Gee Wiz

Jan. 8, 2010

By Melissa Dudek

Go Bears!

At first glance, that seems like a simple phrase Cal fans have heard hundreds of times. But think about that for a minute. What does 'Go Bears' really mean? What actually happens when you scan your memories for 'Go Bears' or think about its meaning? What are memories? What does it mean to think?

Welcome to the world of cognitive science, an interdisciplinary studies major at Cal that brings together psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy and physiology, and the chosen major of Golden Bear gymnast Avery Gee. Now a junior, Gee chose cognitive science as her academic emphasis after coming to Cal with a different intended line of study.

'I was pre-med for my two years here,' said Gee. 'I took all the chemistry and math classes for pre-med, but found I was really interested in neuroscience. I really love the linguistics and philosophy aspects of it, which I didn't think I was going to enjoy. Now, I really appreciate them, and I think it is fun to do while sitting by the pool.'

Gee and rugby's Eric Strack are the only two current student-athletes who are declared cognitive science majors. Senior football player Brian Holley started in the field, but changed to the broader interdisciplinary studies major last year.

'Cognitive science has very set classes,' Holley explained. 'I really loved studying about the brain and brain processes, but there was too much focus on computerscience for me.'

Holley continues to study the brain as an ISF major and is finishing his thesis on the effects of concussions on football players. Gee, on the other hand, has a greater appreciation for the computer classes.

'I really like computer science,' Gee gushed. 'My parents [Cal alums Albert and Nora Gee] were both engineers. It is nice to write some instructions and have the computer do all the mechanical labor that you don't really care to do yourself.'

With courses that include Scientific Approaches to Consciousness, Metaphor and Neural Basis of Language and Thought, and Dysfunction and the Brain, Gee is learning about relations between mind and brain on a physical and philosophical level, but it has been some of the psychology classes that have made the biggest impact on her day-to-day life.

'In my Cog Sci 100 class [Fundamental Issues in Cognitive Science], we learned a lot about memory and perception,' Gee said. 'There are these things called context effects and state dependant effects. It is the idea that what you practice will have an effect on what you would want to compete in. So if you practice one way, you will want to compete that same way, be in that same situation. So that is what I try to do.'

Gee also pays closer attention to potential brain injuries in the gym. Though as one of the Bears' top gymnasts and a competitor at NCAA Regionals last season, falling from the beam and bars are not day-to-day occurrences for Gee.

'I'm always worried when I occasionally fall off the beam,' she said, 'but I really haven't had any head injuries. Though when my teammate kicked me in the head at practice, I definitely checked to make sure I didn't have any damage to my cranial nerves!'