My Brackenridge Beginnings

About Me

Hi everyone, my name is Vivek (he/him) and I’m a rising senior double majoring in computer science and psychology with minors in economics and English literature. I grew up in Monroeville, PA (about 20 minutes away from campus) and have an older brother who graduated from CMU. I came to Pitt to pursue my interests in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, and am honored to have been awarded a Brackenridge Fellowship this summer, which I will use to continue conducting research on reading and language comprehension in the lab of Dr. Charles Perfetti with the goal of earning a BPhil in Psychology.

My Research

Dr. Perfetti uses electroencephalography (EEG) studies to measure event related potentials (ERPs) associated with encountering new words as we read a text, in an attempt to elucidate a process known as word-to-text integration (WTI). My research this summer will focus on a specific ERP known as the N400, which has long been understood to measure how well a word “fits” into its preceding context. For example, in the sentence pair “Alice sat down at a table in the corner of the restaurant. She then opened the menu to look for her favorite pasta,” menu could be a “target” word that would ostensibly elicit a small N400 due to the congruency (or compatibility) between the sentences. However, in the sentence pair “Alice walked into her new apartment and admired the view from the window. She then opened the menu to look for her favorite pasta,” the word menu should instead elicit a larger N400 due to the incongruency between the sentences.

Researchers have relied on the N400 to measure the “fit” (or ease of integration) of individual words in a text for more than 40 years; however, a 2019 paper by researchers in Germany contradicted this decades-long understanding, instead finding that the N400 is only associated with retrieving the meaning of words from one’s long-term memory (or lexicon). My Brackenridge project aims to resolve the discrepancy produced by the German researchers’ paper and determine the significance of the N400 once and for all. Our experimental methodology is really cool and I need volunteers, so if anyone wants to participate, just give me a shout!

Future Plans

Inspired by the likes of pioneering and influential psychologists and cognitive scientists such as Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, and Marvin Minsky, my ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. and become a university professor. To this end, I’m planning on applying for graduate scholarships such as the Churchill, Knight-Hennessy, and NSF GRFP in the fall, with the aid of my wonderful scholar-mentor Dr. Aidan Beatty (who was an indispensable resource for getting me my Brackenridge in the first place).

Interests & Hobbies

Here at Pitt, I’ve continued my passion for volunteering and community service that started in high school, having participated in every Signature Day of Service (PMADD/CAW, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and Be a Good Neighbor Day) since the first semester of my freshman year. I’m also a member of Pitt Archery Club’s competitive team, shot in USA Archery’s 2022 Indoor Nationals tournament in Harrisonburg, VA earlier this year, and am planning on shooting in the 2022 Outdoor Nationals in Malvern, PA in August.

Outside of school, being stuck at home during the pandemic got me back into reading for leisure after a very long hiatus, and I haven’t stopped since. I was a huge fan of fantasy literature as a kid and am currently working my way through the Artemis Fowl series as well as the works of J.R.R. Tolkein (which, despite having watched Peter Jackson’s movie trilogies ad nauseam, I’ve never actually read). Now that the semester’s over, I’ve also finally unboxed the PS5 that I’ve had sitting around for months and started to play ELDEN RING. It’s my first FromSoftware game and I’m finding it pretty challenging, so if anyone ever wants to give me a hand with some of the boss fights (or vice versa), just let me know! 🙂

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