Thank you for considering the UBC Baby Learning Lab for your Graduate studies! We will not be accepting students for the 2024-2025 academic year at either the MA or the PhD level. Dr. Emberson accepts students in either the Psychology or the Neuroscience graduate programs at UBC but currently no other programs.
This page is meant to provide key information to all students and is the main means for obtaining information about Dr. Emberson and the lab before your application is submitted. The graduate application process is an uneven playing field. Applicants with limited access to mentorship, who are not coming from a research-focused institution, etc. may have limited access to the information that they need for a successful application. This uneven playing field perpetuates biases and reduces diversity in graduate student admissions, which has consequences on the intellectual vibrancy and relevance of academia. Because Dr. Emberson and the Baby Learning Lab believe that people should have equal opportunities when it comes to graduate school applications and processes, we have created this page to provide information for all students and Dr. Emberson does not schedule meetings but may exchange in short email exchanges with students before submission (see below for circumstances for email exchanges). The primary goal of this page is to help “level the playing field” across all applicants and to facilitate holistic evaluation of graduate student applicants. Please note that the information in this document is specific to Dr. Emberson’s values as the lab director and how she evaluates applicants interested in working with her at the UBC Baby Learning Lab.
General information about Dr. Emberson and the lab:
Please take a look at our Researcher lab agreement, which gives you more insight into what it looks like working with Dr. Emberson and in the lab. The lab website, https://babylearninglab.psych.ubc.ca/, has information about our team, our research interests, and a list of our recent publications. However, to find the most recent information about us, you can also refer to the lab Twitter feed @BabyLearningUBC and @LLEmberson. Twitter is the best place to find information about our most recent papers and interests.
In addition, Dr. Emberson prioritizes admitting students whose research interests fall within the research of the grants she currently holds. Here is information about her recently obtained NSERC Discovery award (Click here to view the awarded NSERC Discovery Award summary) and recently submitted, but not awarded, SSHRC Insight award (Click here to view the submitted SSHRC Insight Award summary) Dr. Emberson is also interested in starting research with BC Children’s Hospital in investigating neural and cognitive development in infants born very and extremely prematurely.
In addition to information on this page, prospective graduate students are also encouraged to consult the following resources:
- Here is a link to all the information regarding admissions to the psychology department and a link to the application: https://psych.ubc.ca/graduate/admissions/
- Here is a link to frequently asked questions about UBC psychology’s admissions and application process: https://psych.ubc.ca/graduate/admissions/admission-faqs/
- Here is a link to the UBC graduate program in neuroscience: https://neuroscience.ubc.ca/prospective-students/
The lab mission:
The UBC Baby Learning Lab is a research laboratory in the Developmental Area of the Psychology Department at UBC with affiliations with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the Neuroscience Graduate Program as well as BC Children’s Hospital (e.g., NICU follow-up clinic). Our research explores theoretical questions about how the infant brain learns and uses experience to develop. One area where we have investigated this question is how early learning and cognitive abilities support perceptual development. Perceptual development is broadly defined and includes vision, audition, and multisensory perception. We often investigate research questions like these within the domain of language development or face perception as they are developmental challenges that the majority of infants face. We also investigate how learning and perceptual development is affected in at-risk populations (e.g., infants born prematurely). We use a combination of neuroimaging (primarily fNIRS) and behavioural methods (primarily eye tracking or looking time) to investigate our research questions. We focus our studies on young, preverbal infants (infants less than 12 months of age), but sometimes have studies with older infants (e.g., we currently have studies up to 24 months of age).
FAQ on Applying for Graduate Studies with the Baby Learning Lab
Are you taking new students this year?
Unfortunately, we will not be accepting students this upcoming academic year due to funding constraints. However, we will likely be accepting students again the following academic year. If you have funding secured to join the lab, feel free to contact Dr. Emberson with that information and Dr. E may decide to review your application.
Dr. Emberson accepts students in both Psychology and Neuroscience, which program should I apply for?
Dr. Emberson’s primary affiliation is in Psychology and most of the students in the lab are in the Psychology graduate program. However, she does accept students in both programs and there are positives and negatives to each of these programs. If you strongly believe that one program is right for you, then Dr. Emberson encourages you to apply to that program. If you have some flexibility, here is some information about the pros and cons of each program from Dr. Emberson and the Baby Learning Lab’s perspective. :
- Psychology has more course requirements for its program but will give you a strong foundation in psychology, including cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology. On the other hand, Neuroscience has only a very intense first year course that will give you an excellent foundation in neuroscience, focusing on cellular vs. systems level.
