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Deborah Lawrence 'Unpacks Her Happiness' with the Miriam Goldberg Research Prize

A Teachers College doctoral graduate, Deborah Lawrence, who investigated Generic Concepts: Words as Transparent Instances of Categories, has won the 1998 Miriam Levin Goldberg Research Prize. Lawrence's dissertation also received the accolade of ‘with distinction,' for its unique contribution to research.

The Research Prize, which was established by the late professor emeritus' students, is given annually to a doctoral graduate from the programs in development and educational psychology whose dissertation is judged the best of the year. Accordingly, Lawrence's dissertation was selected because it best expressed the academic rigor and excellence that Professor Goldberg demanded of her students.

Dr. Ruth Gottesman, Trustee, and student of Professor Goldberg, introduced the event by saying that the prize was established in 1986 to honor "Miriam's extraordinary and outstanding contributions to TC as a scholar, teacher, mentor, advocate, and advisor to thousands of students. Her presence is still very much felt in the TC community."

Gottesman added that, "I've said it before, and I'll say it again-Miriam was a marvelous teacher and mentor-the kind that opens the mind, touches the heart…"

Speaking about how she feels about being the recipient of the award, Lawrence said, "It's a wonderful honor and it gives me great pleasure to be associated with her [Goldberg's] name. It's really hard to unpack my happiness."

Ernst Z. Rothkopf, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications and Education, who was Lawrence's dissertation advisor, called the dissertation an exemplar of true basic research.

Lawrence explains that her dissertation is simply about the meaning of words when they enter a person's mind.

"Sometimes," Lawrence says, "we see a word and what comes to mind is actually not the meaning of the word but the meaning of something more general, a whole category. It happens, especially when we are not very interested in what we are hearing or reading, or when we are getting overloaded. At those times, when you see a word, the mind calls up a general category rather than the specific word. For instance, some friendly person on a bus tells me about raising daisies and collies. If I'm not paying all that much attention, I might just hear flowers and dogs."

"What it all means is that our minds are very flexible in what they retrieve," Lawrence adds. "It also means what we seem to have forgotten, we may not have actually taken in in the first place."

While working on her doctorate, Lawrence was the Technical Director of the Human Interaction Group at Bell Atlantic, formerly NYNEX Science and Technology.

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