What do Cognitive Science Students do in their co-op placements?
An Anecdote from “The Resident Human Behaviour Expert”

This summer, I had the pleasure of working as a research assistant in a team of civil engineers in the Faculty of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Carleton University as part of my co-op experience. As a cognitive science major, this might seem like a strange appointment to an unrelated field. Au contraire, I quickly found out that this is exactly where people like me are needed.

The role I filled was that of “The Resident Human Behaviour Expert” (title bestowed upon me by my team). The project I worked on dealt with how well public spaces like museums accommodate the movement of people, especially in emergency evacuation scenarios. The models currently being used to evaluate these structures assume one homogenous mass of people that all move and act and react the same way as everyone else, every time. Knowing a bit about crowd behaviour, I know this isn’t an accurate representation of people. So what is?

That’s where the cognitive science comes in. I worked with people (engineers and the public), with data (qualitative and quantitative), and with my knowledge about cognition and research methods in a multidisciplinary collaboration. Together, my team created a complete and coherent picture of how people move and behave in a public space.

Projects like these are popping up more and more as teams become more interdisciplinary. Cognitive science, an interdisciplinary field by definition, thrives here. I highly encourage others like me to look for opportunities like these. I went into my co-op search looking for a research assistant position and refused to settle for anything else. Especially when students are on their later work terms, I recommend waiting patiently for that special position. And as for résumés, don’t be afraid to add some pop and be creative to get noticed.

Natalie Mazur is in the final year of the Bachelor of Cognitive Science Program, with a specialization in Language and Linguistics. In the future, she plans to take on graduate studies and further immerse herself in the field of research.

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