Jared Novick is an Associate Professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and trained as a post-doctoral fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. Dr. Novick's research focuses on the behavioral and neurobiological interplay among language, memory, and cognitive control. In particular, his work seeks to understand the human computational systems that support the real-time interpretation and re-interpretation of sentences. He addresses this issue by using (i) eye-tracking techniques to record readers' and listeners' moment-to-moment processing decisions; (ii) neuroimaging methods to test for common brain bases of linguistic and nonlinguistic performance; and (iii) lesion-deficit analyses of neurological patients' language and cognitive abilities. 

Language Science at UMD:

https://languagescience.umd.edu

Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science:

http://www.nacs.umd.edu

Areas of Interest

  • Psycholinguistics; Bilingualism; Cognitive Control; Neuroscience

Degrees

  • Ph.D
    Cognitive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

A primary motivation for working in academia begins with my enjoyment of teaching and the value of involving students in research and mentoring them through the process. At Maryland, I have pursued opportunities to improve my teaching and advising skills through the BSOS Teaching and Learning Workshop, and I have dedicated myself to enriching my courses over the past few years. I believe that quality teaching is an evolving practice to which we must commit repeatedly – a good course one semester does not necessarily guarantee its success the following year. In 2018, I was especially proud to receive the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. I am also a devoted research advisor to Ph.D. and postdoctoral students, and I was honored that they nominated me recently for a Women in Cognitive Science Mentorship Award for sustained and effective advising of female scientists.

Undergraduate Teaching

I teach undergraduate courses on language science (HESP 300: Introduction to Psycholinguistics) and, through the Honors College, a seminar on the relationship between cognitive and linguistic skills (HONR 279Y: Language and Thought, which I developed in 2015). Most majors in my department are budding speech pathologists or audiologists, so it is incumbent on me to apply experimental results from psycholinguistics (and related fields) to a wider context that will inform their clinical interests. To this end, I anticipate students’ desire for relevance by connecting topics to their own lives. For example, in a lecture on pronouns (e.g., how we know that “he” refers to “Brad” and not “Bob”), I challenge them to predict how their uncle with a memory problem might fail to track the referent of “he” during natural conversation, and what implications this carries for communication. Undergraduates are typically drawn to our major because of a formative life experience: they want to rehabilitate that uncle, their sister who had a language delay, or help their grandfather engage better with the family through improved hearing. Psycholinguistics, I’m afraid to admit, is not usually the reason they join our program. It gives me great pleasure then when I receive emails that express how my course has influenced their world view: “I just wanted to take a second and let you know how much of an impact your course has made on me. I am always connecting the information we learned in class to practical applications in real life…”; or, “I loved the way you asked us to think outside the box.”

Naturally, getting students to think creatively the first time they are introduced to basic research can be difficult, and I quickly discovered that I needed to entice them to engage more in this way outside of lectures; but how could I ask them to interact with me beyond the classroom when talking to faculty is a daunting prospect? Such an invitation requires convincing them of the benefits but, moreover, that scholarly exchange can (and should) be fun. I have developed a reputation among students for being unusually approachable to discuss course content and even career trajectories. I encourage them to interact with me by holding weekly ‘coffice hours’ in the campus café, to promote accessibility and diminish the aura of intimidation that characterizes students’ view of typical interactions with professors. This creative approach to openness has proven wildly successful, as I frequently have groups of undergraduates meeting with me in this setting. I am confident that the environment increases their eagerness to connect with the material, and also motivates even the more reticent students to raise questions during class time, realizing that it is a place for learning and discussion without judgment.

