Meet one of Psychology’s Newest Faculty Members
October 30, 2013 —
Chris R. Sims
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Hometown: Johnsonburg, NJ
Degree: PhD in cognitive science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Research interests: Learning and decision-making under uncertainty, visual memory, computational models of cognition
Q: What did you do before coming to Drexel?
A: Most recently I was a post-doc at the University of Rochester, working in the Center for Visual Science and Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences.
Q: What’s your favorite book? Movie?
A: Book: “Infinite Jest.” Movie: “Gattaca.”
Q: What’s your favorite food or restaurant?
A: Freshly baked bread. I understand that the Danish have a word, Tandsmør, literally meaning “tooth butter.” It refers to bread with butter spread so thickly that it leaves an impression of your teeth when you bite into it. That about sums it up.
Q: If you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive) who would they be?
A: Carl Sagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Werner Herzog.
Q: What’s one thing you couldn't live without?
A: Modern science tells us that there are at least six things: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. If I had to choose just one, I guess it would be hydrogen. Sometimes I feel like I need to lighten up.
Q: When is the last time you did something “for the first time”? What was it?
A: Last year I took up a new hobby—woodworking using only 18th and 19th century tools and technology.
Q: What was the most memorable class you took as an undergrad and why?
A: I was a computer science major as an undergraduate and took a course on artificial intelligence. That course opened my eyes to the complexity, richness and adaptability of the human mind, and inspired me to make the move from computer science to cognitive science in graduate school.
Q: Which current event/issue do you think students should know more about and why?
A: Funding for basic science in this country is controlled by elected representatives who often have a very limited understanding of science and the importance of basic research to humanity as a whole. It’s up to all of us to ensure that our elected representatives actually represent our best interests.
Q: What’s one thing every student who plans on taking one of your classes should know about you?
A: I’m not interested in teaching facts and definitions. The entirety of human knowledge can be accessed from anywhere on Earth at the touch of a button. In the age of Google, what’s much more important is the ability to synthesize existing facts to form new ideas—and the ability to justify your new ideas to others in order to effect change in the world.
Q: What made you want to become a professor?
A: The freedom to pursue interesting problems. Academia is one of the few places where you can work on hard problems that span a quarterly earnings statement.
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement thus far in your career?
A: Joining the faculty at Drexel is an achievement that reflects over a decade of hard work. It’s an honor to be here.
Q: What course would you be most excited to teach at Drexel and why?
A: I am really looking forward to teaching a course on building computational models of cognition.
Cognitive models are a way of taking all the discoveries in psychology and neuroscience, and trying to fit them together into a physical, working theory of the human mind. Allen Newell (a famous cognitive scientist) once said, “I have got to know how the gears clank and how the pistons go and all the rest of that detail.” Computational cognitive models are the way to achieve that.
Q: What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
A: Enthusiasm for tackling hard questions, showing students the exciting frontiers of human knowledge, and working with my colleagues to advance those frontiers.
See Sims in action: CoAS Dean’s Seminar: “How the Human Mind Survives in an Uncertain World,” Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 3:30PM – 5:30PM, Disque 109.