The Rebecca L. Sandak Award

The Rebecca L. Sandak Young Investigator Award was established in 2008 to honor the memory of Rebecca Sandak, who died before her research goals and ideas could be fully realized. The award is intended to recognize a gifted young reading researcher who shows outstanding promise and dedication to the field. The award includes a certificate and a monetary award of $500.  

Eligible candidates for the next SSSR meeting must meet the following criteria:

Applicants must be doctoral students, postdocs, faculty, lecturers or research scientists who have not received their Ph.D. more than five years ago (i.e., the applicant’s Ph.D. must have been awarded no earlier than July of the fifth calendar year prior to the current year, although consideration will be given for parental or medical leaves if requested).
Applicants must have an accepted spoken or interactive paper.
Applicants must attend the conference and present their spoken or interactive paper.

Applicants or individuals nominating on an applicant’s behalf should submit the application to the chair of the awards committee by April 15, 2023.  The winner will be announced at the annual meeting. The following application materials are required:

  • A nomination letter that summarizes the applicant’s research and makes the case for the nominee’s promise and dedication to the field of reading research.|
  •  A curriculum vitae.

Please send application materials to Jennifer Hughes ( by April 15, 2023.

Brief Biography of Rebecca Sandak:

Rebecca first became interested in the scientific study of reading as an undergraduate at Binghamton University where she volunteered as a tutor in the Learning Disabilities Clinic. She became passionate about understanding the cognitive mechanisms that support reading and identifying scientifically sound techniques that could improve reading instruction and remediation. She pursued this interest by attending graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked with Dr. Charles Perfetti to investigate the causal role of phonological awareness in the development of reading skill in first graders. Also during this period she became committed to applying cognitive neuroscience techniques to the study of reading, and helped to develop an early fMRI study of reading disability in children. She completed her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology with a concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2001. She continued her research at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, CT, where she received advanced training in fMRI methodology with Dr. Kenneth Pugh. During her tenure at Haskins, where she was employed as a Senior Scientist until her death in 2006, Rebecca conducted seminal research on the neural mechanisms of adaptive learning and skill acquisition in reading. Her work provided a solid foundation for the ongoing study of reading development and optimal instruction for children at risk for reading disability.

Rebecca also had a special relationship with the Society for the Scientific Study for Reading. An active member since 1998, she was a regular attendee and presenter at the annual SSSR meeting. In 2004, she co-edited a special issue of the SSR journal (with Russ Poldrack) on the cognitive neuroscience of reading and in 2005 she organized a symposium on learning in the brain for the annual meeting. Rebecca was committed to SSSR and its mission and having an award through SSSR linked to her name is of particular significance.

Rebecca's death will be a tremendous loss to the field of reading research, as her dual focus on basic research and classroom application enabled her to make significant contributions in both areas, despite being in the early stages of her career. She had a keen intellect and a warm, unassuming style that enabled her to connect easily with scientists and non-scientists, educators and parents to advance her goal of improving the science and practice of reading instruction.

The SSSR Rebecca L. Sandak Young Investigator Award is intended to help promote these qualities in young researchers by providing a modest award that should be used to further the recipient's research career, with the hope that Rebecca's goals may continue to be realized.

2022 Award winner: Alida Hudson 
2021 Award winners: Mercedes Spencer and Annie Yixun Li
2020 Award winners: Marc Goodrich and Elizabeth Stevens
2019 Award winner: Florina Erbeli
2018 Award winner: Jamie Quinn
2017 Award winner: Laura Steacy
2016 Award winner: Maaike Vandermosten
2015 Award winners: Elsje van Bergen and Elizabeth Tighe
2014 Award winners: Suzanne Adlof and Sara Hart
2013 Award winner: Fabienne Chetail
2012 Award winner: Elizabeth Norton
2011 Award winners: Yaacov Petscher and Jennifer Gilbert
2010 Award winner: Eva Marinus
2009 Award winner: Rebecca Betjemann
2008 Award winner: Shelley Xiuli Tong