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Hi! My name is Emma Pfeiler and I am a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina. I am double-majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology with a minor in Chemistry. I have been a neuroscience major since I started at UNC and have never doubted my desire to pursue a career related to psychology and neuroscience. After graduation, I hope to do research and plan on attending medical school, possibly in an MD-PhD dual program.

My research experience at Carolina has covered a variety of fields within Psychology and Neuroscience. Pre-Covid, I worked at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, where I served as a Research Assistant in clinical trials for children and adults with Angelman Syndrome. Before that, I worked as an MRI data analyst at the NeuroImage Research and Analysis Lab. As a Gil Intern, I am working at the Organizational Behavior Unit at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. This has allowed me to explore a new area: social psychology/behavioral neuroscience.

Kenan-Flagler Business School consists of faculty and programs that explore business and society’s biggest questions, shape public discussion and policy, and contribute innovative and relevant knowledge. The Organizational Behavior Unit employs a scientific approach to produce groundbreaking research that helps us to understand interpersonal dynamics, i.e., how people act and interact within groups. This includes issues related to decision-making, power and influence, negotiations, creativity, team dynamics, and performance management, to name a few. The unit conducts experimental, archival, or qualitative research for the purposes of investigating why certain behaviors exist in the professional world, and the consequences of such behaviors.

My mentor was the neuroscientist and associate professor of Organizational Behavior, Dr. Ovul Sezer.  Dr. Sezer studies “impression mismanagement.” Impression management is the study of psychological processes that influence how people try to make favorable impressions and how people perceive others. Impression mismanagement are the mistakes that people make when they want to impress others. Her previous research has investigated social “mal”-heuristics such as humblebragging, name-dropping, and backhanded compliments.

As an intern, I had the opportunity to work on one of Dr. Sezer’s current projects, which is using recommendation letters to explore how people recommend others. The purpose of this study is two-fold. First, the researchers seek to understand the effects of using effort or ability language in a recommendation letter on candidate evaluations, hiring, and success, and whether or not recommenders have insight into these outcomes. Second, the researchers are curious what language people typically use when recommending others and if this varies based on the candidate or the recommender’s gender. The data for the study was obtained through a graduate admissions program at a university in the UK. My role in this study was in coding the qualitative data obtained from the recommendation letters. Through this, I learned how to perform one of the initial parts of data processing in behavioral psychology: converting qualitative data into quantitative data, a necessary preparatory step in the data-analysis process.

While the analyses are still ongoing and there are no conclusive results yet, findings may hopefully demonstrate more concrete ways for recommenders to write letters for applicants by establishing how and why their letters will lead to increased evaluations of applicants for jobs, programs, etc. One example could be specific language to use to most effectively promote the applicant. An unintentional gain I got from working on this project was a new perspective on how recommendation letters vary and the power they have to influence the perception of the applicant, both positively and negatively.

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