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Introducing the B.E.E. Lab

BEE LabThings are definitely abuzz at Assistant Professor Gigi Luk’s Brain.Experience.Education (B.E.E.) Lab. The brainchild of Luk, the B.E.E. lab, which focuses on investigating experiences that enhance lifelong learning, was something she sees as a vital component to her teaching and research.

“This lab is interdisciplinary,” Luk says. “It’s about psychology and neuroscience but also the concept of students bringing what they know from practice too.”

With Luk’s background in psychology, neuroscience, and research, the lab seemed like a logical and necessary step in education research, though it is far from a traditional lab. “We are not scientists with a lab filled with Bunsen burners and beakers,” Luk warns. “But it’s a space for researchers with similar research interests to test things out.”

She designed and envisioned the lab to run more like a hub, which would require physical space to meet and discuss research, as well as to run experiments and interviews.

At the heart of the lab are the students’ interests in collaboration and their eagerness to identify and solve problems in research and practice. “It’s important for people to understand research in practice, how it comes about, where it comes from, and how it is interpreted to make sensible recommendations to practice,” Luk says.

Judging by the lab’s swift growth from five researchers to 15 since its launch in the spring of 2013, it appears many students – from Ed.M. candidates to post-doctoral fellows – have the same beliefs in collaboration and interesting research as Luk.

Among the current research in its preliminary phases being conducted within the lab are:

  • a project studying the cognitive components relevant to text comprehension across the lifespan;
  • a study looking at how bilingualism interacts with reading difficulties in school-age children who speak two languages;
  • a project examining the influence of second language exposure on executive functions in young children; and
  • an exploration of shared neural networks in experts, in this project, dancers and interpreters.

At any given moment, B.E.E. researchers will find themselves working on a project together, bouncing thoughts off of one another. “There isn’t a one-way communication of what to do,” Luk says. “We throw the problems out on the table.”

“It’s collaboration and collegiality,” says doctoral student Bryan Mascio, Ed.M.’13, about the lab’s appeal. “There’s a synergy you can’t get [as researchers] if you never come together in person. You can’t do interdisciplinary research alone. When we put our heads together to talk about things, of course you will think of ways to do things differently.”

Making sure there is plenty of interaction and engagement among the researchers was at the top of Luk’s plans for the lab. She organizes the lab so they meet regularly – every other week during the school year – and includes presentations, speakers, article discussions, and opportunities to brainstorm regularly.

Along with the collaboration, it is Luk’s commitment to mentorship that keeps several Ed School alums involved in the lab since completing their degrees. Pratima Annasaheb Patil, Ed.M.’13, decided to stay on working even after graduating from the International Education Policy Program this spring. “Gigi listens to students’ interests and is so keen on mentoring,” she says.

After taking a course with Luk, Patil became interested in combining research in child development in disadvantaged settings and cognitive factors in achievement. She is currently working with Luk on a project in Brazil.  “Gigi conducts herself in a way where you are a colleague and she makes sure that a student feels ownership of the project,” she says.

Sibylla Leon Guerrero, Ed.M.’13, who also continued to work at the lab after graduation, agrees. “[The B.E.E. Lab] is very inclusive and welcoming,” she says. “[Luk] goes out of her way to be supportive, both intellectually and personally. Everyone in the lab has opportunities to learn and develop research skills. For example, Gigi is always communicating and sharing new research information so that we learn, both at the lab meetings and virtually, by email.”

For Luk, the trouble may very well be the growing and continued interest in the lab. “I have to cap it at 15,” she says, noting that increasing the membership could prevent the development of strong relationships. “I’m not trying to make it exclusive, but I want to provide quality mentorship.”