Martha Alibali – Information for Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Martha Alibali – Information for Prospective Graduate Students


Current research: I study learning, development, and communication in STEM domains—primarily in mathematics, but also in biology. My work focuses on characterizing learners’ knowledge about fundamental concepts and problem-solving strategies, and on understanding how different types of experiences (including instruction) shape the course of knowledge change. I am especially interested in the roles of gestures, actions, and diagrams in learning and in instructional communication. I am also interested in why people produce gestures, and in how communicating in gesture and language can influence the nature of knowledge . My current studies investigate  knowledge change in several different content areas within mathematics and biology, including fractions, integers, algebra, genetics, and the life cycle.

Communication Prior to Applying: Prospective students who have questions about my lab or about my mentoring approach should feel free to contact me via email at I do not typically have video calls with prospective applicants prior to reviewing applications.

Areas I’m Willing to Advise Students in: Developmental; Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience; Individualized Graduate Major (often combined with Educational Psychology). I do not advise students in the Clinical program.

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 evaluating applicants, I consider applicants’ research experience and aptitude, their academic record and potential, and their demonstrated interest in scientific questions that are the focus of research in my laboratory. Some qualities that I look for in prospective graduate students include: intellectual curiosity, openness to new ideas, interest in collaborative research, attention to detail, perseverance, kindness, and integrity. I am particularly interested in prospective students whose application materials demonstrate one or more of these qualities. I am also particularly interested in prospective students who have experience teaching mathematics and science in K-12 settings.

Other Information for Prospective Applicants: I conduct basic research on learning that has the potential to inform instructional practices, so my work is situated at the interface of developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and education. I collaborate regularly with scholars from the learning sciences and from mathematics education, including scholars from the Department of Educational Psychology at UW-Madison. I frequently serve as sole or primary advisor to doctoral students, and I am also open to co-mentoring.