Featured Women in Science
NYU Female Social Scientist of the Month: Emily Balcetis
Dr. Emily Balcetis is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. Her research covers a range of different topics in social psychology often driven by the interests of the students in her lab. Her research focuses on how the motivations, emotions, needs, and goals people hold impact the basic ways people perceive, interpret, and ultimately react to the world around them. For example, one of her graduate students is interested in psychology and law, wanting to understand how people who are acting as jury members or just the general public see video evidence, and why different people think that a person is either guilty or not guilty based on the same evidence. Another interesting study of hers involves looking at eating habits, and how distance perception can influence eating choices. This was in fact the subject of the talk Dr. Balcetis gave at the NYU Women in Science Spring Lecture titled “Get Focused & Fired Up.”
When Dr. Balcetis is not working in the lab, she is also the Director of the College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Initiative for Undergraduate Students. This is a program designed to help students from diverse backgrounds get a faculty mentor. This is done by pairing undergraduates with a Ph.D. student mentor during the summer to learn the research training and skills in order to get funneled into the faculty member’s lab. She also teaches several classes. For undergraduates she routinely teaches an undergraduate research methods course in social and personality psychology that students generally take during their junior and senior year. Dr. Balcetis has also taught several small seminar classes—such as a class in social vision—on top of the graduate classes that she teaches as well.
Dr. Balcetis’s interest in science most likely started at a young age, as her dad was a psychotherapist and her mom was a teacher. She grew up hearing stories about psychology and teaching, so it is perhaps not a coincidence that she ended up teaching psychology. As an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Balcetis studied music performance and psychology. She had a ska band in high school—she played saxophone—that made it pretty big when she was 18, playing at Wrapped Tour with another band called Goldfinger. In college however, a series of events led her to stop her music career and truly pick up with her interests in psychology, which led her to receiving a Ph.D. at Cornell University in social and personality psychology. Along with her mentor, Dr. David Dunning, Dr. Balcetis studied how motivations change how we think and see ourselves in the world around us. Her success during her Ph.D. years, along with the support of her mentor, then put her on track to entering the world of academia.
Dr. Balcetis is also a strong advocate for women in science. Psychology is an interesting situation because 80% of the undergraduates who major in psychology are women. However, those numbers drop as you go up, with graduate students and faculty positions being equally divided among the genders, and then positions of power being dominated by males. As a scientist there are a lot of demands that need to be balanced with your personal life, and as a women there are stereotypes that are still prevalent. For advice, she says that, “…the only expectations that you can hold are those that you hold to yourself. At the end of the day it’s your life and your career that you are building, and people are going to judge you no matter what. Also, some advice that I give everyone, male or female, is to avoid social comparison. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and how boring of a world would it be if that weren’t true?”