Beáta Tünde Szabó is currently pursuing two PhDs: one at CEU in Cognitive Science and another at Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Bionics. Her research focuses on probabilistic cognitive modeling of processing sequential auditory information, a consortium project for which she was awarded a US office of Naval Research grant. Her dissertation will focus on understanding learning and meta-learning in humans, particularly individuals with learning disabilities.
We spoke to Szabó on the occasion of her 2021 Presidential Scholar Award. This is an edited interview conducted on September 24, 2021.
What does this honor mean for you?
This recognition means that my work is seen and valued alongside my other activities in community. It helps me keep in mind the importance of what I'm doing outside of classes in addition to my PhD work.
What drives you in your work?
For me it was always important to feel that I'm contributing in a tangible matter. I started out as an applied mathematician and my work had a financial return that went into my pocket, but beyond that I wasn't so invested in what I was doing for a bank. When I moved to research, I found that I could use the expertise I’ve gained over the years although I am still interested in the question of how to apply basic research.
Outside of academia, I work with TámUgatók Therapy and Service Dog Foundation that provides animal therapy for people – mostly kids – with various challenges. I have a dog who is trained as a therapy dog and we visit different facilities, currently two times a week. We work together to provide opportunities for kids to engage with the animals. In the presence of dogs, they are more motivated and in many cases calmer. It makes a difference that the kids are joyful during a therapy session and this work lets me do something meaningful even in the times when my research goes a bit slower.
I became more invested in helping people who are expecting kids with special needs or challenges when my son was born with an operable congenital condition. This led me to work with Babagenetika Organization where I help developing informational resources for families. It is important to give people the opportunity to move forward with realistic information and statistics, and as a PhD student with a math background I can contribute to this process by making sense of statistics in scientific papers.
What was your route to CEU?
My bachelor’s and master’s education focused on applied math. After working for a bank, I started looking for a field where I could still use my background but with topics that are more stimulating to me. I started a PhD in information and technology and then realized I didn't know much about the brain or the mind and how we should think about those aspects. I found that CEU was doing that type of research, with an emphasis on modeling cognitive processes, and started as a PhD in cognitive science here with really great faculty and researchers.
What else would you like to express?
What I find helpful, is to locate the enthusiasm in the work. Finding the parts that interest me personally is rewarding and I focus on that. I'm very excited about my experiments that should start in a couple of weeks, which I’ve presented in my research proposal just now. They are somewhat exploratory so it's not entirely obvious what we will see and I'm very curious about that learning space.
The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional Master's and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.