When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Social: Building Stressed Students’ Social Networks Shapes Academic Persistence and Success
Kate Turetsky

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Columbia University

Primary Discipline

Helping students thrive and persist in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors is critical as the demand for STEM professionals increases. Whereas most research aims to improve student outcomes by building individual resources, such as cognitive and noncognitive skills, my dissertation focuses on building students’ social resources to help them persevere and thrive in academic settings. Across four studies, I explore whether building students’ social networks—the system of interpersonal relationships in which individuals are embedded—through brief, low-cost social psychological interventions can promote persistence and success over time in difficult STEM settings. Study 1 examines students’ social networks and academic performance in a STEM course that implemented a collaborative learning intervention. Study 2, a field experiment in a “weed-out” biology course, tests the effects of a randomly assigned affirmation intervention on students’ social networks and persistence in STEM. Study 3 aims to replicate and extend Study 2 in order to test the robustness of the intervention’s effects on social networks and retention. Finally, Study 4 is a laboratory experiment testing a novel social psychological intervention promoting positive social responses to academic stress. Results suggest that strengthening students’ social networks in STEM courses is a promising route forward for improving performance and retention. Broadly, this work highlights the importance of the social context in which students learn, and makes conceptual, methodological, and practical contributions to the study of social networks and their powerful influence in educational settings.
About Kate Turetsky
Kate Turetsky is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at Columbia University. Her research employs social psychological interventions and social network analysis to understand and address real-world problems related to group identity, stigma, and psychological threat in educational settings and beyond. These problems include high dropout rates in the sciences, undertreatment of mental health issues among college students, and prejudice toward minority groups. Kate’s research has been funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. In addition to her research, Kate cofounded the first annual national conference on designing, implementing, and evaluating social psychological interventions through the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, directs the Lobel Undergraduate Research Fellowship program in the Psychology Department at Columbia, and serves as a Lead Teaching Fellow through the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning. Kate earned her B.A. in both Psychology and Studio Art from Amherst College in 2012, and spent the following year as a research fellow in a neuropsychology lab at the National Institute of Mental Health.

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