Casey Lew-Williams is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University. He co-directs the Princeton Baby Lab, which studies how the mechanisms of infant cognition and the details of environmental experience combine to shape early learning. The lab focuses on the beginnings of language learning and communication.
Please describe your work.
I study how babies learn, and why early learning matters.
When did you first suspect that you wanted to work in this field? That is, when did you first fall in like—or love?
As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I worked at a childcare center during my first and second years, and I had a great time observing young children’s behaviors, especially their communication with others. I also became interested in psychology, and over time I merged these interests and decided to pursue developmental psychology.
What qualities do you think make students most likely to enjoy and succeed in your classes, and to pursue studies in your field?
Students succeed when they have an undaunted ability to push work forward, and when they enjoy creating different ways to understand puzzles about cognition, behavior, and sociality. Anybody from any life background can do this if they’re in a healthy educational/research/teaching environment.
Looking back at your career to date, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the amazing undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and lab staff that I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with. They make my job an amazing job.
Looking back at your career to date, what are you most surprised by?
I’m most surprised by how much work it takes to decide how to distribute your time. Academia is filled with endless opportunities for engagement, whether in research, teaching, mentoring, departmental service, and field-wide service. It’s very hard to find the right balance between saying yes and saying no as opportunities come your way, particularly as both career stages and your interests change.
If you weren’t a professor, what job would you have?
My alternate career would be to work in the nonprofit sector for an organization focused on child development. There are outstanding organizations out there. Some of my favorites in my county (Mercer County, NJ) are Isles, The Father Center of New Jersey, Children’s Futures, HomeFront, and Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
What’s the best book in your field you’ve read recently and why? What’s the best book you’ve read recently for pleasure and why?
Best book in my field: A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action, by Esther Thelen and Linda Smith. It provides a realistic and generative way to think about how humans develop in their environments.
Best book for pleasure: anything by George Saunders. His books are dark and dystopic, but they’re a showcase of what it means to be a creative and ambitious thinker.
Thank you to Dr. Casey Lew-Williams for participating in our Q&A series! Getting to know professors at your school is an important part of the college experience and can help you decide on your best college fit in the college admissions process. Explore the upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!