Letter from Brandeis Provost Steve Goldstein

When Jonathan Peelle asked me to offer a few words of tribute to Art, I was more than happy to oblige.  What an easy and appealing task:  to sing the praises of Art Wingfield.  And then, as I started to compose my thoughts, I realized the special nature of the challenge:  any words I could offer would pale in comparison to the sheer, extraordinary fact of this gathering of people, from across the continent, in the middle of the summer, to honor Art Wingfield.  What is more, you have come here today to pay tribute both to an outstanding body of work and to a special human being.  Indeed, in Art’s case, the work and the person are inextricably related, for the work includes not only the research, the papers, the scientific advances, but also the devoted teaching and mentoring of countless students over the past five decades. 

You certainly do not need me to review Art’s many accomplishments for you.  You all know his pioneering work on hearing, speech comprehension, and memory.  This appreciation of the brilliance and significance of Art’s work is clearly shared by both the NIH – which has steadily funded him for decades, including two successive MERIT awards – and the American Psychological Association, which selected him for the Baltes Distinguished Research Award.  You also know – through direct experience or from conversations with colleagues – the care and attention, the knowledge and wisdom, the encouragement and support, that Art gives to his students and trainees.  Or in the pithier formulation of one student’s course evaluation:  “this professor is phenomenal.”  For each of us who have pursued careers in science – and in other fields, too – there are one or two people we can point to and say, without them, I would not be where I am today.  That so many people can say this about Art is a tribute more eloquent than any I can offer. 

Brandeis is a university that prides itself on attracting faculty strongly committed to both teaching and scholarship.  But to excel at both – to make a substantial and enduring impact on one’s field and on the lives of one’s students – is a special accomplishment.  Art Wingfield is such a person.  That is why we have asked him to take on leadership roles at the University, including Director of the Volen National Center for Complex Systems and Chair of the Neuroscience Program.  That is why we awarded him the Nancy Lurie Marks Professorship of Neuroscience.  And that is why this special gathering has drawn the eager participation of so many. 

Each presentation today – from former students and trainees, and from other accomplished individuals in the field – is, in its own way, a tribute to you, Art.  What I can add to all of this is, in a word, a resounding Yes!  Yes to the recognition of your accomplishments as a research scientist.  Yes to the acknowledgement of your impact as a teacher and mentor.  And finally, yes to the unanimous wish that you will continue this valuable work for many years to come.

– Steve Goldstein

First meeting Art - Jonathan Peelle

I met Art just over 14 years ago when I was interviewing for graduate school. I was convinced by an undergraduate psychology course that I was interested in human memory. When I applied to Brandeis I looked through the psychology faculty web pages and saw that Dr. Wingfield studied memory, I naturally made sure to include his name in my application letter.

A few months later, having already been accepted to another graduate program, I found myself in Art’s lab on an interview day. I remember two things very clearly:

First, somehow, in the course of a two minute conversation, Art deftly convinced me that speech comprehension was much more interesting than memory, and wasn’t aging also interesting. Maybe I should study them. Although in retrospect this sometimes seems like it may have been some sort of Jedi mind trick, it was, in fact, related to the second point:

Very early in the day I decided that I wanted to work with Art and study whatever he studied. Throughout the day I was furiously making up contingency plans if I didn’t get in to Brandeis, at least one of which involved spending years sleeping out in a tent and volunteering in Art’s lab until I got accepted.

Fortunately before I left campus that day Art told me I was accepted into the program. I was glad for the educational opportunity, but also for the fact that I would not have to sleep in a tent, especially given what Boston winters are like. Since that time I have been continually grateful for Art’s kindness, patience, wisdom, and friendship. I think I join many of you in thinking that it’s hard to imagine where we would be without him. 

Letter from Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence

(President Lawrence also attended Art's festschrift and delivered some very nice opening comments. Below is the text of a letter he provided ahead of time to Art.)

July 18, 2014

Dear Art,

There are few duties for a university president that are more rewarding than recognizing the outstanding contributions of a faculty colleague. At the invitation of your colleagues, I wish to mark the occasion of the Festschrift in your honor being held at Brandeis University next week.

Over the course of your career, you have been a "triple threat"—an eminent scholar and scientist, a beloved teacher and mentor, and an individual who has served the Brandeis community with distinction as Director of the Volen National Center for Complex Systems.

