Cognitive Science major Gregory Dachner, wrapping up his B.S. here at UC Merced this spring, is heading to Brown University to obtain his Ph.D. We asked Greg about his experiences at UC Merced, what he’ll be doing at Brown, and any advice he may have for Cognitive Science majors aspiring to graduate school programs.

How has the CogSci program helped you figure out what you’re interested in, and fulfill your grad school goals?

Before I came to the University of California, Merced, I had only a vague idea what interested me and wanted to study. I knew I enjoyed learning about how the brain works, but I didn’t realize there was a whole field dedicated to it. When I first took Introduction to Cognitive Science with Dr. Michael Spivey at UC Merced, I finally realized this was I wanted to study. The program at UC Merced gave me the concepts and tools to describe ideas I’ve had in my head for years, but didn’t know how to put to words. Once they helped me learn this was my passion, the program and faculty in CogSci at UC Merced were invaluable in guiding me to my future. They helped me realize I wanted to continue on doing research on the brain and that I should peruse this goal in graduate school. I start my PhD at Brown University this coming Fall, and I have them to thank.

What research area are you interested in? Why? What’s cool about it?

I am interested in spatial cognition and how it applies to human navigation and crowd dynamics. I’ve always loved watching people. There’s something about following lots of people moving around and through each other in a crowded place that’s always fascinated me. Watch people long enough and you’ll notice how rare it is for us to actually collide with each other. But how does our brain, our body, and the environment allow us to do this incredibly complicated task so successfully? And when we do collide, it can be just as interesting to explore what went wrong. These concepts are my research interests and they are ones I intend to explore for many years to come.

And finally… what advice can you give to students interested in applying to grad schools from UC Merced?

The biggest advice I can give you is get research experience. Work in a lab. That experience was invaluable to me. The reasons for this are many. It obviously gives experience on how to do research and an understanding of how labs are run and managed, giving you an idea of what you can expect in the future. But research experience also gives more subtle benefits. It allows you to meet the faculty and get to know them on a personal level. This allows you to learn about their research and if it’s something you want to explore for your career. And it gives you great resources to seek advice on how to best achieve your goals. Finally, it gives you a framework for how science is conducted in general, which is probably most important of all. Do not hesitate to get experience in a lab. All of the faculty at UC Merced are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and look forward to being approached by young minds who want to do research.