Meet Stephen Flusberg, Vassar’s newest tenure-track cognitive science professor. Flusberg grew up in a suburb of Boston and went to public high school, where, in his own words, “[He] acted (poorly) in a couple of school plays and played on the ultimate frisbee team (we lost in the national finals my senior year).” His high school’s claim to fame is that Matt LeBlanc went there and Matt Damon’s father coached the baseball team. Flusberg attended Northwestern University for undergrad where, after entering college having no idea what he wanted to study or do after graduation, he took an introductory psychology class, fell in love with the subject and ended up double-majoring in Psychology and Religion.
After graduating from Northwestern, Flusberg returned to Boston to complete a paid resident assistant job in a well-known cognitive psychology lab researching visual attention. Through this job, he presented research at a conference for the first time, appeared as a co-author on multiple published papers and worked as a teaching assistant for an introductory psychology course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After two years of lab work, Flusberg applied to graduate programs and was very grateful to be accepted to [his] top choice at Stanford University in their Cognitive Psychology PhD program. At Stanford, Flusberg worked with Lera Boroditsky and Jay McClelland studying embodied cognition, mental imagery and metaphor. He promises that “These are all related!”
Flusberg originally fell in love with teaching when he taught a summer course on cognitive psychology and, following this new passion, worked as a consultant for the Center for Teaching & Learning at Stanford for a few years. “In my final year of the PhD program, I applied to several liberal arts schools and was very lucky to receive a position at SUNY Purchase College as an Assistant Professor of Psychology,” said Flusberg. “I worked there for about a decade before applying to work at Vassar. And that brings us to today!”
Now, Flusberg is teaching COGS 100: “Introduction to Cognitive Science” and COGS311: “Seminar in Cognitive Science” during the first semester of the 2023-2024 school year.
“The topic of my seminar is the relationship between language and cognition,” Flusberg explained. “We are investigating questions like ‘Are some thoughts unthinkable without language?’ and ‘Do people who speak different languages think about or perceive the world differently?’”
For the second semester of this school year, Flusberg is teaching COGS 100 again, as well as a brand new 200-level course entitled “Language in Action”. “In the true cognitive science spirit, this course will draw on concepts and methods from philosophy, psychology, linguistics and other fields to illuminate how people use language to do things in the real world,” said Flusberg. “This is something I research in my lab. There will be a significant hands-on component to the course, so students will complete a variety of projects to test and implement ideas from the course. This topic connects theoretical and experimental findings to everyday life, so I am hoping students will find it engaging and meaningful.”
Though Flusberg has been teaching for over a decade, he still always gets a bit nervous before the first day of classes. “Sometimes I will have an anxiety dream that I have arrived on the first day with no syllabus and no idea what I am supposed to teach. So, that will probably happen again in January,” shared Flusberg. “I am also a bit nervous about driving to campus in the winter since I live almost an hour away, but hopefully some snow tires will help. I would say my excitement outweighs my anxiety overall, though!”
The excitement in question? “I am excited to get to know the students at Vassar, as well as my new faculty and staff colleagues. Exploring the campus has also been wonderful so far. I am looking forward to learning my way around better and finding the best places to meet with people, walk my dog and get some work done. I am also excited to build up my research lab and start working with students on some new and exciting projects.”
With the first two weeks of this year’s classes complete, Flusberg concluded that he is thrilled to be here in the Cognitive Science department at Vassar. “My research and teaching interests have always been multidisciplinary so Cognitive Science is the perfect fit for me. I’m looking forward to a great year!”