Psychology professor is going back to class

Koraly Pérez-Edgar, associate professor of psychology at Penn State, runs the University’s Cognition, Affect, and Temperament Lab.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For many academic researchers, a tenured post at a major research institution like Penn State is the pinnacle of career success. And associate professor of psychology, Koraly Pérez-Edgar, has all of the accolades that accompany that distinguished position.

She is the McCourtney Early Career Professor in Psychology, and as the principal investigator in the Cognition, Affect, and Temperament Lab , she leads research to explore factors that place children at increased risk for anxiety. With more than $4 million in grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, she and her team are studying attention patterns in children, particularly a child’s tendency to attend to perceived threat in the environment that may trigger, shape and reinforce cognitive and behavioral tendencies linked to anxiety.

But despite all of her success, Pérez-Edgar is trading her position in the front of the classroom for a seat in the back. Beginning in July 2017, she will go on sabbatical so that she can audit research methods courses at Penn State and attend statistical and methodological workshops offered by professional organizations like the American Psychological Association.

‘The technology we use in the lab today, including eye-tracking technology, produces a tremendous amount of rich data that can help us understand children as they navigate and respond to the environment around them,’ Pérez-Edgar explained. ‘But this kind of technology did not exist when I was in graduate school, so I need to spend time learning new methods for statistical analysis so that we can make sense of all that data.’

To make her full-year sabbatical possible, Pérez-Edgar applied for and was granted the 2017-2018 Cattell Sabbatical Award, sponsored by the James McKeen Cattell Fund and administered by the Association for Psychological Science. Melvin Mark, head of the Penn State psychology department, said, ’The Cattell Award is a highly competitive award in psychology, typically with only three recipients per year. Koraly’s work clearly stood out to the selection committee. She was a unanimous choice of the judges. I’m delighted that Koraly will be able to spend the time needed to enhance her methodological and statistical skills to keep her research, and our department, on the cutting edge of psychological research.’

During the sabbatical, Pérez-Edgar will spend time with her research collaborators, including Andy Field at the University of Sussex in England, to do intensive work with the data their research is generating. ‘Ultimately this sabbatical is about developing new skills so that we can get the best results out of our research and improve our understanding of anxiety in children,’ she said. ‘I think that working with my colleagues to apply new methods of analysis to our data is going to be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.’

‘In psychology and in the liberal arts more broadly, we emphasize the importance of lifelong learning to our students,’ Mark explains. ‘Koraly Pérez-Edgar is the perfect example of how we practice what we preach.’

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