This approach to capturing students’ interest works well, but only to the extent that they contribute to the dialogue, and participation is a perennial challenge not only in medium-sized lecture classes, but in honors seminars too. To stimulate active learning, I incorporate hands-on activities wherever possible (e.g., field trips to the Maryland Neuroimaging Center and my eye-tracking lab). This provides students with an opportunity to observe and participate in a variety of methodologies used in psycholinguistics, establishes how pervasive various behavioral phenomena are, and makes the course material more “user-friendly.” I often conduct short experiments in class and involve students in the process from hypothesis generation through discussing results. For instance, demonstrations might divide the class in two to illustrate the effects of language on thought and perceptual experiences, or simulate the conditions under which deficits in language production emerge. Encouraging students to participate does not have to be complicated. I might ask them to vote on a predicted outcome of an experiment as I read their expressions: A furrowed brow or a curious smile can signal a willingness to volunteer more, which I capitalize on by warmly inviting them to explain their view. I concede that this sometimes takes us in unplanned directions, but I enjoy taking relevant side excursions on the whiteboard if it helps drive home a crucial point.

Critical thinking requires students to be flexible in how they interpret the content I teach, and it can be tricky to get students to dislodge from their desire for a single answer to a research question. But in science, alternative conclusions push a field forward, and to get my students to appreciate this, I plan debates in class that force them to consider a topic from different angles. I try to create an environment that allows them to feel comfortable taking an active role in their learning, in part by having them oppose – but also adopt – a theoretical or empirical point they find difficult or misguided. For example, I assign students who are notable defenders of the “bilingual advantage” to argue the divergent viewpoint and vice versa. In the end, we unite to discuss some policy implications, such as why mixing a bilingual’s languages in public school classrooms might prove beneficial. This has worked well for students with a HESP major, but also with those in my honors seminar who come from a medley of backgrounds, including engineering and physics. Knowing how to maintain both sides of an argument is a relevant skill regardless of one’s disciplinary track, and an important component to creating an informed public. From one Honors student: “it’s very important that I let you know how much I admire you as a teacher and how thankful I am for everything you’ve done...I learned so much in this class…you were always able to engage the class (even the students that aren’t huge HESP nerds…).”

I believe my approach has prompted several undergraduates to work with me in other ways. For example, I have supervised 10 undergraduate teaching assistants, returning to my class a year later to develop their own pedagogical skills and provide an important service to our department. More than 15 other students have done research in my lab, either for credit, as volunteers, as Maryland Summer Scholars, or for an honors thesis. I have learned to gauge these students’ progress in meetings and by spending time with them discussing articles, designing experiments, and collecting and coding data, which helps me ascertain their strengths and weaknesses. Many have acknowledged that before taking my class, they had never considered getting involved in research, but that I produced an upsurge in curiosity about basic science that could inform applied outcomes. One goal is to cultivate students’ critical thinking skills for application outside the lab, for example to intelligently assess public media reports on scientific findings. Students take for granted what they hear informally (e.g., babies exposed to classical music turn out smarter), which inspired me to develop an I-Series course (HESP 214: Should I Buy Into That?) that teaches them how to evaluate such claims by reading relevant literature and comparing it to how it is characterized in the popular press.

Graduate Teaching and Mentoring

At the graduate level, I view one of my most essential tasks as a Ph.D. and post-doc advisor to be achieving a balance between guiding students and letting them discover ideas for themselves, so that they experience a sense of independence and ownership over their work. I do this by combining concrete, hands-on exchanges (e.g., calibrating the eye-tracker, discussing data patterns, commenting on writing and presentations) with abstract theoretical discussions that direct students’ thinking (e.g., debating the literature, probing them to make well-informed experimental predictions). This device works well in graduate courses too (e.g., HESP 818C: Seminar in Language Processing), which I gear toward honing students’ ability to construct cogent arguments and critique knotty empirical articles to summarize for an audience of peers. This has yielded interesting interdisciplinary conversations about memory and language interactions (2012) or the effects of noise on word recognition in older populations (2016). I believe these seminars have been effective: More than once, students have conducted successful experiments based on a final paper (e.g., Ogg*, Okada*, Novick, & Slevc, under review).

