Jess Mankewitz

/^J(ay|(ess(ie|ica)?)) Mankewitz/

Hi! I’m Jess and I’m a graduate student at UW-Madison in the Infant Learning Lab! I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2020 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science. As an undergrad, I worked as an RA with Prof. Mahesh Srinivasan and Dr. Stephan Meylan in the Language and Cognitive Development Lab. During my postbacc, I was the Lab Manager for the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University

Research Interest

I’m most excited when studying how humans learn to communicate and interact with one another. I’m also curious about how words and meanings are generated and how they shift and evolve through communication. Broadly, I’m interested in the intersection between semantics, pragmatics, and the acquisition of the two. I like to approach these questions with computational models, cleverly designed experiments, and publicly available resources and datasets.

I have a few primary lines of active work: 1) exploring toddlers’ understanding of communicative acts in ambiguous contexts, 2) tracking social dynamics during complex coordination and communication games, and 3) measuring the prevalence of lexical ambiguity or colexification in child language environments. I hope all of these projects will help us better understand how and why we use language the way we do.

Some Facts About Me

  • I’m queer and I accept any pronouns! This means I am comfortable being referred to with any set of pronouns, and I especially appreciate a mix. For example you can say “Jess is cool; I heard they’re from LA! She was just complaining about the traffic.” (If you’d like more information about using multiple sets of pronouns, check out this great article by Kirby Conrod!).
  • I’m a first-generation college student. I’ve also struggled with housing insecurity and financial sparsity. Before I was a researcher, I was a babysitter, an IT consultant, a dog trainer, a teacher-in-training, and, briefly, an aspiring astrobiologist. I’m proud of my varied background and am happy to chat about it!
  • I have ADHD and am Autistic. I consider myself disabled and my neurodivergence informs much of what I choose to study.
  • When I’m not staring at the computer, I’m usually knitting, cross stitching, bookbinding, printmaking, spinning yarn, baking or picking up a new hobby of the week. I like to say I’m a “Jack of all trades, master of one or two.”


I am most proud of the work I’ve done in collaboration with others. Science is inherently collaborative, and my experience has been no exception. I’ve had the privilege of a strong mentorship network without which I’d be hopelessly lost. These days, I work most frequently and closely with Jenny Saffran, Robert Hawkins, Michael C. Frank, Virginia Marchman, Stephan Meylan, Sammy Floyd, Hugh Rabagliati, and Mahesh Srinivasan.

Other Good Things