‘It Is Very Inspiring When Someone From Outside Approves of What I Am Doing’
Vladislav Khvostov, a second-year student of the Doctoral School of Psychology at HSE University, was recognized with a Graduate Conference Award for Student Members from the Psychonomic Society. Every year a total of 20 graduate students in cognitive psychology receive this prestigious international award in psychology. HSE News Service spoke with Vladislav about the award, his interest in cognitive psychology and research.
There are a number of major conferences in cognitive psychology, and the Psychonomic Society is one of them. The conference is particularly broad in scope, covering all areas of cognitive psychology. Graduate Conference Awards for Student Members are awarded to graduate student presenters of the conference. To apply for the award, students must be the first author of a poster presented at the conference and submit an application that includes a description of their poster, their CV, a summary of their goals for participating in the 2020 Annual Meeting, and a research summary explaining how their research supports the mission of the Psychonomic Society.
The Psychonomic Society is a large scientific community with over 4000 cognitive psychology researchers from all over the world. The mission of the Psychonomic Society is to contribute to the development of cognitive science through the promotion and dissemination of fundamental research in experimental psychology and related sciences. Every year, the community presents awards of various ranks to its members: awards are received by both eminent scientists who have made a significant contribution to the development of cognitive psychology (the Clifford T. Morgan Distinguished Leadership Award) and graduate students (Graduate Conference Awards for Student Members).
The work that I am presenting at the Psychonomic Society conference (which will be held remotely from November 19 to 22 — ed.) focuses on the intersection of two important issues. The first of these is ensemble statistics. This is the study of how when you show a person a group of objects, they can say a lot about some statistical features of this group of objects in a record short time. For example, if I show a subject a lot of circles of different sizes for a fraction of a second and ask them about the average size of these circles, they can answer quite accurately. This is surprising because a lot of research shows that our attention and working memory are very limited, and we cannot see all objects in such a short time. But at the same time, some general view of them allows us to determine a lot of statistical features of these objects (size, color, etc.). This is called ensemble statistics.
The second issue concerns the so-called sign of ‘animality’. In visual cognitive psychology, there is such a thing as a sign. The size, color, and orientation of an object are simple features (there is a specific group of neurons in the visual cortex that responds to the specific meaning of these features). But in the cognitive community, there is also a lot of discussion that in addition to simple signs there are more complex ones, and one of them, studied in the last 50 years, is so-called ‘animacy’. That is, there are studies that show that if you show people an object for an ultra-short time, despite the fact that they cannot identify it, they will determine whether it is alive or inanimate. In our study, we combine these two issues and try to find out if the visual system can calculate ensemble statistics for a complex trait such as animacy.
Conducting Experiments and Working in San Diego, California
We began working on this study in March 2019, when I, my colleague at the Laboratory of Cognitive Research, Yury Markov, and our academic advisor Igor Utochkin, went to the University of California at San Diego to visit Professor Timothy Brady under a laboratory grant. It was there that we conducted our experiments, because cognitive psychology is, first of all, an experimental science. We presented the subjects with a set of objects, some of which were alive and others not, and they had to answer which objects were larger. From the subjects’s perspective, the procedure worked like this: they came to our laboratory, sat down at the computer, and we gave them instructions and explained what we mean by the term ‘animate’. Then there were quite a few trials with many objects, during which they responded by pressing certain keys on the keyboard to indicate whether the objects were living or non-living.
We ran several experiments with about 30 subjects each. We wanted to find out whether people can quickly — in 350 milliseconds — and simultaneously for all objects determine their animacy and, on the basis of this, answer whether there were more animate or inanimate objects
In the end, we determined that people are in fact not able to quickly determine the animacy of many objects. However, our work on this study continues.
Favourite Area of Cognitive Psychology
The word ‘cognitive’ has its root in ‘cognition’ (or ‘perception’), and therefore our field of psychology studies a number of cognitive processes, which we divide into low-level and high-level processes. Low-level processes are basic processes such as perception or sensation, while high-level ones are thinking or decision-making, that is, very complex processes in which consciousness is involved and so on. My research interests very much coincide with the interests of the laboratory: I deal with perception, as well as attention and short-term memory. I deal with these issues not within one study but in different projects. One of the most important topics for me and the lab is ensemble statistics. We have conducted a huge number of studies on this issue, and this is basically what my research is about.
Igor Utochkin, Laboratory Head, Laboratory for Cognitive Research
The study that we conducted with Vladislav and our colleagues shows that the ability of the visual system to calculate ensemble statistics is not unlimited: a complex feature of objects such as animacy is very problematic for extracting ensemble information. This study is part of a larger project of the HSE Laboratory for Cognitive Research. In the project, we are trying to understand what kind of ensemble information is available to the visual system, and how this information can be used to solve everyday tasks, such as finding a desired object among other objects or instantly categorizing a set of objects.
