People of I-LABS: Melanie Fish

In the "People of I-LABS" series, we get to know individuals from our team. Today, learn more about Melanie Fish, a graduate student who splits her time between Outreach and the Kuhl lab.
People of I-LABS
Vibrant, super-smart and caring: these are just a few of the qualities that describe the dozens of interdisciplinary researchers at I-LABS. Their innovative ideas and technological savviness help drive the Institute's reputation as a world leader in child development and brain science.
And their kindness, professionalism and sense of humor greet all of the hundreds of families that volunteer each year for studies at I-LABS.
In the "People of I-LABS" series, we get to know the research scientists, post-doctoral fellows and other researchers who make up the elite team at I-LABS.
Please tell us a little about yourself. Where do you come from? What are you doing at I-LABS?
I grew up in the California Bay Area but have lived in Seattle for about 9 years. I came here to attend UW as an undergraduate and never left! I am now a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. I split my time at I-LABS between Dr. Kuhl’s lab and the Outreach and Education team.
Why did you decide to become a researcher?
My fascination with the process of language acquisition, combined with my investment in evidence-based early childhood education, has driven me to pursue research on language and brain development as they relate to early experiences.
What big questions to you hope to answer with your research?
My goal is to understand how language processing abilities develop over the first five years of life, and how early experiences with language can shape later language and learning outcomes.
What research questions are you working on now?
  1. How do 5-year-olds process sentence structure, as compared to adults?
  2. To what extent do 5-year-olds rely on context to form expectations about sentence structure?
  3. Is grammatical processing ability at age 5 linked to earlier language skills? If so, which early skills are the best predictors?
What inspired you to study this topic?
Early experiences are critical to language development. I-LABS’ research on this topic has focused largely on sound- and word-level learning in infants and toddlers; I wanted to extend this work to include sentence-level learning in children about to enter kindergarten. This will ultimately provide a more well-rounded understanding of the trajectory of language development across the first years of life.
What's your most significant career accomplishment so far?
I was recently awarded a position as a Pre-doctoral State Policy Scholar through the Society for Research in Child Development. This position allows me to spend a year collaborating with the WA State Department of Early Learning, to help bridge the gap between early childhood research and policy. This is a very exciting opportunity, and is definitely my greatest career accomplishment so far!
What's your favorite part of working at I-LABS?
My favorite thing is working one-on-one with the children and families who participate in our studies. Families are always eager to learn about the work we do, and are enthusiastic about being part of it. It is so much fun when a child comes to the lab ready to “be a scientist for the day” and leaves excited to tell their friends about their experience.
What is your most exciting memory from being in the lab?
It was exciting to look at my MEG data for the first time and see the results I had predicted!
How can people use your discoveries in their own lives?
Linking early language abilities with later learning outcomes can help parents and educators focus on the skills that matter most during early childhood.
What’s something we might not know about you?
I have a cat who thinks he’s a dog, and a dog that thinks she’s a cat. They’re best friends!