Martha Berg wins Jerome S. Bruner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Psychology and Neuroscience department is pleased to announce that Martha Berg is the inaugural winner of the Jerome S. Bruner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. Dr. Bruner is an eminent psychologist who did his undergraduate work at Duke, graduating in 1937.  His work was crucial to the establishment of cognitive psychology as a discipline, but is also remarkable for its breadth, with major contributions to learning theory, developmental psychology, and education.

When remembering his own undergraduate years at Duke, Dr. Bruner stressed that he learned “different ways of looking at the nature of man and of society” and that Duke opened up possibilities for him at a time when he wanted “to find out what the world was like, wanted to change things but didn’t know how." The Bruner Award recognizes a student who displays this kind of intellectual curiosity; the emphasis is on research experience and potential for future scholarly activity. Ms. Berg exemplifies these ideals; she is completing her degree in December and is currently applying to graduate programs in Global Mental Health. She hopes ultimately to work abroad on interventions for trauma stemming from sexual abuse.

A faculty committee had the difficult job of selecting three finalists, with Dr. Bruner himself selecting the inaugural winner. Echoing the impressions of the committee, he commented “What a great threesome of final candidates for the Bruner Award!  Very difficult to choose between them.” Dr. Bruner ultimately selected Ms. Berg in part because of her impressive work in Cape Town, South Africa.  Honorable mentions were awarded to the other two finalists, Ada Aka and Paige Scarbrough.

Ms. Berg echoed Dr. Bruner’s comments about the importance of doing research as an undergraduate.  While doing DukeEngage in Haiti in 2013, she reported being struck by the fact that there was “absolutely no psychological care” available to the population, despite a desperate need.  Ms. Berg says she was drawn to research as a way to solve “huge, unconquerable” problems of this sort by breaking them down into smaller questions that could be addressed sequentially.

The Bruner Award will be awarded annually, and highlights the value the department of Psychology and Neuroscience places on undergraduate research experience.  All majors are encouraged to gain research experience during their time at Duke. Interested students can contact faculty directly to inquire about opportunities; the department webpage also provides general information on research opportunities at