From the Research Corner: Interview with Institute of Child Development PhD student Sarah Pan

Sarah Pan is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Child Development, working with Dr. Michèle Mazzocco.  Sarah is set to graduate in May 2025 and is interested in using her research skills in the context of educational media once she graduates. Currently, Sarah is conducting the study Individual Differences in Attention During Play with Preschoolers at CDLS. Marie Lister, CDLS Director of Teaching and Research, sat down with Sarah to talk about her experiences conducting research at CDLS, and how what she’s studying now could impact the way teachers support children’s development in the future.

Marie: Can you tell us about the research project that you’re conducting right now? 

Sarah: Our study is called Individual Differences in Attention During Play. We’re interested in how kids focus on different parts of play materials. Essentially we’re looking at what kids focus on when they’re playing and how it affects their thinking. We’re also interested in how kids learn from other people. We think that if we know what they’re paying attention to when they’re playing, we can best support cognitive growth and the development of materials that are both interesting to the kids, and educational. 

Marie: How do you think this research will be useful to children and families?

Sarah: Children are learning so much at this age! I think it’s useful to think about how the different materials children are given are drawing their attention to different things. Different features of materials can inform different aspects of learning, and I’m hoping that results from my project will inform these future steps in the process and be meaningful broadly.

Marie: How has your experience been working at CDLS? 

Sarah: It’s been great! I was very nervous when I started. I started as a student during the pandemic, and I saw children remotely from home during my first year. Coming to CDLS has reminded me of how much I love working with kids, and why I’m doing this in the first place! The teachers have been really supportive and kind, the students are great, and the admin team has been super supportive. Everyone has been really welcoming. 

Marie: Any advice for someone coming to do research at CDLS?

Sarah: Take time to get to know the children first! It’s fun to spend time in the classrooms and it’s helpful to get a sense of what the children you’re working with are doing outside of the research room. It also lets the children feel comfortable with you and helps get them to want to participate in the research. 

Marie: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Sarah: I really want to share my gratitude with the whole CDLS community. I want to thank the parents for their willingness to be engaged in research, the children for coming to play the games, and the teachers and staff for their flexibility and support. Thank you so much for being so welcoming!