I take my mentoring role seriously, in many respects by emulating the components of my former advisors’ styles that I appreciated the most: challenging students’ theoretical rigor and methodological creativity; guiding them on how to integrate across literatures; providing them with ample writing and presentation opportunities; and treating them as colleagues. My graduate and post-doc students develop their own mentoring skills by co-advising undergraduate researchers, and their directorial skills as active participants in the NACS and Language Science communities (e.g., organizing workshops; outreach to high schools). Throughout it all, I give a lot of feedback. I learned early on that there is some truth to “practice makes perfect” in the sense that we get good at the things we try time and again, especially with helpful pointers from a mentor. The goal is to guide students to develop research abilities that enable them to ask their own scientific questions, but also foster general critical thinking skills that will benefit them beyond academia should they choose that route.

My approach to research, teaching, and mentoring has stirred others from communities beyond our campus to reach out. For example, I have supervised a visiting graduate student from Penn State and a visiting faculty member from Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. I helped them incorporate their ideas into my lab’s methodological and cognitive approach to language science, which informed their own research program, but also brought precious outside viewpoints to my students and me. In addition to my primary and supplementary mentoring roles, I have also sat on 6 additional dissertation committees, 5 master’s capstone project committees, and 5 master’s thesis committees.

Overall, these tactics have contributed to my students’ wide success. I have co-authored 14 peer-reviewed publications with my students and post-doc. They have received numerous competitive awards, including a Select Speaker Award (Psychonomic Society), a UMD Graduate Student Distinguished Service Award, a UMD Graduate School Interdisciplinary Dissertation Award, the NSF IGERT Trainee Poster Competition Award, an Ann G. Wylie Dissertation Fellowship to one student and a William Hodos Dissertation Fellowship to another, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (and two honorable mentions), a Post-Doctoral NIH F32 NRSA from NICHD, and a UMD Flagship Fellowship. I have placed students in excellent post-doc labs (Beckman Institute at UIUC; Medical University of South Carolina), faculty positions (Auburn University; Center for Applied Brain and Cognition at Tufts), and policy fellowships (NIH office that administers Obama’s BRAIN Initiative).

Finally, as co-director of the Ph.D. Program in HESP, I run a professional development seminar for our graduate students, which provides practical advice on how to navigate successful careers in research and academia. Seminar topics often cover tips and skills that are passed along informally in the lab; however, it is useful to explain these issues overtly and discuss a range of perspectives, experiences, and best practices (e.g., navigating advisor/advisee relationships, developing an elevator pitch, giving a job talk, time management). In addition, my co-director and I have instituted a clinical proseminar, which provides students in our research Ph.D. program information about translational and applied issues within hearing and speech sciences. It offers an informal and unique way for them to learn about the clinical expertise in our department and apply it to their own research.

In sum, I have taught and mentored undergraduate and graduate students in class and through sponsored research, which makes visible a creative approach to teaching that has concrete results, be they strong learning outcomes, job placements, or an avenue to get young students involved in departmental activities. My students come from a HESP background but also from related disciplines on campus such as those represented in the NACS Program, the Maryland Language Science Center, and the Honors College. I am an active member in these communities, and my programmatic involvement in each has produced cross-department collaborations and co-mentoring arrangements. I tailor my teaching approach to the classroom dynamic, adjust based on student and peer feedback, and heed the pedagogical acumen that accompanies experience. I try hard to enhance my courses and teaching, and I have committed to serving my students as their mentor, which I view as a lifelong responsibility. Indeed, I still depend on my own graduate mentors, and am delighted to see that my students continue to lean on me even as they leave Maryland. Former students – both graduate and undergraduate – routinely check in with updates and for mentoring advice, and I am proud of how this reflects on my relationship with them. But I am equally proud of the following achievement, which I have worked hard to pursue with undergraduates: Even in lecture settings with 40-50 students, I have managed to create a level of personalized interaction that is often unattainable at large institutions. I am delighted that, by and large, my students value this commitment and will attest to its importance.

