Joe Austerweil – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Joe Austerweil – Information for Prospective Graduate Students


Current research: There are a few current projects in the lab that I am considering admitting a student to help me with. Memory: How does the mind “select” or “construct” a representation for novel information? How should semantic information be encoded into computational models of episodic memory? What formal justifications could there be for why certain things are easier to remember than others? Category generation: How do people create new categories and concepts? What is the difference between learning A and B vs. A and NOT A? How can generative AI techniques help us understand human category generation? How can we create better generative AI methods informed by how people create new categories?  Teaching and multi-agent interaction: What are norms? How do we endow agents with them? How are they learned implicitly and explicitly? How do people teach other agents by physically intervening on them?

Communication Prior to Applying: I prefer not to have video calls/meetings with prospective students prior to the application process. I also don’t privilege or prioritize applications from prospective students who have contacted me prior to applying. This is for reasons of fairness – in particular to ensure that I’m able to read every application that I receive with an open mind and from the same initial starting point.  That said, if there are questions about my research or lab that you have that would be helpful to have answered as you prepare your application, I’m certainly happy to answer them. Just send me an email.  And if you have questions about completing/submitting the UW Madison Psychology Department application itself, the best person to contact is our graduate coordinator,

Areas I’m Willing to Advise Students in: Primarily Cognitive (/Cognitive Neuroscience), but also Perception when appropriate.

How I Evaluate Applicants:

Like all faculty members in the Psychology Department, I evaluate prospective graduate students in a holistic manner. I therefore consider all the possible ways in which students’ applications materials can demonstrate excellence and a strong likelihood to thrive in the graduate program and in my lab.  As such, the information below should be treated as general rules of thumb rather than a highly proscriptive “checklist” of attributes that candidates must have in order to be considered for admittance to my lab.

  • Academic preparation: Given the nature of the research conducted in the lab, students who have a strong background in probability theory, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and cognitive psychology and sciences are frequently more competitive than students without this background. Further, evidence of scientific writing is also viewed as a significant plus. I do not expect perfect grades (I didn’t have them!). I DO expect you to have learned from any critical feedback in your academic preparation.
  • Research preparation: Students who have or are in the process of completing (at least) one research project are usually more competitive than students who have not conducted independent research as are students who have proficiency in at least one programming language for conducting behavioral experiments over the web and for conducting computer simulations.
  • Motivation/drive: I expect students to be intrinsically motivated in their research.
  • Personal statement: The personal statement should help me understand why you want to work with me to get a PhD in Psychology. It should illuminate how you will approach the hard technical and emotional challenges that are inevitable during a PhD program. I consider it a writing sample and expect it to demonstrate mastery at communication.
  • Other: Strong organizational and communication skills