In addition to ensemble statistics, the Laboratory conducts many studies related to other visual processes: attention, short-term memory, and long-term memory. However, our interests are not limited to this. At the Laboratory for Cognitive Research there are several relatively independent research groups that also study the processing of verbal information, emotional information, imagination, and creativity.
My plans are still being determined. I will defend my thesis and earn my PhD from HSE. After that, in an ideal world, I would like to get a postdoc at a foreign university. But it depends not only on me, so I can’t try and predict. On the whole, I like working both at HSE and in Russia. Bracketing a few drawbacks, I do not dream of leaving Russia for good. It seems to me that working as a postdoc and then perhaps returning is a great idea, because a change of place and research topics and expanding your horizons in research is great.
It would be nice to get a postdoctoral fellowship in the USA, because that is where a large percentage of people are who work on my topics. The US is the center of the field of cognitive psychology that I’m interested in. Among the recipients of the Graduate Conference Awards for Student Members, there are 17 people from the US and the other three are from Russia, Canada, and Germany, respectively. Therefore, when it comes to how I feel about receiving the award, then, of course, it is very inspiring when someone from outside approves of what I am doing. This is good without a prize, but it's definitely even better with it.
In addition, for me this is an example of the fact that while studying in Russia, you can also receive international awards. Of course, it is more difficult for us than for foreign students, but still it all depends on how much your laboratory and your academic advisor are internationally oriented. If you want to do international research in Russia, you can do it here. It is more difficult, but it is possible.
The MendiT Research Lab, based at the HSE University Doctoral School of Arts and Design, will become a resident of the GES-2 Cultural Centre for a month from June 5th. The researchers will introduce members of the urban community to the lab and explore the practices of mending clothes together with them. Some of the lab participants told the HSE News Service what it's like to be searching for a method and object of research.
Doctoral Students Need the Support of Not Only Their Academic Supervisor, but Also of Other Faculty Staff
To successfully defend a doctoral dissertation, PhD candidates need not only the support of their academic supervisor and close friends and relatives, but also system-wide assistance from the university department or faculty where they study. However, HSE University researchers have found that such support can take different forms and that each has a different effect on how confident a student feels in their ability to successfully defend their dissertation. The results of their study were published in the journal Higher Education Quarterly.
Abdul-Raheem Mohammed from Ghana has recently defended a PhD dissertation in cognitive psychology at HSE University via remote procedure. Abdul-Raheem and his academic supervisor, Dmitry Lyusin, talked to the HSE News Service about their cooperation, the advantages and complications of remote PhD defence at HSE University, and the prospects of cognitive science in African countries.
International students interested in joining HSE University can apply for full-tuition scholarships from the Russian government. Applications for the 2022/23 academic year are open from March 1–11. We spoke to HSE University doctoral students about their work and about how scholarships have helped them pursue their research goals.
‘Gaining Practical Knowledge and Learning to Do a Lot in a Short Time’—The Life of an HSE PhD Student
Milica Simonovic, from Belgrade, Serbia, is a doctoral student at the HSE University Faculty of Economic Sciences. She is currently working on her doctoral thesis on corporate governance and intellectual capital disclosure. We interviewed Milica to find out more about her thesis and her experience of the university’s application process for PhD students.
Alaa N. Assaf is a doctoral student at HSE University’s Faculty of Law. In addition to doing research for his PhD thesis, he teaches undergraduates. Alaa has shared his thoughts on studying international law, life in Moscow, and what he misses about teaching in person.
HSE University continues to develop its new study format for students embarking on a research career: the Combined Master's-PhD track. This year, there will be 75 places for Master’s students on the track—two thirds more than last year. HSE Vice Rector Sergey Roshchin talks about the appeal of the combined-track option, how to enrol, and the achievements of last year’s applicants.
'When We Find Something That Doesn’t Work Well Enough, We Replace It in Order to Develop a More Effective Approach'
The winners of the third annual Ilya Segalovich Award were recently announced in Moscow. Established by Yandex, the award promotes the scientific endeavours of young researchers from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in the field of Computer Science. Among this year’s winners were three HSE students, including Alexander Grishin, a Doctoral student of the Big Data and Information Retrieval School of the HSE Faculty of Computer Science. Alexander spoke to us about his work, research challenges, and why he was surprised to receive the award.
The British Educational Research Association, BERA, has announced the winners of its Early Career Researchers Award, founded this year to recognize emerging researchers. The new award’s first two winners are Saule Bekova, Research Fellow at theInstitute of Education of the Centre of Sociology of Higher Education, and Binwei Lu of Durham University (UK). In the announcement, the organizing committee praised them as ‘outstanding scholars’ and noted the potential significance of their research for the field of education.
At the 2021 RusCrypto Competition, HSE PhD student Anastasia Malashina (MIEM) won the student report category by the unanimous decision of the competition committee, which included the directors of the RusCrypto-2021 Association, members of the programme committee, and experts in the field of computer security. Anastasia spoke with HSE News Service about her presentation.