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Gal R

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Cognitive Science, Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Data Science


I was born in the US (Boston, MA), but shortly after I moved to Germany where I grew up and lived. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do after high-school, so I went to study at University College Utrecht, a small liberal arts college in a beautiful town in the Netherlands. There, I was free to explore highly interdisciplinary studies, culminating in a BSc with majors in Cognitive Neuroscience and Biology, and minors in Statistics and Philosophy. There, I discovered my passion for understanding the human mind. After spending a gap year doing internships in industry and meditating and volunteering in Northern India, I pursued a MSc in Psychological Research at the University of Oxford, where I worked on the behavioral and biological markers of skill acquisition. After my MSc, and another gap year spent working and meditating, I went to MIT for my PhD in Brain in Cognitive Sciences, and back to my birthplace. My main academic interest is, broadly, in how babies can learn so much so quickly. I am particularly interested in understanding how babies select the most interesting information in the environment, and I pursue this question using methods from psychology, neuroscience and computational science.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

The Psychology and Statistics of Randomness

Let's say I flip two fair coins, each 10 times. The first coin shows HHTHHTHTTH (H = Heads, T = Tails). The second coin shows TTTTTTTTTT. Which one is more surprising to you? Most people would say that the first result is pretty random, but the second looks suspicious. Why is that? After all, each of those results has the same probability (0.5 ^ 10). The answer is that we humans have a special way of evaluating what's random and what is not! If you are curious to find out the psychology and mathematics behind how humans detect randomness in the world, I'd love to discuss it with you. What's fun about this project is that we can quickly build intuitions for where humans and our conventional thinking about probabilities diverge (Spoiler Alert: It has to do with Bayes' Theorem), but at the same time there are open questions in this area that are still very much an ongoing field of research. So this should be fun at any depth of investigation!

Inside a baby's mind

What is a baby thinking? On the surface, not much, or so it seems. However, decades of developmental psychology and neuroscience have taught us that just because babies can't talk, that doesn't mean there isn't some pretty revolutionary stuff happening in their minds! In the first year of life, infants learn about objects, language, causality, social agents and many other things that are the building blocks of adult cognition. We would spend the first session figuring out what is your favorite cognitive ability, and then we can spend the rest of the sessions figuring out how that ability comes to be throughout infancy and childhood. If you are interested in medicine, and particularly developmental disorders (e.g. autism, dyslexia, etc.), this would be a great area explore too! We can focus on existing research, and even come up with new experiments to answer open questions in the field. There are different approaches to each of those topics. We can focus on behavior, the brain or a computational understanding, whatever speaks to you most.

The biology of cell migration

We often think of the cells in our body as static clumps of mass. After all, our organs pretty much stay the same place through adulthood. Some cells, like blood cells, move, but they seem to be carried passively by the bloodstream, rather than actively work to get places. However, in reality cells constantly need to migrate from place to place! If you ever had a little cut, that cut sent signals to the rest of your body to send immune cells its way! In fact, if you were born (which I assume you were given that you are reading this), you had cells migrate in your body, because embryonic germ cells, the cells that will form your egg or sperm cells, need to migrate to a region of the developing embryo, the gonads, that will allow them to be specified. Even malignant cancer cells migrate, or metastasize, to cause problems across the body. If this sounds interesting to you, we can explore the molecular, cellular and biophysical mechanisms that allow for cell migration to happen, and write a research paper or review about it!

Let's figure it out together!

The projects above are just some random ideas, but I think it would be most fun to figure out a topic together! If you are interested any area of psychology, neuroscience, biology data science, statistics or the intersection of all of these, let's meet for a trial session and think together what would be the most fun to work on!

Coding skills

python, MATLAB, javascript, R, bash

Languages I know

German, Hebrew, Spanish

Teaching experience

I was a tutor for peers in my undergraduate institution, mainly in neuroscience and math. There, we went through homework problems and prepared for their exams. I am also currently a teaching assistant at MIT, where I help students get the most out of their lectures, and with writing their final papers. Finally, I mentor undergraduate research assistants in our laboratory, where we work on understanding how babies and children learn about the world by looking at their behavior, brain activity and through computational models.


Work experience

Hitachi R&D (2018 - 2019)
Visiting Researcher
Oliver Wyman (2017 - 2017)
Consulting Intern
Coursera (2016 - 2017)
Mentor in Computational Neuroscience


University College Utrecht
BS Bachelor of Science
Cognitive Neuroscience & Biology
Oxford University
MS Master of Science
Psychological Research
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Brain & Cognitive Sciences

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