The audience at your Festschrift will be familiar with your tremendous scientific accomplishments including the Baltes award, years of continuous NIH funding in ever more competitive times, and two NIH Merit Awards. These are tangible signs of the contributions you have made to the study of sensory and cognitive changes in aging. We are grateful for the clinical implications of your work, which have never been more important as the population of the United States continue to age. Your adoption of technologies like functional MRI studies is a superb example of an eminent scientist pushing the boundaries of knowledge to the benefit of those who need to understand the links between hearing and cognition—and your publication record can only be described as prolific.

You are a beloved teacher and mentor who has had a tremendous impact on both graduate students trained in your lab and on undergraduates who were able to work with you over the course of your career—dozens of whom have gone on to prolific scientific careers of their own—potentially influencing the arc of thousands of lives through their own teaching, research, and service.

Finally, you have led a nationally recognized scientific institute with distinction, contributed to the community in a variety of ways through service on countless committees, and have served with all eight Brandeis presidents.

As your community gathers to honor you, I wish to convey my personal gratitude and that of your Brandeis University colleagues for more than 45 years of exceptional dedication and service.


Frederick M. Lawrence

Computers in Art Wingfield's Memory and Cognition Lab in the 1980s - Cindy Lahar

It was the fall of 1985 when I arrived at Art’s Memory and Cognition lab in the basement of Brown.  In his lab there were fewer computers than you could count on one hand.   In fact, there was one shared computer that we used to access the mainframe system.  Usually we were typing in our Fortran statements to initiate BMDP analyses.  It was also where we typed our first email messages. 

I can actually remember my first email message.  I believe we were preparing to develop some experimental stimuli for a new project, and Art and Liz told me to contact Rose Zacks with a question of some sort.  They told me I should email her to get a quick answer to this question.  I had to learn how to use BITNET on that shared mainframe computer in our lab.  I recall carefully typing out my question, and then a complicated set of specific commands.  It involved some sort of cumbersome address that probably looked something like:  %sendmail%vax!BITNET%username@host.   I was so thrilled and surprised to receive a message back the very next day!  I guess that in those days I received 1 or 2 email messages a month --  starkly different than the rate of email messages today. 

 Macintosh Plush, taking 3.5 inch disks capable of holding up to 800 kb

Macintosh Plush, taking 3.5 inch disks capable of holding up to 800 kb

So, with one shared computer accessing the mainframe, it was also a time when my lab-mates and I invested everything we had to buy the latest in computer technology.  That meant we each purchased a new Macintosh Plus computer at about $1600 a piece (that price may have included a fancy Imagewriter dot-matrix printer and a small number of 400 kB diskettes that kept documents and important software programs such as “Write Now” and “Dark Castle”).  With the newest technology at hand, we were now able to type up documents and re-edit them without having to re-type them.  We could print multiple copies of a document without carbon paper!  This was leading-edge academia at its finest.  

 Art's beloved KAYPRO II that takes 5.25-inch floppy disks

Art's beloved KAYPRO II that takes 5.25-inch floppy disks

But Art wasn’t interested in our computers with the smiley face screens – Art loved his Kaypro II computer and was extremely devoted to it.  Where Liz, John, Sarah and I had all moved to the Macintosh for writing, Art remained steadfast in writing papers on his Kaypro - thus we had to find compromises for how to collaborate on writing projects.

But Art always did compromise, and indeed numerous papers were written on that Kaypro II computer as well as on those Macintosh Classics.  That integration of what is classic, useful and in good-working order with that which is new, innovative and cutting-edge – be it in theory or practice – has been a hallmark of the wonderful career we are celebrating at this Festschrift.  I am so very thankful to Art for all his innovations as well as his skill in honoring that which is utilitarian and of good use.    

Reflections on meeting Art Wingfield - Cindy Lahar

When I applied to graduate school, my application process was probably similar to many others at the time.  First, apply to schools in cool locations that are really far away from home such as Northern California, then follow up by pouring through a favorite textbook from undergraduate classes (mine was cognitive psychology) and look for the most interesting studies.  I had a pamphlet from the Brandeis Psychology department and saw that the researcher that interested me most was a cognitive psychologist there—right near my hometown—which was a totally uncool location for someone like me who grew up 15 miles down the road and wanted to “go away”.  But, I did apply to Brandeis and a month later I received a phone call from Brandeis inviting me to come in for an interview for graduate study. 

