Cogworks Laboratory

FAQ for “Why Join the CogWorks Laboratory (CWL)?”

INTRODUCTION

 

You are at Rensselaer and your major is in some field of Engineering, Computer Science, ITWS, Game Studies (GSAS), Cognitive Science, Psychological Science, Applied Mathematics, or some other field involving mathematics, statistics, programming, or quantitative analyses . . . why should you join the CWL?You are at Rensselaer and your major is in some field of Engineering, Computer Science, ITWS, Game Studies (GSAS), Cognitive Science, Psychological Science, Applied Mathematics, or some other field involving mathematics, statistics, programming, or quantitative analyses . . . why should you join the CWL?

First I will tell you that undergraduates from all of the above majors have joined the lab in the past. Many have stayed with us for several semesters and some have stayed for several years. The ones who have gotten the most out of their experiences are the ones who join up before their senior year. (Indeed, we no longer take new lab members who are seniors. Sorry folks — but anyone who has put off their decision to get involved in a lab until their senior year is just panicking, not deliberating.)

Second, the skills you have acquired in your major are very relevant here. The mathematics that Engineers learn is the same mathematics that we use in our lab. The programming courses you take as a CSCI or ITWS major are often the backbone of the technologies we develop for our research.

GREAT BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE

 

  • Database Systems
  • Machine Learning and/or Statistical Learning
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Advanced Mathematics
  • Advanced Computer Graphics
  • Game Development
  • Skill in Python
  • Skill in C++
  • Skill in Unity and IL2CPP

CAVEATS AND PATHS FORWARD

Yes, we study cognitive science and we often “do games”. Why games? We are most interested in real-time, dynamic decision-making in manageably complex tasks. The key word here is “manageably” and that is an elastic concept. We are interested in skilled performance. Expertise. We are interested in longitudinal studies of the transition from novice-to-expert. We are also interested in “expertise sampling” — it takes years to master most games, even games as “simple” as Classic Tetris (if you don’t believe me see some of the playoffs at this website: https://thectwc.com/video/ ).

Ours is a serious scientific enterprise with a long-term research agenda. Developing a new study for a game that the lab knows well such as Tetris, Space Fortress, or League of Legends, takes well over a semester. NOTE that I said “developing a study.” Collecting new data, especially longitudinal data can take much longer than that. Anything involving “instrumenting” a new game would take much longer than that. When we instrument a game we get into the “internals” of the software. As an example, for Tetris we collect (and timestamp to the nearest millisecond) every key press, every location of each zoid, and every eye fixation on any part of the screen. As it is pretty much impossible to do this with commercial games we often have to create non-commercial versions that we use only for research purposes. Of course, some games are simply too complex for us to do this, a key example are MOBA’s in general and our work with League of Legends, in particular. For LoL we have scrapped the web (with some help from Riot) to amass a dataset of 15 million teams playing many millions of games. (So, database management is an important skill to have . . . who knew?) ¬†All of the above (Tetris, LoL, etc) takes time, skill, and attention to detail. These are good skills to have and I can and often do write very strong letters of recommendations for our lab members when they apply for industry jobs and/or graduate schools.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED?

 

Most people begin by helping us collect empirical data in studies run in the CWL. As we get to know you and you get to know us, we will try to use your talents and interests in ways that are important to our research projects and interesting to you. There are a lot of aspects to what we do and it will take a while for you to see the bigger picture. If you are interested in our research and have read and thought about this note, then your next step is to contact me, again, and schedule sometime for us to chat. The step after that would be to attend one of our weekly lab meetings. All are welcomed to our Wed 10:30 meetings (3rd floor of Carnegie in the open area to the “left” of the entrance door). We also have an undergraduate worker meeting with my Senior Grad Student on Fridays. Although few ugrads attend both meetings, it is not a bad idea to do so when you are starting out.

PATH FORWARD!

So — if you have not been discouraged by this email, you (a) make an appointment to meet me in my office, (b) attend our next Wed 10:30 lab meeting, and (c) attend one of our Friday afternoon (4:00) lab meetings.

Yours,
Wayne Gray

Professor of Cognitive Science

Professor of Industrial Systems Engineering

Professor of Computer Science