An NSF Fellowship to Study Memory

 

Adam Putnam ’07 earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. These prestigious grants support the work of students who are doing research notable for its intellectual vigor and broader implications for society. He will receive a $120,000 fellowship to pay for living expenses and school tuition for three years, as he pursues a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Putnam studies the effects of testing on memory — specifically whether re-reading material or taking a test does a better job of helping people retain information in the short and long-term.

“We work mainly with undergraduates, we’ll bring them into the lab and give them something to read. After a break we’ll have half of them re-read it, and have the other half recall everything they can remember,” Putnam explains. When the students are given a final test a week later, the group that took the original test generally does better.

Somehow the active recall required in testing cements the memories more effectively. “Cramming does work, in the short term, but if you’re interested in learning something for a long time you need to practice actively recalling it,” Putnam says. In the next three years, he will continue to study the effects of testing on memory.

Putnam, who came to Earlham with an interest in journalism, has found that the writing skills he’s learned have been useful as a psychology student. More than a year into his Ph.D. program, “I still have an easier time writing than a lot of my colleagues do,” he says.

Putnam encourages prospective students to try a variety of extracurricular activities during his undergrad years.

“Try to get involved as much as possible. There are a lot of cool groups, activities, and clubs. Talking to recent alumni, almost all of the time it’s the extracurriculars that guided their career paths; you can learn a heck of a lot being on cross country, like I was, or in Dance Alloy. You’re going to meet people, and have something exciting that’s not just your school work,” he says.

 

Adam Putnam
Adam Putnam 2007

Hometown: East Lansing, Mich.

Major at Earlham: Psychology

Interests: Journalism

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