NUS researchers honoured for early career contributions by the Association for Psychological Science

Four NUS researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) were honoured for their early career contributions to the field of psychology in the Association for Psychological Science’s (APS) 2024 Awards.

Associate Professor Sacha Epskamp received the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions, which honours particularly creative and promising APS members who embody the future of the field. As part of the win, Assoc Prof Epskamp will automatically receive APS Fellow status in the review cycle following his award.

Assistant Professors Adela Isvoranu, DongWon Oh, and Steven Pan were named APS Rising Stars, recognising outstanding APS members in the earliest stages of their research careers post-PhD. The designation is conferred on early-career researchers whose innovative work has already advanced the field, signalling great potential for their continued contributions.

The Association for Psychological Science is an international association headquartered in Washington, DC, with over 25,000 members globally. Its awards are conferred on members who have contributed significantly to the field of psychology at various stages in their careers, and recipients hail from a broad range of prestigious institutions including Ivy League universities.

The four Psychology researchers join other NUS faculty members who have been recognised by APS in the past including Assoc Prof Eddie Tong from FASS, Prof Sam Yam and Asst Prof David Peter Daniels from NUS Business School, and Asst Prof Reuben Ng from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions: Assoc Prof Sacha Epskamp

Assoc Prof Epskamp said he was thrilled to receive the Janet Taylor Spence Award, noting: “APS is a world-leading association with thousands of members, active in every subdiscipline of psychological science. To this end, this is a very prestigious and highly selective award to receive. It is a great honour to have my early career contributions recognised as such.”

The award recognised Assoc Prof Epskamp’s contributions to transforming network psychometrics, which involves exploring relations in large psychological datasets through the use of network models. He laid the foundations for this new methodological framework by researching novel statistical methods, developing free software programs, and making educational materials available to increase accessibility for applied researchers.

Seeing his work applied in both psychological research and clinical practice inspires him to continue with his research. He explained: “A strong motivating factor behind my work is that I believe methodological innovation should be paired to empirical and practical applications. That is, I aimed for my work to be translational and not merely academic.”

Assoc Prof Epskamp has set up a lab on psychological methods in FASS, which he hopes will become “a hub for methodological innovation in psychological research and other social sciences.” He describes the Department of Psychology as an “exciting and stimulating environment” to continue his work to improve methods and set up collaborations that will lead to new empirical insights in diverse fields of study.

APS Rising Star: Asst Prof Adela Isvoranu

A long-held interest in well-being and mental health was what led Asst Prof Isvoranu to pursue psychology as a degree and continues to motivate her today, as she aims to improve well-being and clinical practices in mental health through her research.

On receiving the APS Rising Star designation, she said, “I am very humbled, happy, and grateful to be listed alongside such extraordinary and talented young researchers worldwide, and I am highly encouraged by the award to continue pursuing my early career research goals.”

Employing a multidisciplinary approach that straddles psychological methods and clinical psychology, Asst Prof Isvoranu’s line of research investigates risk and protective factors for mental health, with a focus on a symptom perspective as opposed to a syndrome perspective. The many stimulating collaborations she has set up and enjoyed as an early career researcher have proved especially inspiring to her, and she sees NUS as an excellent base for pursuing her interests and goals.

APS Rising Star: Asst Prof DongWon Oh

The intricacies of first impressions and how people respond differently to social stimuli have been a lifelong fascination for Asst Prof Oh. His research on social perception explores the influence of individuals’ biases and experiences on how they recognise and try to understand others. Ultimately, his goal is to mitigate the impact of initial biases and improve interpersonal relations, as these factors have great potential to foster a positive change in society.

“This work is crucial for understanding and enhancing group harmony and interpersonal interactions, particularly in diverse and multicultural contexts like Singapore,” said Asst Prof Oh. “It aims to contribute to a more equitable and understanding society by dissecting the dynamics of social biases.”

To him, the APS Rising Star designation validates his dedication to his research and reinforces his commitment to excellence in his field as a mentor and researcher. He said: “Receiving this award is both an honour and a humbling experience… Sharing this recognition with two esteemed colleagues from our department underscores the exceptional environment at NUS Psychology. This makes this moment even more significant for all of us.”

Asst Prof Oh’s future research will investigate the origins and development of variability in social perception. Specifically, he is collaborating with peers at NUS and beyond to study the cultural (such as personal values) and developmental factors (such as early life growth) that impact how our perceptions of others form and evolve.

APS Rising Star: Asst Prof Steven Pan

Echoing the sentiments of his colleagues, Asst Prof Pan said he was “very honoured” by the APS recognition and added: “Being named an APS Rising Star alongside a select group of talented and successful researchers from around the world – including two wonderful colleagues from the Department of Psychology here at NUS – is very humbling.”

His research programme was inspired by observations from his teaching and life experiences of certain strategies or approaches that enhance learning outcomes. “These strategies can yield longer-lasting memories, better understanding, and/or higher levels of skill. In some cases, they are transformative for one's learning,” he explained.

Currently, Asst Prof Pan is investigating a series of promising learning strategies like prequestioning or pretesting, where a learner makes guesses about information before learning it formally. In future, he plans to explore the conditions where such strategies would be beneficial for learning and the cognitive mechanisms they engage, providing insights into how learning occurs in the human brain.