Julia Leonard, PhD

MindCORE Postdoctoral Fellow, 2018-present
Julia is interested in understanding the various factors that impact children’s decisions to persist in the face of challenges, and applications of this research to real-world learning.


Julia completed her PhD in 2018 in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT exploring how the social environment shapes children’s brain development, cognition, and motivation. She received her BA from Wesleyan University, where she studied Neuroscience and Behavior. Julia’s research focuses on understanding how children decide to stick with a challenge. How does this depend on environmental factors, such as parents’ and educators’ actions and messages, home routines, and access to resources, as well as internal factors, like neural development, mood, and sensitivity to evidence? In addition to her goal of better understanding the neural and cognitive factors influencing persistence, Julia is interested in translating these findings into educational interventions. She approaches this topic using a variety of techniques including behavioral experiments, home recordings, neuroimaging, and computational modeling. In addition to research, Julia is passionate about outreach and teaching. During her undergraduate career, she co-founded an after-school science program for under-served elementary school children. During graduate school, she volunteered at community science events in Boston, Cambridge, and Philadelphia, teaching both children and parents about the developing brain and mind. Julia has also greatly enjoyed her time in the classroom, teaching developmental psychology and cognitive science, for which she received two Walle Nauta teaching awards. Her research has been funded by the NSF graduate student research fellowship.