Professor Jirout Among Record Number of UVA Early Career Award Recipients


Audrey Breen

Jamie Jirout has been awarded the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to support her research on curiosity.

Jamie Jirout, assistant professor in the UVA School of Education and Human Development, has earned one of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious grant awards aimed at supporting early-career researchers engaged in science and engineering. Awarded by the National Science Foundation, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program funds five years of research. This year, thirteen assistant professors have won the award for the University of Virginia, a record-breaking number for the University.

Jirout, whose research centers on understanding how curiosity promotes learning, is one of a record number of UVA faculty to receive the recognition this year. With nearly $1M in funding, Jirout is seeking to understand the relationships between uncertainty, curiosity and science learning.

Embracing Uncertainty for the Sake of Curiosity

Uncertainty, in just the right dose, is a perfect environment for curiosity. Too much uncertainty and overwhelm sets in. Too little and answers come with ease. What, then, is the optimal level of uncertainty that fosters and sustains curiosity? With her CAREER award, Jirout is embracing her own uncertainties as she aims to answer that very question.

Jirout will unleash a group of second graders into her lab filled with hands-on science activities. She may tell them exactly what the goal of the activity is. She may give them a question to answer. Or she may let them ask whatever questions come to mind. What she will do is evaluate how much uncertainty fosters the most curiosity in these youngsters. How excited will they be to discover something new? Why will they be motivated to discover it?

Over the course of this 5-year study, Jirout aims to identify what promotes curiosity and how curiosity promotes science learning.

“We are so thrilled to see Jamie’s promise as a scholar and accomplishments to date acknowledged through this prestigious award,” said Catherine Bradshaw, senior associate dean for research and faculty development at the UVA School of Education and Human Development. “I can think of no other mechanism more appropriate to help advance her career and this innovative line of work than the NSF CAREER.”