- The largest trade-off between these programs is in terms of funding. Dr. Emberson guarantees the same funding level across both programs but, currently, it is easier to secure TA funding through the Department of Psychology which is a major source of funding for graduate students. On the other hand, external funding (e.g., fellowships) is an important source of support for graduate students in the lab. For Canadian students applying for external funding, it can be more challenging to successfully submit for these sources of funding through Neuroscience program and easier to submit and obtain funding through Psychology. This means that overall, the lab can accept fewer students through Neuroscience and needs to make the choice carefully with an eye towards the sources of funding for the student.
- If you are still unsure which program to apply for, please feel free to contact Dr. Emberson (email@example.com) with your thoughts and questions.
What does Dr. Emberson look for in a prospective graduate student?
Many or all of these topics are important to discuss in your Statement of Interest or Personal Statement.
- A strong match between the lab’s research interests and your research interests. Dr. Emberson only supervises students who are interested in conducting research in the core areas of the lab (see lab mission above). You can refer to the lab website for a list of publications from the lab. For a sense of more recent projects and interests in the lab, you can look at the lab twitter feed. You will want to address the types of research questions and areas that you are interested in engaging in and how these questions relate to the questions being researched in the Baby Learning Lab in your Statement.
- Competitive applicants to our program have accrued research experience in either developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience or cognitive psychology. It is particularly beneficial to have more independent research experience such as a directed studies project, an honours thesis (or equivalent) or time working as research staff in a research lab (e.g., as a postbaccalaureate position). Some applicants also have experience either presenting at conferences or with the peer-review process (e.g., having been part of a publication). However, other research experience is also highly valuable (e.g., being a research assistant, lab courses). Touching on your relevant research experience in detail in your Statement of Interest is helpful for Dr. Emberson in evaluating your application. It is also helpful to select recommendation letter writers who can speak to your research experience in detail.
- Some technical skills (e.g., coding experiments or data analysis) and/or experience with methodologies used in the lab (e.g., eye tracking, looking time, fNIRS). We commonly have students join the lab who have never used any of the methodologies that we use. Our lab engages in a lot of training in the specific methodologies that we use, and you will have support to learn whatever you need to. What is more important for admission is the demonstrated willingness to do the more technical side of the research that we do. The lab uses programs such as Python, R, and MATLAB regularly, and it is necessary for the topic and style of research that the lab does. If you have these kinds of experiences (either in a research setting or outside) or are eager to learn, be sure to highlight that in your statement and potentially in your letters. Many of us don’t obtain support in learning these skills in our undergraduate research experiences or courses. Thankfully, there are many books that can be helpful for learning some of these programming skills and many MOOC (massive open online courses) that can teach you these skills as well. A good way to demonstrate willingness to learn these skills is by engaging in one of these independent learning avenues.
- A strong fit with our labs core values (see below). As evidenced by past experience/activities and/or commitment to developing these values during graduate school.
- Strong letters of recommendation. A strong letter typically will be written by someone who knows you well, who can speak to your experience, skills, and abilities, as well as your potential for success in a research-intensive graduate program. These letters don’t have to all be from academics but at least one should be. These letters can also be useful for addressing any weaknesses in your application and, if you feel it is appropriate, Dr. Emberson encourages you to talk to your letter writers about what skills and experiences you would like them to highlight in their letters.
- Ability to work well collaboratively and independently. We work as a large team in the lab and the ability to contribute to this research community is a high priority for Dr. Emberson in choosing who to admit to the lab.
- Ability to lead a team of research assistants. Graduate students in the lab typically supervise teams of research assistants to conduct their research projects. Successful graduate applicants will show potential for leadership though all students will receive a lot of training and feedback on how to supervise students.
- External funding from government agencies. This funding can substantially boost the competitiveness of an application. Eligible students are strongly encouraged to apply for Canadian Tri-Council Graduate Scholarships if they are Canadian or permanent residents of Canada the same year you apply to graduate school. Click here for information about external fellowship opportunities: https://psych.ubc.ca/graduate/funding/. If you are applying for graduate funding to apply to Dr. Emberson’s lab, you can contact her to start the application process. Dr. Emberson doesn’t have a lot of time to work on applications with you but is willing to be involved in the process. If you are not Canadian and are eligible for funding from your country that you can take to a Canadian institution, you are encouraged to apply as well and to contact Dr. Emberson.
Does Dr. Emberson care about GRE scores?
