Dr. Lai is NOT accepting primary doctoral students for Fall 2022. Please see the below FAQs for more information about applying to our lab in future years.
For general information about the program, please visit WashU’s Dept. of Psychological & Brain Sciences website.
Prospective Doctoral Student FAQs
Last updated October 7, 2019.
What is your lab studying?
My lab studies diversity & inclusion through the lens of social cognition — how people process, remember, and apply information to understand the social world around them. I am looking for students who are committed to learning and using social cognition methods. However, that is not to say that we limit ourselves to a social-cognitive perspective or a single family of methods. What’s primary is the research question. If the research question demands a different set of methodological tools or analysis methods, we’ll get our hands dirty and find out how to do it.
Many of the projects in our lab focus on implicit bias: its structure, its relation to behavior, and whether it can be intentionally changed. In two lines of research, we have been developing (1) interventions to change implicit intergroup attitudes and (2) developing “big data” studies to understand when & how implicit bias relates to behavior. We have provided links to our papers on our lab website and you can follow our lab on Twitter (@calvinklai) to learn about breaking research news from the lab. Here a sample of projects happening in our lab this semester:
1. How do racial disparities in police traffic stops relate to levels of implicit and explicit racial prejudice?
2. How do we determine who is a “racist”?
3. Does a police diversity training program change officers’ beliefs, attitudes, and behavior to be more racially equitable? If so, how?
4. What are the most effective interventions for reducing implicit bias?
5. How do political partisans choose what political information to share with others?
6. Do implicit evaluations of the truth predict the biased interpretation of scientific facts?
What is your lab’s approach to scientific reproducibility and outreach?
Our lab is committed to scientific reproducibility. All of our lab’s data, analyses, and research materials are posted at the Open Science Framework, and all of our studies are pre-registered. My aim is to accept students who strive to do research in accordance with scientific values, even when the result of their findings may go against their personal or political interests. If done correctly, science rarely gives us the answer that we want, but will always bring us closer to the truth.
Our lab is also active with scientiﬁc outreach. We do not wish to publish science solely for sake of career advancement or scientific reputation. In our vision, the best research is the kind that contributes to an advance in basic knowledge and provides insight into psychological application. The gap between public and scientific discourse on issues of diversity can be quite large, and part of our ethical mandate is to ensure that social scientific knowledge gets shared in a responsible and accurate manner. I hope you share our passion for this vision!
What should I know about applying to WashU?
If you are interested in joining our lab, please make that clear in your application—and be sure to list any other faculty with similar research interests. My primary afﬁliation is with the doctoral program in social/personality psychology, and I encourage you to read more about the Social and Personality Psychology PhD Program if you are interested in applying.
One of the wonderful aspects of coming to WashU is the collaborative culture of the department. In research on diversity & inclusion, we have folks like Alan Lambert studying empathy and threat in intergroup bias, Clara Wilkins studying status hierarchy and perceptions of bias, and Lori Markson studying social preferences in children. WashU is also the birthplace of implicit memory, and boasts a strong Behavior, Brain, and Cognition area with Andrew Butler, Mark McDaniel, and Roddy Roediger all studying how cognitive psychology can be applied to promote better learning in classrooms.
I can not speak directly about your chances of admittance to the program until the admissions committee reviews your complete application. WashU’s program is highly competitive, and the research statement is often what separates applicants at the final stages of review. My advice is to clearly articulate how your research interests connect to my lab and other faculty members you are interested. Applicants who provide clear evidence that they have read our papers and thought deeply about how they might extend our research are often the folks who get called in for an interview.
How is funding at WashU?
WashU has excellent financial support for PhD students. Of the various institutions that I have been at, it is the *best* I’ve seen. For example, travel funding for graduate students in most departments depend on the resources of each individual lab. This is not the case at WashU, where each graduate student is guaranteed between $500-$800 a year in travel funding from the department for attending academic conferences (before individual labs pitch in). All that said, it’s always good to consider applying for graduate fellowships to enhance your income and free up more time for research once you arrive. If you apply for any funding, please mention it in your application.