Course Name Course Title Semester Syllabus
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Fall 2017
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Spring 2017
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Fall 2016 Syllabus
HESP818C Seminar in Language Processing; Seminar in Psycholinguistics Spring 2016
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Fall 2015
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Fall 2015 Syllabus
HESP300 Introduction to Psycholinguistics Fall 2014

A striking property of the human mind is its ability to interpret speech and text in real time. As you read this sentence, you are quickly retrieving from long-term memory not only the meanings of the individual words, but also detailed grammatical knowledge about how these words combine to engender a coherent overall interpretation. Readers and listeners achieve much of this process as they encounter language input incrementally. That is, people do not delay interpretation until a sentence or even a single word unfolds entirely; rather, they commit to provisional analyses moment by moment, rapidly consulting multiple sources of evidence from both the linguistic signal and the contextual environment to guide comprehension.

Incremental language processing is certainly efficient, allowing us to avoid having to maintain multiple interpretations in memory for extended periods. However, it comes at the cost of sometimes choosing the wrong interpretation at a point of ambiguity. Consider this New York Times headline: “Google’s computer might betters translation tool.” Because “might” often appears as an auxiliary verb (as in The Cubs might win), readers may initially misunderstand that it is used here as a noun, meaning strength. The downside of incremental processing then is that it can create misinterpretations that must rapidly be corrected.

My research seeks to understand the human computational system that supports the real-time interpretation and re-interpretation of sentences. Despite years of work on language processing, little is known about how we monitor and regulate our interpretations to fix comprehension errors much of the time that would otherwise impede communication. I have proposed that cognitive control – the regulation of mental activity to bias processing toward task-relevant cues – assists readers’ and listeners’ ability to revise (Novick et al., 2005). Data from neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies show that the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) supports conflict resolution across a range of paradigms (e.g., Stroop, Flanker). In my early career, I developed a theory about how language comprehension relies on cognitive-control procedures in the LIFG to assist real-time communication. This included making predictions about, and later validating, the language impairments that patients with cognitive-control deficits might demonstrate. For example, I showed that patients with LIFG damage fail to revise initial misinterpretations of language input, which stems from a conflict-resolution disorder that is “diagnosed” by inflated Stroop-like effects (Novick et al., 2009). My work has therefore suggested that a key function of LIFG-supported cognitive control is to adjust language processing commitments to prevent comprehension from running aground. Specifically, discovering a misanalysis triggers cognitive control to resolve among competing interpretations—the one originally favored and the correct alternative that must be recovered.

At the broadest level, my work explores information integration during comprehension to understand first what cues readers and listeners use to guide processing (Novick et al., 2003; Novick et al., 2008). When various cues point to different interpretations, I then examine how cognitive control assists revision in the event of misanalysis. Of course, healthy adults can revise in real time, rarely failing to understand what a speaker says. But the apparent ease with which we interpret spoken language betrays the subtle role that cognitive control may play to help ensure that comprehension stays on track (Slevc & Novick, 2013). My research has resulted in a new theory of language processing that has promoted a re-evaluation of how the LIFG, including Broca’s area, contributes to language comprehension (Novick et al., 2005; 2010).

  • Campus
    Faculty Member, Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science
  • Campus
    Faculty Member, Maryland Language Science Center
  • Professional
    Fellow of the Psychonomics Society
  • Campus
    Co-Director, PhD Program in Hearing and Speech Sciences

Current Students

Former Students

  • Erika Hussey
    Research Scientist, Army Natick Soldier Research; Tufts Center for Applied Brain & Cognitive Science
  • Susan Teubner-Rhodes
    Assistant Professor of Psychology, Auburn University
  • Rachel Adler
    Data Scientist, Bloomberg
  • Nina Hsu (post-doc)
    Health Policy Analyst, NINDS
Jared Novick
Lefrak Hall, 0125
Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences
Email
jnovick1 [at] umd.edu