The phone call was from Art Wingfield and I went to Brandeis to meet with him on a Spring day in 1985.  He struck me immediately as a kind and gentle soul, one who cared deeply about learning, exploring, and knowing.  He was genuinely interested in my undergraduate research I completed with Denise Park that looked at memory for pictures and words in young and older adults.  He asked me all about this research and I was struck by how he brought up so many relevant theories and ideas, and he described many research studies that related and that could be done to follow up and probe further into the theories we were discussing.  He just knew so much!

We had a long conversation about human memory and aging that was just the beginning of years of conversations ahead.  At that time, Art was interested in starting new research projects examining cognitive differences in young and old adults, and I was so intrigued by understanding human memory and so impressed with this warmhearted and knowledgeable man I met on that spring day. 

After that meeting with Art, I went home hoping I would receive an offer of admission.  It didn’t matter that I might end up in graduate school so close to my hometown, and I had lost all interest in working on mental imagery with Steven Kosslyn – that researcher whose name remained in the outdated Brandeis Psychology department pamphlet I had in hand.  I’ve never met Steve Kosslyn, but if I ever do, I will thank him profusely for leading me to apply to Brandeis, and also thank him for leaving Brandeis and giving me the gift of the best supervisor and mentor I could have ever hoped for. 

Thanks, Art! - Julie Golomb

I first met Art in the beginning of my sophomore year at Brandeis. On the recommendation of a friend, I went to see Eve (unannounced, I believe, and embarrassingly naive) to ask her about "neuroscience". Instead of turning me away, she invited me in and met with me for about an hour, after which she said she thought I might be interested in cognitive neuroscience, scribbled something on a piece of paper, and sent me across the hall to Art's office. Art glanced at the piece of paper and offered me a position in the lab. I spent the next 3 years working in his lab, and by my senior year it was like a second home. (I'm pretty sure I slept there on at least one occasion while working on my honors thesis.) The grad students were like my older brothers, and it was the first time I realized that academia was like a giant, fun family. I was hooked. 

I have such fond memories of the lab and of Art. He was always available and full of advice (just as long as you didn't email him), and I learned so much from him. He was an excellent advisor, giving me the perfect mix of direction and freedom. When it came time to apply to grad school, I mentioned that I might like to stay at Brandeis for an extra year and do a Masters. Art gave me two pieces of sage advice: (1) Unless I was "independently wealthy", why would I pay for a Masters program when I could get paid to do a PhD? (I had no idea PhD students got stipends!), and (2) It was "time for baby bird to leave the nest". 

I will always be grateful for the opportunity and experience of being in Art's lab. Even though I crossed over to the "dark side" and do vision research now, I had such amazing preparation in Art's lab. When undergrads contact me to join my lab now, with professional-sounding emails mentioning how how they've read my papers and have all these future plans laid out, I remember how clueless I was and how grateful I am that Art (and Eve) gave me a chance.  

P.S. A few of the more salient lessons I learned about Art during my time in the lab:

  • He's married to Eve. I had NO idea for about a year and a half, until one day I was meeting with Art in his office, and Eve popped in and gave him an affectionate squeeze on the shoulder on the way out. 
  • He is occasionally forgetful (like the time he forgot I wasn't a grad student and got annoyed that I was going away for spring break and hadn't even asked him first).
  • He has great stories (and will probably tell the good ones to you on multiple occasions).
  • A full coffee pot is essential lab equipment. 

Art, thanks for everything, and I'm sorry I couldn't make it!

Julie Golomb

Wingfield Lab undergrad 2001-2004

Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Ohio State University 

The Note - Marianne Fallon

When I was a post-doc with Art (c. 2006) we submitted an abstract to the Cognitive Aging Conference. The acceptance returned with an upgrade — to give a talk. I was, at first, very excited, which soon gave way to panic. We constructed the talk, I gave it at a lab meeting, received feedback, made the changes, etc. Then it was time to deliver my first oral presentation at a professional conference. The presentation went well (AV problems not withstanding) and Keith Rayner, who chaired the session, told me that I did a fine job. Whew! But what came next was so much more important. Art, who was sitting about three rows behind, asked those in front of him to pass a note to me. In it, he wrote about how proud he was of me and how confident he was that I would do well. He called me a "natural".

I still have that note. It's in the middle left drawer in the desk in my office. On "bad" days, I read that note — sometimes twice. It is one of the things I cherish most.

I cannot begin to thank Art — and Eve — for their grace, kindness, and generosity.