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Open Letter from an Alumnus

Submitted by:
Kerry Bodine Collins
BA Cognitive Science, '96

Dear Student,

As a young child, I was fascinated by the mind. Mental imagery, memory, language acquisition, perception and dreams were amazing and curious topics to me. I wondered how the mind worked and how it was connected to and interacted with the body. It wasn't until I got to college that I realized that people actually studied these subjects--what an exciting discovery for me!

I was the first undergraduate Cognitive Science student to graduate from Indiana University. I finished my degree in 1996 with a double major in Cognitive Science and Psychology and a minor in Computer Science. On top of studying for a year in Australia, I completed an honors thesis and still managed to fit in yoga and racquetball classes!

My main course of study included work in Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics, Logic, Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Artificial Intelligence. Although this may at first appear to be a strange and eclectic array of classes, they are all bound together by one important concept: consciousness. Each of these disciplines seeks to understand the nature of intelligent systems--people, animals, computers, and even entire societies! Each field of study may approach the topic from a different slant, but they complement each other to provide a more complete picture of consciousness than any one field could present on its own.

The Cognitive Science curriculum gave me a strong base of core concepts, but was flexible enough for me to explore the topics that were most exciting to me. For two semesters I worked in a cognitive development lab with Professor Susan Jones, studying 3-year olds as they learned new nonsense words. During my senior year, I worked with Professor Douglas Hofstadter on an independent honors research project, studying the imagery and mental concepts associated with the word "guys".

In 1996, as my graduation time neared, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. Although I was interested in pursuing a graduate degree (and still am), I felt that I needed a break from school and was eager to start earning some money! I accepted a job as a computer consultant at a Big-Five consulting firm, and kept seeing the concepts I learned in my Cognitive Science courses pop up in various projects. While teaching my firm's 12-week Information Technology training course, I was able to draw on my knowledge of how people learn and acquire new skills. I used my understanding of human perception and attention in order to build a Lotus Notes database through which end-users could easily navigate. Additionally, my background in logic has helped when trying to troubleshoot technical problems of all sorts.

Although I am no longer studying 3-year-olds or conducting research on language-specific issues, my Cognitive Science degree has proven to be immensely valuable in both my career and my personal life. It is evident in the books I read, in the conversations I have, and in my observations of the world around me. I hope you, too, take the time to explore the exciting ideas awaiting you in the Cognitive Science Program.

Kerry Bodine Collins

Submitted by:
Jim Brink
B.A. Cognitive Science, 2001

Dear Student,

If you are in search of a unique and rewarding academic experience filled with challenges and opportunities, I strongly recommend Indiana University's Cognitive Science program. The opportunities offered by this program and the University as a whole are numerous. In the past year and a half of studying here, I have been allowed and encouraged to pursue my interests to the fullest of my potential.

I have had a great experience with classes in cognitive science--they are relatively small, generally enrolling between 10 and 25 students. The professors are extremely knowledgeable and excited about the material they're teaching. There is almost never pure lecture in the classes. Students and professors interact constantly through questions, discussions, and even (sometimes heated!) debates. In one of the classes, our discussions went beyond the classroom: every Wednesday night, about half of the class (including our professor) met at a local restaurant, during which we'd argue our viewpoints on various aspects of mind and intelligence. In fact, I still get together regularly with that same professor to discuss classes, research, and future plans. Indiana University's cognitive science faculty boasts some of the most prominent members of the cognitive science community in the world--and you will have the opportunity to hear their ideas firsthand, interact with them on a one-to-one basis, and even forge lasting friendships with them.

If you are at all interested in the in-depth exploration of a particular topic of study, innumerable opportunities for research in almost any area of cognitive science exist. I have found that both advisors and faculty alike are extremely willing to help interested students discover and explore the research options available here. The opportunities are as diverse as they are numerous: you could study the behaviors of rats, models of mental processes, robotic insects, how faces are recognized, and much, much more. In my first semester as an incoming freshman, I became involved in work at the Speech Research Laboratory. Within a couple of weeks, I was working on a project with a Post-Doctorate in the lab, which has recently culminated in a publishable paper. The knowledge and experience I have gained is immeasurable, and will undoubtedly be great preparation for future employment or graduate study.

While the Cognitive Science Program offers many outstanding academic opportunities, it also offers a great social environment. The nature of the classes promotes interaction between students both in and out of the classroom; in fact, I've met a few of my best friends here at IU from the cognitive science classes. There is also an active student organization. Students with an interest in cognitive science can become involved in a number of activities, including movies, guest speakers, informal discussions, lab tours and more. Even though I have only been here for a year and a half, I feel like I am already a part of a close-knit community of students and faculty.

The Cognitive Science Program has provided me with the greatest academic experience of my life. If you think that you might be interested in studying cognitive science, I assure you that it can do the same for you.

Jim Brink