#WomWom: A wand award for the 2018 research-fairy

by Alessandra Souza (@A_SSouza) and Vanessa Loaiza (@vmloaiza1)


Fairies are magical creatures, believed to have the power of words and mystical objects. They make up the content of fairy-tales, which spark the imagination and lend people to entertain a different world of ideas and possibilities.

Today we want to share a story about one such enchanted creature, a research-fairy. A research-fairy has the charm of channeling new research ideas, of criticizing theories and models, and of deriving straight predictions from hypotheses. These creatures haunt conference and meeting halls, looking for symposia, oral or poster sessions, where they can avidly interact with researchers and inject on them renewed ideas for experiments, new approaches for data-analysis/modeling, or even insightful (re-)interpretations of puzzling findings. After contact with one such mythical being, the pilgrim researcher returns home with revamped enthusiasm in the arduous process of scientific inquiry, and on its ability to make some valuable contribution to science.

Research-fairies are ethereal manifestations that can be channeled by generous and sharp-minded people. In the course of the years, we from #WomWoM have seen many women that embody a research fairy, perhaps because its generous spirit suits well with the profile of female researchers. This is the reason why we decided to create a wand-prize for women who embody research fairies. The prize aims to acknowledge someone who engages with her research community, freely giving constructive feedback and ideas to others. The wand prize acknowledges behavior that is widely valued but often goes unremarked.


A Brief History of the Wand

The origins of the wand date back to a poster session during the 2016 meeting of the Psychonomic Society in Boston. In a maze of posters, you may often find yourself on the same route as a colleague. Such was the case for Vanessa Loaiza following on the tail of Candice Morey. It seemed to Vanessa that each time she approached and listened in on a discussion between Candice and the poster presenter, Candice was in the middle of giving very thoughtful advice on what was clearly the next experiment to run to clinch the series and any remaining peccadilloes of the work. What was more, Candice gave such feedback not with slightest air of antagonism, but instead with genuine interest and enthusiasm for the work and its success. At one point, Vanessa exclaimed to Candice, “you’re like the good research idea fairy!” Candice was touched by the sentiment.



This hatched an idea in Vanessa’s mind: for the next Psychonomics, she would make and bring a wand for Candice to celebrate her status as a research-fairy and so that she could wield her wisdom in style. At the same time, interest had been increasingly building about a #WomWoM — a community of female working memory researchers who support each other in their contributions to the field. The auspicious and apt timing of a working memory symposium organized by Alessandra Souza and Evie Vergauwe in July 2017 prompted the women there to make the plan more concrete. Vanessa revealed her plan about Candice’s wand, and soon there was a buzz of making the wand a formal prize to be given every year: the WomWoMWand! (It does have a ring to it, right?) “Forget tenure, I want the wand!” one female symposium participant declared. And so it was that the first wand recipient was Dr. Candice Morey, the humble host of this blog, at the 2017 Psychonomics in Vancouver.


This Year’s Good Research Idea Fairy

During the 2018 EWOMS in Pavia, Italy, it was unanimously decided among the female participants that Dr. Evie Vergauwe is the 2018 research-fairy.


We value Evie not only because she’s smart and capable, but because she’s a generous collaborator who somehow always has time and energy for her colleagues. She says what she’s thinking, which is always helpful and on-point. Furthermore, Evie delivers the products of her cunning wit with a perfect blend of humor and passion that is unique to her. She will make you laugh and profoundly think at the same time. Evie’s insights have inspired rich discussions and her contributions have had a significant impact on the field. You will see her this week at talks and posters in Psychonomics – perhaps she will bless you with a good idea.


Thanks very much to Naomi Langerock and Kim Uittenhove for making the wand!


About Evie

Evie Vergauwe is an Ambizione Research Fellow funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She received her PhD from the University of Geneva in 2010. In 2013, she obtained an Advanced Postdoc Mobility Grant (from the Swiss National Science Foundation) to work with Nelson Cowan in the University of Missouri. Her research focuses on the interplay of working memory and attention, particularly on how different kinds of information (verbal, visual, spatial) are mentally maintained in and retrieved from working memory, and how attention can be used to counteract forgetting. She investigates these questions in young adults and in children using mainly behavioral techniques, sometimes in combination with neuroimaging techniques.