There is a lot of evidence that GRE scores are highly biased and specifically disadvantage students from under-represented minorities. For this reason, Dr. Emberson does not look at GRE scores or any standardized test scores. Instead, Dr. Emberson focuses on your statement of purpose, your letters of recommendation, your past experiences (research, work, personal) and our interactions in interviews. So, instead of sending GRE scores to UBC, Dr. Emberson encourages you to focus on your statement of interest/purpose.
What should I put into my Statement of Purpose?
Based on Dr. Emberson’s assessment, you should emphasize your relevant experiences. Because research in the lab is both with infants, in the neurosciences, and with at-risk populations, Dr. Emberson looks for strong analytic/statistical skills, experience with cognitive neuroscience or with developing individuals. Emphasize any and all experiences that will speak to these skills whether or not they were obtained through your academic experiences (e.g., instead of research or course work, you may have experience with children in your family life or your paid work— that is perfect to include!).
In this statement, you should also speak to why you want to do research in this area. What is motivating for you to do research in this lab? What questions do you have that you would really like to answer with an experiment in your graduate studies? Your statement tells Dr. Emberson about your knowledge about our research and your research interests or questions. Dr. Emberson reads these thoroughly and looks for students who have knowledge of our research as well as specific research questions that you are passionate about tackling in your PhD.
Should I contact Dr. Emberson directly before I apply?
Sure. Feel free to send your materials and ask questions that cannot be answered through this page. Dr. Emberson does not have meetings with students before they apply as there are simply too many and typically doesn’t have long email exchanges with students. However, Dr. Emberson may give you some thoughts on your application. Or if you are interested in applying for external funding (see below) that is a very good reason to contact Dr. Emberson. Although, be sure to give lots of time to work on the application. Overall, emailing faculty before you apply is a good way to make a personal connection and help send some focus on your application and get specific information. Dr. Emberson also recommends writing to faculty after you apply reminding them that you have applied specifically to work in their lab and (briefly) why.
What kind of experience (educational or professional) should I have before applying?
There are many different routes to acceptances in the lab. There are departmental requirements including grade requirements, and Dr. Emberson encourages you to contact the Psychology department for information on that (see above for info). However, graduate student acceptances are principally decided by individual faculty members. Dr. Emberson does look for specific skills because you need to have a solid foundation upon which to be successful in this program and this lab. However, Dr. Emberson mostly looks for prospective students who are passionate about this area of research and who will thrive in our lab and our program.
Should I apply for external funding?
You don’t have to, but it is a great opportunity and will certainly help your application even if you do not receive the funding. If you are Canadian, you may be able to apply for tri–council funding. If you have citizenship in another country, you may be eligible for funding to come to UBC. If you have a specific opportunity in mind to apply for, feel free to write to Dr. Emberson with information about that opportunity. Be sure to write as early as possible if you are interested in applying with Dr. Emberson. There is really no time too early to start to think about this.
What career paths does a graduate degree under your supervision support me for?
- Dr. Emberson is best suited to support students who are interested in careers that involve basic research. The work done by graduate students in the lab is targeted at academic audiences interested in basic questions about human cognitive and neural development. Although our discoveries may have implications for applied areas of child development (e.g., preventative therapies for infants at-risk for developmental challenges or educational policy), we do not intend to take an applied approach in our work, and Dr. Emberson is not personally trained to (for instance) make applied recommendations nor to evaluate individual children’s developmental trajectories.
- However, this does not mean that you need to commit to a research faculty career track to benefit from a graduate degree under Dr. Emberson’s supervision. There are positives and negatives to pursuing a research position in academia, and many graduate students discover during graduate school that an academic career is not their ultimate goal (Dr. Emberson’s partner is one of those people). Dr. Emberson does her very best to ensure that all students end up in the positions that best fit their interests and skill sets, wherever those may be. As such, some former members of the lab have gone on to academic tenure-track positions and other have found positions in tech/data science, consulting, education, etc. More broadly, a PhD in developmental psychology/cognitive science can help to prepare students for a variety of jobs in industry and the applied research sector. See working agreement for more information regarding Dr. Emberson’s mentorship goals.
I do not have an A average in my last two years of study and/or in my Psychology courses. Will this remove me from consideration?
The Department of Psychology’s website notes that grades for students admitted into our graduate program almost always reflect an A average, at least in the last two years of study and in Psychology courses. The grade requirements are also similarly high for the Neuroscience program. However, this is not an absolute requirement for admission, so not having an A average does not automatically remove a student from consideration. At the minimum, you must meet the minimum admissions requirements as posted on https://www.grad.ubc.ca/prospective-students/application-admission/check-your-eligibility for Psychology and https://neuroscience.ubc.ca/prospective-students/eligibility-and-requirements/ for Neuroscience.
