After graduating from high school in Davenport, Carolyn Pham, '20, arrived at UNI intending to pursue a degree in art education. When she realized she was more interested in what drove people’s perceptions, particularly about race, she switched to psychology.
“I’ve always been interested in how people act and why they do the things they do. As a kid, I liked the idea of being a psychologist and dissecting people’s motivations and feelings,” Pham said. “While that isn’t quite what I’m interested in anymore, that interest still pushed me toward choosing psychology.”
At UNI, Pham found the perfect home for undergraduate research. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals not once, but twice. Her talent and experience gave her a leg up when she applied to doctoral programs and was immediately accepted into three.
“She is smart, unique and a future cutting-edge researcher and faculty member,” said Lisa Hooper, one of Pham’s mentors and director of UNI’s Center for Educational Transformation (CET). “She is an amazing student whom I am sorry to see go.”
Pham started as a research assistant at the CET, which conducts educational research studies across the state. She was then selected as a Donald and Gudrun Fruehling Undergraduate Research Fellow during the summer of 2019, which allowed her the unique opportunity to help lead a research study.
In that role, Pham worked alongside her mentor, Assistant Professor of Psychology Jiuqing Cheng, to develop a study that focused on their mutual interests in cognitive psychology and cultural psychology.
Their study — based on a survey of over 400 people — measured how different racial groups viewed police and explored how people’s thinking style also had an impact on their perception regardless of their race.
With two studies published in a peer-reviewed journal and numerous research experiences under her belt prior to graduating, Pham said her time at UNI has prepared her to tackle a career in psychology.
“My experiences here have boosted my confidence and taught me how to talk to different types of people.” Pham said. “While, of course, I've learned hard skills like psychological constructs, data analysis and painting methods, the soft skills I've learned and will continue to improve in, such as public speaking, resilience and interpersonal relationships, were what really made my time at UNI memorable.”
Upon graduation, Pham will be attending Ohio University to pursue a doctoral degree in experimental psychology, with an emphasis in industrial-organizational psychology.
For more stories about CSBS faculty, students and alumni, visit csbs.uni.edu/magazine.