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By: Gabrielle Herman

Dr. Joe Kim is an associate professor in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour. He is well known for teaching introductory psychology through online modules, but has a reputation for being elusive in person. When I met him at his office his door was wide open as he typed at his standing desk. We took a seat in his minimalistic office and began to chat.

Q: Give us a 30-second summary of your research.

I direct the Applied Cognition in Education Lab. We are generally interested in understanding how we can apply everything that we know about cognitive psychology – what we know about the mind, attention, memory, learning, mind-wandering – how we can apply everything we’ve learned in the lab about these cognitive principles to education and training… just because something works in the lab, how does that actually apply to the real world? Ultimately that’s what we’re interested in doing for educational policy and instructional design.

Q: Your instructional design has led to you becoming somewhat famous amongst students. What are the upsides and downsides to that?

It’s very exciting! It gives me a lot of energy, it’s fun…It’s a lot of fun to give large lectures and interact with students. You can tell that the students are really engaged and excited and looking forward to attending.

The downside is that almost everywhere I go there’s someone who sort of recognizes me. A couple years ago, on a reading week trip, I went to this outdoor spa … you sit in these gigantic outdoor hot tubs in the winter and there’s steam everywhere. I was with my wife. The steam started rising up and then the person next to me said “oh hi, Dr. Kim!” We were in the middle of nowhere. You kind of get used to it, but it’s still kind of weird. I have to be a good tipper, because there’s always somebody there who knows me.

Q: If you ruled the world, what’s the first thing you would change?

Income inequality. I think the way that income is distributed in our society is really weird. I think sports stars and celebrities do cool important stuff, but is it worth ten thousand times more than a craftsperson who makes furniture? I don’t think so…In the future it would be amazing if it was like Star Trek, where people don’t take jobs because they need money; they pursue it for the sake of pursuing it.

Q: Are you a cat person or a dog person? 

My family is strongly advocating for a dog…One day when we were shopping Monica [my daughter] asked me “can we get some dog food?” I asked why, and she said “just in case you change your mind, I want to have some dog food ready.” So I think I’ll eventually be a dog person.

Q: Do you ever do research on your daughter?

I wouldn’t say we do research, but we do a lot of case studies… I put into practise things that I teach all the time. So when we were toilet-training my daughter we used behavioural principles that I taught. I like to bring a lot of the things we do in real life back to the classroom because I think it’s a fun example to give.

Q: Would you have any advice for students working toward their undergrad degree?

The main thing is really respecting your time. It’s so easy to let your time get mindlessly filled with reading Reddit, or you could spend hours surfing the net. There is so much clickbait … stay mindful.



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