Cognitive psychology research assistant job opening at Washington University

UPDATE: Position filled.

(Alternate title: Meet lots of cool people and learn great science at the same time!)

(This is an unofficial announcement for an upcoming opening—an official HR posting will follow at some point, but with less helpful details. We've taken the unusual step here of just writing down what we actually want in a research assistant—it might be a little on the long side but hopefully useful. Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested!)

We have an exciting new research project and are looking to hire a full-time research assistant. This is a joint project between Jonathan Peelle, Kristin Van Engen, and Mitch Sommers at Washington University in Saint Louis. We are looking at the cognitive and neural systems involved in understanding speech, especially when it is acoustically degraded (due to background noise or hearing loss). If you got the job you would be located in the Sommers lab in the psychology department on the main campus of Wash U, working closely with all 3 co-investigators.

Accurately measuring individual differences in cognitive abilities typically requires a lot of data; your primary responsibility would be to collect behavioral data from our research participants (on average 1-2 participants per day). This includes scheduling participants over the phone, running the study, and transferring the data and paperwork afterwards. Running this many participants is a tall order, and requires someone who is naturally very organized and good with people.

By "naturally organized" we don't need someone who understands what being organized means, or who can file and alphabetize paperwork. That's true of most of the applicants for this job. We are looking for the kind of person who intuitively designs systems to organize things in life outside of work because that's how their mind works.

It is also critical that you are comfortable interacting with a range of people. First, because our university research team is spread out, you'll need to be able to coordinate and communicate with all of us. Second, and more importantly, you'll need to be able to be engaging and friendly with both undergraduates and older adults who come in for our study. It is imperative that they feel valued and enjoy their experience, but that you are also able to keep them on task. If you are highly introverted you'll need to consider whether you can keep up a high level of interaction with participants for a long period of time.

On a related note, engaging our participants in scientific communication is also a big part of the job: Compensation for participating in our experiments is usually modest, but our participants are willing to go out of their way to take part in our project because they are genuinely interested in the work that we do. Therefore, you will need to communicate the purpose and eventual applications of our work to participants during their visit.

Although not required, we anticipate that having some post-undergraduate experience will be really helpful in developing the skills necessary for the job. Although research experience would be great, it's more the overall level of maturity and life experience we think would be useful.

We are asking for a minimum of a 2-year commitment—there will be a significant training period, and we want to make sure you're around to benefit from the environment, and to contribute to the project. If you are considering further education we are confident that the experience (and potential publications) you gain from this time will serve you well. We have a 5-year grant and if all goes well we would love to have you stay part of the team for a long time.

There are other skills and background that would be useful but not required:
Any sort of computer programming, statistics, or research design is very relevant, although in practice we appreciate not everyone has had the chance to get this experience. A background in psychology or cognitive neuroscience will be extremely useful in understanding the project and being able to contribute to the interpretation of the results. We'd love if you had all of these qualities but they aren't strictly required for the daily performance of your job.

If you're not familiar with Saint Louis, it's a great city. None of the main investigators on the grant are natives but we all like the area: the culture, food, and beer scenes are all excellent, and the overall cost of living relatively low. Wash U is a great academic institution with good benefits and a good place to work.

In summary, we are really excited about this project and want to find the right person for the job. We think the most successful candidates will be naturally organized, enthusiastic about the project, and have excellent interpersonal skills.

For informal inquiries, please send a CV to Jonathan Peelle (peellej at the domain In your email let us know why you think you'd be a good fit, and what might set you apart from other candidates.

We are looking for the best person for the job, not the person with the "right" background or CV. If you are interested and think you'd do well we really encourage you to apply. We won't be able to interview everyone and we may not interview you, but let us be the ones to make this decision.

An official job posting will be available shortly (we hope). We won't be able to respond personally to all inquiries so please keep an eye on the Wash U human resources page and apply officially if you are interested.