cognitive tools lab

reverse engineering the human cognitive toolkit

information for prospective lab members

If you are interested in joining the lab, this document will give you a sense for what we are looking for in a prospective lab member, and what the next steps are to take. Please read it in its entirety before contacting Dr. Fan to inquire about doing research.

What We Are Looking For

In addition to strong motivation and scientific curiosity, the research we do requires a variety of technical and professional skills, though the needs of each project vary. Prospective lab members should have experience with several of the skills listed below, along with a positive attitude about and willingness to quickly/independently learn about others:

  • Working with data and statistical reasoning: Generally speaking, this means being able to think critically about how different kinds of data help to answer research questions. It also means being able to write code to wrangle, visualize, and analyze high-dimensional datasets from psychology and neuroscience experiments. In practice, you should be familiar with some combination of the major programming languages used for scientific computing: Python, R. Ideally, you will have exercised these skills in another research context, or have taken courses in statistics, data science, and/or machine learning.
  • Web programming for developing behavioral experiments: One of our primary tools for investigating human cognition and behavior is to conduct large-scale behavioral experiments, usually online and sometimes in field settings. In practice, you should be familiar with using JavaScript, HTML, CSS to build interactive web application frontends, and also with various backend server-side environments, such as Node.js.
  • Reproducible research workflows: Progress in science requires that we be able to reproduce our own and others’ research. In practice, you should be comfortable not only thoroughly documenting your own code, but adapting the code of others, writing READMEs when appropriate, and proactively anticipating how you will share your code and datasets so that other researchers can adapt and build on your work.
  • Communication and organization: Researchers must be able to clearly communicate the results of their work. Strong writing and oral presentation skills are critical. We are looking for students who are well organized, thoughtful, and proactive about their own research and training. Especially in collaborative projects, it is important to communicate with me and other collaborators throughout the research process: reporting progress, asking for help, etc. All lab members leading research projects are expected to proactively prepare clear meeting agendas, take detailed notes during meetings, and use other digital communication channels as needed to keep track of progress, next steps, and outstanding challenges.
  • Generosity towards others: Science is inherently a social enterprise. It is more likely that you will thrive in our lab if you are in the habit of acting not only in the interests of your own needs and desires, but also on behalf of others and the communities that you belong to. We are looking for individuals to join our team who are committed to co-existing with others with generosity, kindness, and compassion. In particular, we value demonstrations of leadership in promoting these qualities in other organizations you have been a part of.

Values We Share

It is important to emphasize that even if you don’t currently have the skills above, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work in the lab. If you are seriously interested in joining us, you are encouraged to invest time and energy independently acquiring some or more of these skills (e.g., through course projects), which will enable you to get more out of your research experience.

Our lab is genuinely committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion in achieving and sustaining excellence in our scientific research. We aim to provide an intellectual environment that is at once welcoming, nurturing and challenging, and that respects the full spectrum of human diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, socioeconomic status, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, and religion. Above all, we are looking for lab members who share our commitment to actively creating and maintaining a safe environment founded on mutual respect and support.

To learn more about the expectations we have of all members of the lab, including of Dr. Fan, please feel free to read our lab manual.

Prospective PhD Students and Postdocs

Dr. Fan is recruiting PhD students via the Stanford Psychology PhD program who intend to start in Fall 2024. We are not currently recruiting postdocs, research staff, or volunteers.

If you are interested in joining the lab as a PhD student, please introduce yourself to Dr. Fan via email and include a current academic CV. It is a good idea in this email to articulate what research questions you are most excited about and some specific reasons why you believe the Cognitive Tools Lab would be an environment where you believe you could thrive, as well as how you believe you could contribute to our community.

Please note that it may not always be possible for Dr. Fan to reply and discuss with you whether the lab might be a good fit. Prospective PhD students are encouraged to submit a full application to the Stanford PhD Program in Psychology and indicate your interest in our lab to ensure that Dr. Fan will receive & read it!


Special thanks to Daniel Ritchie at Brown University and Fernanda Ferreira at UC Davis for examples of how to organize the information on this page.