Also, many factors can influence grades, including competing commitments (e.g., working part-time while in school), family obligations, and health challenges of all sorts. Academic achievement is very important, but context is, too. If you believe your grades do not reflect your potential as a future scientist, please ask your referees to share more about your circumstances to contextualize your achievements, and/or provide this information in your application (e.g., the statement of challenges that is part of the online application). To the extent that you feel comfortable, please share information that will help me contextualize and better understand the sections of your application (e.g., grades, course work, research experience).
What are the lab values?
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: We at the Baby Learning Lab are committed to diversity and inclusion in our recruitment, hiring, and research practices. We support our LGBTQIA+ lab members and peers, our BIPOC lab members and peers, and people of all identities. We continue to work towards creating an accountable and safe space in our lab. We do so by our commitment to continuing to learn about racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and by mindfully conducting our research through an anti-oppressive lens. We know that this commitment is part of an ongoing learning and unlearning process. We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds who share these values and are committed to improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in psychology. For examples of Dr. Emberson’s recent efforts to this end, see her Sustainability and Anti-Racism Statement on our website here: https://babylearninglab.psych.ubc.ca/research/diversity-inclusion/ See also Dr. Emberson’s anti-racism pledge and recent work in her learning/unlearning process towards supporting greater diversity and more inclusion in academia: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qD5Ag2QkGyOgiDta0TG5tPT7V1akiFIIY55aPAZZ5RE/edit?usp=sharing
- Lab members should demonstrate a strong commitment to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), with evidence of this commitment in their research, volunteerism, or other areas and/or a plan for how they will contribute to EDI in our laboratory and our department. It would be worthwhile to include information about these topics in your statement, CV and/or by asking your letter writers to include this information in their letters (wherever seems most appropriate to you).
- Contributions may include one or more of the following:
- lived experience as a member of a disadvantaged or underrepresented group (e.g., racial/ethnic minority, LGBTQ, first-generation university student)
- past activities in programs to promote EDI
- commitment to mentoring students from diverse backgrounds
- future plans for engaging under-represented populations in your research plans
- future plans for incorporating EDI principles into research, teaching and/or community outreach activities
- interest in promoting EDI in professional service, such as when serving on student committees or as part of student leadership in professional organizations
- conducting research related to under-represented populations
- Contributions may include one or more of the following:
- Open Science: We at the UBC Baby Learning Lab are committed to producing research that is both reproducible and replicable and that has the best chance of accurately informing our understanding of how the mind develops. Wherever possible, we engage in Open Science practices including preregistration, data sharing, etc. In addition, we are heavily involved in the ManyBabies Consortium (https://manybabies.github.io/), a collaborative project for large-scale replication and best practices in developmental psychology. Lab members should be willing to commit to these values/practices during graduate school. Please see here for an outline of the lab’s Open Science practices: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eRfinKxooh3Y52LKEbeonyoWR_cd5kFqpZctDW5UYcw/edit
- Sustainability and a Liveable Planet: See Dr. Emberson’s sustainability and anti-racism pledge. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qD5Ag2QkGyOgiDta0TG5tPT7V1akiFIIY55aPAZZ5RE/edit
I’ve applied! Now what? What is the Department’s and Dr. Emberson’s process for choosing which students to accept?
The grad admission process is different for Psychology and Neuroscience. In Neuroscience, the admissions committee, in which Dr. Emberson is currently a member, evaluate all applications for acceptance. The faculty member that you are applying to work more directly with is part of that process, but they are not the primary decision maker. The process is different in Psychology. Psychology does have a graduate admissions committee and there are departmental minimum standards for admission. However, the primary decision maker is Dr. Emberson (or the faculty member that you are primarily interested in applying to work with).
For Psychology applicants, Dr. Emberson follows a process that is meant to reduce implicit bias in the hiring and admissions. First, she scores all applications based on a predefined set of criteria. Then, she chooses the top candidates from that process (usually the top 10) to start an interview process. Typically, this process involves a brief virtual interview. In interviews, Dr. Emberson also followed a pre-defined process with planned questions. This ensures that all candidates can contribute the same information to the evaluation process without bias in which questions are emphasized or asked. Often as part of the interview process, Dr. Emberson will ask candidates to complete a short homework assignment that is relevant to the lab’s research. Then, the top few candidates (often 1-2) will be invited to participate in the departmental graduate interview/recruitment day (recently held virtually but historically held in person). At this research day, the grad applicants will have an opportunity for more extended conversations with Dr. Emberson, meetings with other faculty in the Psychology Department and particularly faculty with related research interests, the members of the graduate program, and Dr. Emberson’s lab.