Robert Hawkins – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Robert Hawkins – Information for Prospective Graduate Students


Current research:  The Social Interaction Lab is broadly interested in the cognitive mechanisms that allow people to flexibly communicate, collaborate, and coordinate with one another. We take an integrative, theory-driven approach combining computational modeling, behavioral experiments, and analysis of large naturalistic datasets. Ongoing projects investigate how people create ad hoc linguistic conventions and adapt to their partners in everyday conversation, how norms are transmitted through social networks, and how language is grounded in social identity and culture. We build computational models of agents that learn to communicate in realistic, open-ended scenarios and test them in targeted experiments and with human neuroimaging data. We welcome interested students from diverse backgrounds in cognitive science, computer science, psychology, linguistics, and other related fields.

Communication Prior to Applying: Prefer to not have video calls/meetings before applying:
It is my lab’s policy to not 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 Im Willing to Advise Students in: Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience; Social; Developmental. Note that it is not uncommon for students in my lab to be in multiple area groups or to change area groups during their graduate training.

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.

  • Previous research experience: Hands-on experience conducting research in a cognitive science lab is invaluable preparation for graduate school; otherwise, it is difficult to know whether you will enjoy the day-to-day practice of doing research. This experience could come from working as a research assistant or lab manager, pursuing an honors thesis under faculty supervision, or undertaking independent projects. I’m interested in evidence of intellectual curiosity, creativity, conscientiousness, and perseverance.
  • Computational skills: Computational modeling and work with large datasets are central to our work, and candidates are typically proficient in at least one programming language (e.g. Python, R, JavaScript). Although coursework in math, statistics, and machine learning all provide good preparation, they are by no means necessary; the important part is an openness to quantitative thinking and technical work.
  • Communication and collegiality: We are a highly collaborative group, and most projects involve working on an interdisciplinary team of researchers. Such teams thrive on open and collegial intellectual exchange, so in addition to clear writing and speaking skills, I look for evidence of kindness, empathy, interpersonal and the ability to work well with others.
  • Intellectual breadth: I value candidates who are interested in integrating knowledge across disciplines. Breadth could come from double majoring, diverse coursework, or independent reading. Cognitive science, computer science, linguistics, and psychology backgrounds are all great fits. I encourage prospective students to highlight in their materials aspects most relevant to the lab’s research.