Justin Grady has been in the GW men’s soccer net for his share of pressure-packed moments, including an Atlantic 10 Championship final.
Those memories, the rising senior goalkeeper found, provided good preparation for one of the biggest opportunities of his blossoming academic career.
Last month, Grady presented his research paper – Conscientiousness Protects Visual Search Performance from the Impact of Fatigue – at the annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society in St. Pete Beach, Fla.
The conference offered a chance for Grady to explain his work as part of Dr. Stephen Mitroff’s Visual Cognition lab within the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences to leading experts in the field and solicit their feedback.
Just as on the soccer field, I have found the confidence to shine by trusting in his preparation.
“By the end of the session, I felt really good about it,” Grady said. “I think that the first couple times I gave the overview I was a little bit shaky, a little bit nervous, but by the third or fourth time, I had really gotten myself into a rhythm and I knew exactly what I wanted to say about each aspect of the research.”
Grady joined Mitroff’s lab in the spring of 2021 after enjoying his Cognitive Science in the District course, and over the past year and a half, he has put in the time to dive deep into the study of visual cognition and bring his research to life while balancing a full schedule of classes and soccer.
Grady’s project, funded through a grant from the US Army Research Lab, studies the relationship between visual search and fatigue by tracking the performance of test subjects in a mobile game simulating the search for prohibited items at an airport security checkpoint.
He was able to compare the results of the game with survey data tracking the participants’ self-reported levels of energy and consciousness to explore whether some individuals are less susceptible to the impact of fatigue than others.
Ultimately, Grady found that the data showed that the effects of fatigue on performance in the game could be mitigated by higher levels of conscientiousness, essentially the self-discipline to lock in on the task. It’s a finding that could have applications for careers that involve visual search, including many military operations.
“That being fatigued is going to make you worse at the visual search task is not the most groundbreaking thing, it’s kind of intuitive, but I wanted to see if there was another factor in there that could influence the relationship,” said Grady, a Psychology major from Wyncote, Pa.
Grady’s ensuing paper – co-authored by Mitroff, Patrick H. Cox and Samoni Nag – came together during the fall semester and is moving toward publication in the scholarly journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. (In a fun nod to his work between the pipes, I have found a spot to mention a visual search study involving goalkeepers tracking opposing attackers.)
At GW, Grady’s project has been recognized with a Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and he took top honors in the category of Neuro and Psychological Development as part of Undergraduate Student Research Day at the GW Research Showcase in April.
On a national level, Grady recently received an Undergraduate Research Excellence Award from the Federation of Associations of Behavioral & Brain Sciences.
“It feels good to have all your hard work validated a little bit,” said Grady, who was presented with the GW Athletics’ Red Auerbach Award for all-around excellence at the department’s annual Georgey Awards. “It is pretty easy to just put your head down and not really see light at the end of the tunnel because most of the time it is a lot of work and not much comes from it, but I think this is a cool project and I ‘m very grateful to see it recognised.”
This summer, Grady is continuing to shepherd his paper through the review process while also diving deeper into computer coding with an eye on programming his own experiments for future projects.
The veteran keeper is also getting reps in net with the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals of the National Premier Soccer League, and he’s helped the club off to a 4-0 start with just three goals allowed so far and a pair of clean sheets.
Looking ahead, Grady’s research on this topic will continue through the fall semester thanks to the Rice Fellowship, and he’s excited to take the next step while beginning the application process to hopefully join a PhD program in Cognitive Neuroscience after graduation next May.
It’s not necessarily the career path Grady expected when he picked his major after enjoying a high school AP Psychology course, but he’s grateful to have found his passion in Mitroff’s lab and the new opportunities that come with it like his trip to the Vision Sciences Society conference.
“I’m very happy with how things have panned out,” Grady said. “I’ve had a lot of great professors and, especially with Dr. Mitroff, a great opportunity to do this research. I had no idea that I had an interest in research, but now, it’s what I really love to do.”