Dr. Smith received her B.S. degree in 1973 from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. She joined the faculty at Indiana University in 1977.
Her research is directed to understanding processes in perceptual learning, word learning, and categorization. One line of research includes empirical and computational studies of the statistical structure of early noun vocabularies and auto-catalytic learning processes that drive and constrain lexical learning. A second line of research in collaboration with Esther Thelen, Gregor Schoner, and Christien Scheier investigates the dynamics of goal-directed reaching in infants and the interleaved dependencies among motor, perceptual, and cognitive development.
Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the National Institutes of Health and has been recognized by an Award for an Early Career Contribution from the American Psychological Association, a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award, and a Research Career Development Award from NIH. Smith was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007 and a fellow in the National Academy of Science in 2019.
She has published over 70 research articles and two books (both MIT press). The Lilly Endowment has twice recognized her commitment to improving undergraduate science education by awarding her teaching fellowships.
Smith was named a Distinguished Professor in 2008 and received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of her distinguished contributions to Indiana University.