Department welcomes new chair and associate chair

Dr. Beth Marsh and Dr. Kevin LaBar

On July 1, 2021 the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience welcomed its new leadership team: Chair, Professor Elizabeth Marsh, and Associate Chair, Professor Kevin LaBar.

Dr. Marsh, who previously served for seven years as the department's associate chair, runs the Marsh Memory Lab at Duke. She received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Stanford University and completed her postdoctoral work at Washington University in St. Louis. Her recent work examines how students acquire, maintain, update, and apply their knowledge, with specific interests in learning from non-traditional sources, correcting student misconceptions, essay-writing, and personalized learning. Other research interests include false memories and autobiographical memory. 

Dr. LaBar is the director of the LaBaratory Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke. He completed his Ph.D. in Neural Science at New York University's Center for Neural Science and was a postdoctoral associate at Yale University in the Department of Psychology. His research uses neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and behavioral methods to understand cognition-emotion interactions in the human brain. He has lectured on topics in social and affective neuroscience as well as the cognitive neuroscience of learning and memory.

The following interviews were conducted via email and have been edited and condensed. 

Dr. Elizabeth Marsh, Chair, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

As you settle into your new leadership role as department chair, what do you see as your key priorities?

We are going to be doing strategic planning around the PhD program this fall – for example, we want to revisit our curriculum and requirements, assess climate and discuss how to increase diversity, and evaluate our admissions process and funding model, among other things.  We have a very strong graduate program but we think we can make it even stronger, drawing on peer institutions and our own community for ideas.

I am excited that Duke is having people return to campus on August 9th. But this also means that we’ll need to figure out whether our space needs and usages are different than pre-pandemic.  We will also need to rebuild a sense of community given that people have become accustomed to working from home.


What do you enjoy most about your research?  

I really like reading the literature and thinking about new ideas and planning the studies needed to tell a story.  I love collaborating with graduate students and postdocs as many of them have unique ideas – it is really fun when they get me interested in something I hadn’t been thinking about.  This is how a memory researcher ends up studying topics like cheating or graphical literacy!


How would you describe your leadership style? 

I would like to be a listener first; there people in many different roles in P&N that have experience or expertise to offer. It’s important to hear from the community; changes driven by one person are less likely to work than ones developed collaboratively.  In this spirit, during the academic year I plan to have an hour twice a month set aside for graduate students to drop in (or zoom in), to remove the burden of having to ask for a meeting. I’ll also have a monthly drop in office hour for undergraduates, which I’ll advertise in our undergrad newsletter, and of course anyone can request an individual meeting or send me emails.

Whenever possible, I like to use data to guide decisions. For example, this summer I’m working with P&N student Eric Juarez to gather data that will provide a foundation for our strategic planning about the graduate program in the fall; and by data I mean everything from our own institutional statistics to sample syllabi from peer institutions. 


How would you describe your teaching style?

I try to mix active learning into my classes, for example: there are many fun memory demonstrations that students love participating in.  More generally, I try to teach critical thinking about science and an awareness of how memory can play a role in many real world situations. Few undergraduates go on to be memory researchers, but an understanding of memory is important in many fields, including but not limited to: medicine (memory loss is an important symptom), law (eyewitness testimony cannot be assumed to be accurate), and advertising (consumers need to remember the names of products).  Most people will be consumers of science in their lifetime, even if they are not producers – for example, we need people to understand the science of vaccines and to get inoculated.


How do you spend your free time?

I spend a lot time with family.  I find time to do the NYT crossword puzzle every day.  I enjoy reading fiction; I just read Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel Klara and the Sun and enjoyed it. I relax by dabbling in crafts. I enjoy making collages, watercolor painting, and folding origami. During the pandemic, I started running again. I would be happy to run with (slow) P&N members (12+ minute miles). 


Dr. Kevin LaBar, Associate Chair, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

As you settle into your new leadership role as associate chair, what do you see as your key priorities?

Beth and I want to ensure that our graduate training mission is meeting the needs of our students in the contemporary landscape of their career paths. We would also like to take a renewed look into the undergraduate courses that serve as the foundation of our department’s main academic foci. I will serve as the liaison to the broader neuroscience-related research and training initiatives across campus so that the department’s perspective is voiced in the decision-making process.


What do you enjoy most about your research?  

I enjoy facilitating the discoveries of the trainees in the lab, collaborating with the many fantastic colleagues I have across Duke, and learning more about how the brain works!


How would you describe your leadership style?

I think it’s important to engage the relevant communities within the department to facilitate our decision-making and to express a shared vision of the future.


How would you describe your teaching style?

I like hearing the perspectives of the students on current debates in the field, and I favor group-based activities that encourage the synthesis of information across multiple levels of analysis. These kinds of exercises foster critical thinking skills, create a sense of community in the classroom, and help the students build self-confidence.


How do you spend your free time?

Right now, I’m trying to learn Alexander Scriabin’s Allegro Appassionato Op. 4 on the piano, and it’s brutal but fun.


Is there anything else you would like to share with the community about yourself?

I am pleased to represent and support the LGBTQ community in our department and at Duke more broadly.