Jenny Saffran – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Jenny Saffran – Information for Prospective Graduate Students


Current research: In the Infant Learning Lab, we study the processes that infants and young children use to acquire language. These include such abilities as statistical learning and predictive processing. We are also very interested in what infants and toddlers know about their native language, such as what words actually mean to very young children. A third emphasis of our research lies in improving the methods that we use to study language processing and acquisition in hard-to-study populations (like babies), and collaborating on ManyBabies-type largescale studies. Finally, we collaborate with other researchers at the Waisman Center (where our lab is based) who study children at risk for language-learning challenges. We focus on behavioral methods (like eye-tracking) that allow us to tap early linguistic knowledge. You can read about some of our ongoing projects at the Newsletter tab on our lab website.

Communication Prior to Applying: It is my 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 at  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: Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience; Developmental; Perception; Individualized Graduate Major.

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’ application materials can demonstrate excellence and a strong likelihood to thrive in the graduate program and in my lab.  In addition:

  • I read the personal statements carefully with an eye toward the questions that applicants are interested in studying, and look for individuals whose ideas about future research questions are a good match to my own interests and knowledge base (it would not be in your best interest, or mine, for us to work on questions about which I have no knowledge).
  • I am unlikely to admit a student into my lab who had not previously worked with young children (ideally in a research setting). This is because the only way to know if you like working with children is to have done it previously!

Other Information for Prospective Applicants: I am happy to serve as the sole/primary mentor for graduate students, but I also enjoy co-advising students within and across area groups. I love collaborating and find that working with graduate students is a wonderful way to develop new research ideas. It is my goal to foster a great deal of intellectual independence; my students work on questions that I’ve never thought of before, and leave graduate school with research programs that are very much their own.