Welcome Dr. Anthony Cate!: An Interview

Dr. Anthony Cate, Psychology Professor at Roanoke College


The Psychology Department would like to welcome Dr. Anthony Cate to our faculty as our newest professor.  The following is an interview with Dr. Cate where he answers some questions about himself, his interests in psychology, and what he’s looking forward to in terms of teaching at Roanoke College.

Where are you from?

I was born in New Jersey, and I moved a lot when I was young.  I have lived in every state between Washington, D.C. and Boston, except for Delaware.  After I got my Ph.D. I also lived in Canada (Ontario) and northern California.

Where did you receive your undergraduate degree from and what did you study in undergraduate? What was that experience like?

I got my undergraduate degree from Yale University.  I began as a religious studies major, but I thought that those classes involved too much memorization of names and dates, so I switched to psychology.  Actually, I switched to being a triple major, at least on paper: psychology, linguistics, and East Asian studies.  I shed majors when I figured out that psychology interested me the most.

I was lucky that I was able to help out in three research labs that had different missions and lab cultures.  I learned that I was bad at doing brain surgery in a rat lab.  I lost some patients.  Everyone there seemed anxious all the time too, which was poignant because anxiety was part of what they studied.  I conducted my first research project in a lab that studied human fear conditioning.  My advisor was a very kind scientist who helped me feel like an important part of the lab, but I disliked having to give participants electric shocks.  I also frequented the lab of my favorite professor, who had taught my perception course.  That lab was very welcoming.  People could just walk in to say hi and check out the experiments, there was a dog, and the students were very productive.  All of those experiences taught me to consider the social environment when I was choosing a graduate program.

Have you received any other additional degrees? Where did you receive them from?

I went to Carnegie Mellon University to get my Ph.D. in psychology, which was part of a joint neuroscience program with the University of Pittsburgh.

Have you taught anywhere else besides Roanoke College?

I first taught when I was a postdoctoral researcher at Western University in Canada.  My advisor talked me and two other postdocs into teaching one third of a course each, which seemed like a lot at the time.  Later I taught at Virginia Tech, where I worked for nine years before moving here to Roanoke.

What are you most excited about teaching at Roanoke College?

I am very excited to teach at Roanoke for many reasons!  It has been hard for me not to talk a mile a minute while teaching during these first few weeks.  It is exciting when students ask me questions, including when I don’t know the answer, because then I get to track the answers down later.  I was very eager to start teaching smaller class sizes.  I think personal interactions form the most effective ways to learn, and instructors get to learn from their students this way, too.  It is also a privilege to join an excellent psychology department where the faculty and staff are so engaged in their mission.

Dr. Cate in front of MRI machine at Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System in Martinez, CA (2007)

What are your research interests? Why are you interested in this/these field(s)?

My research investigates how visual perception works, and how it influences other cognitive skills like memory and reasoning about numbers.  I am particularly interested in understanding how different parts of the brain work together.  I have studied techniques for visualizing computer models of brains in order to make maps of which cognitive skills are associated with different brain regions.

Can you tell us about any research you have already completed in these areas?

I have published some research about how we perceive the 3D structure of objects, and about how brain damage can alter these perceptions.  I enjoyed learning how to make 3D images using computer graphics, and I especially liked getting to learn what people living with brain damage had to teach me about perception.

What course or courses are you currently teaching?

I am teaching Introduction to Psychology and Cognitive Psychology this semester, which is a great combination.  I have been teaching Cognitive Psychology for over nine years, and it is so familiar to me that I get excited when my favorite topics are about to come up in class.  I have never taught Intro Psych before.  It feels like a big responsibility to introduce the entire field.

Are you interested in taking on students as research assistants?

Yes!  Students make research better.  I realized a few years ago that when undergraduates helped me with a project, we considered the problems less narrowly.  The projects were much more enjoyable because of all the conversations we got to have.

What qualities are you looking for in any students who are interested in joining your lab?

Mainly curiosity, and an appreciation of research for its own sake.  My research questions are usually less about “how can we apply this science?” and more about “how does this work?”  I have had wonderful contributions from students with backgrounds in art and design, but that’s because we had similar interests, and not because students need any particular artistic abilities.  The same has been true for students who are interested in neuroanatomy and computer science.  A passion for those topics makes for a good fit, but students definitely don’t need to have expertise already.

Welcome to Roanoke College Dr. Cate! Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. We are excited to have you here and look forward to learning more about you in the semesters to come!




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