wheat crust with beef and onions.

How did you choose which grad school to attend and what advice would you give students thinking of grad school?

I actually went to two Graduate schools; the first one was selected for the wrong reason: Namely, I wanted to remain relatively close to home. So I switched and finished at the school I should have gone to in the first place. You have to follow your heart with respect to your career; realizing that, though 4-6 years in graduate school seems like a long time, it is really only a very small portion of your life, and your time there can put a mark on your entire future. So, make sure you do your homework (know what you are getting into). Choose a supervisor who will interact with you well and train you to be a good scientist. Who will give you a little “rope” to pursue your own interests. Don't be afraid to go across the Canadian border: There are many good schools in the United States , Britain , and elsewhere, and the better schools will ensure that you have funding. Some advice I received before going to Graduate school was to pick 3 “dream” schools that you would love to go to (the programs may be amazing; the school prestigious; and there are quite a few people there in the area that you are interested in), then pick 3 schools that are great schools with good programs, that you have a “fair shot” at getting into but are not necessarily “sure things”, and then 3 “safe” schools that you are pretty sure you will get into, and then apply! You never know where you may get accepted.

What was the hardest part of the process getting to the academic position you are in today?

Learning how to time share among the various new responsibilities that came, first, with graduate school, and then especially, with my first academic job (here at the U of A). It is an ongoing challenge to be able to do everything you want to (and have to) and still be balanced.

Where is your dream vacation getaway spot?

My favourite place to go for vacation is Maui , but if I need to stay closer to home I enjoy Vancouver Island. My real dream vacation would be to go on a photo safari in Kenya .

What is the one accomplishment in your life you are most proud of?

Leaving a legacy of both students and research. I enjoy seeing my students go places with the skills they have learned here. And I am delighted when I see my former students going out and making something of themselves, in whatever career path they have chosen.

What is the one biggest goal you have yet to accomplish?

Academia is a life where you never actually finish a goal, so I want to continue learning and making contributions to the field.

What is the best movie you've seen lately?

I enjoy computer animated films. I recently saw Madagascar and thought it was wonderful!

In the upcoming term, are you thinking of accepting volunteers in your lab or supervising honours or independent study students?

I hardly ever accept volunteers into my lab; I would rather have independent studies or honours students so that we can create a mutually agreeable contract. At the moment I have 1 student signed up for independent study in my lab and I sometimes accept as many as 3.


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