Q&A With Alice Lee

Get to know more about one of ILR’s seven new faculty members.
New faculty Q&A with Alice Lee
Friday, August 16, 2019

Alice Lee comes to Cornell after earning her Ph.D. in management from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. She earned a B.S. in finance from the Stern School of Business at New York University. Before joining Columbia Business School, Lee worked in asset management at J.P. Morgan.

What is your research about?
My research examines key features of social influence, where one person makes an overture toward another in the hopes of achieving a particular economic or subjective outcome. In three intersecting lines of research, I explore 1) how people approach acts of influence, 2) who uses and conforms to selected influence strategies and 3) when certain sources of social influence matter the most. Overall, my work reveals the importance of understanding the social meaning that targets of influence attach to influencers’ overtures and behavior to understand how and when social influence is or isn’t effective in a given situation.

How did you become interested in your field?
In many ways, I think my interest in social influence, and organizational behavior more generally, started before I even realized it. Moving was a regular part of my childhood. I went to two kindergartens, four elementary schools and two high schools across several different towns and countries. Looking back, some of the strongest memories I have of these primitive years are the first few days of school. I constantly had my social antennas up trying to understand my new environment and fit in with my surroundings. At one point, I even found myself purposely speaking broken English in class, after having just moved from the U.S., to fit in with my Korean peers! Even though I couldn’t elaborate on it at the time, I became keenly aware of the power of our surroundings and the strong influence they could have on us. 

Fast forward to 2013, I’d been working in finance for several years after graduating from college. Although I felt content with my job, I’d always felt a void from the realization that many of the questions I cared about couldn’t readily be answered at the workplace. That’s when I volunteered to become a research assistant to Malia Mason at Columbia University, from whom I learned that there was an entire field behind the questions I was interested in. She introduced me to the pure joy of being able to study the questions that I find fascinating and truly care about, and it has continued to lead me to where I am today.

What impact do you hope your research will have?
I hope my research will help people become more effective influencers in their personal and professional lives. Across my research into the how, who and when of social influence, I sketch a portrait of influencers and their targets navigating a dynamic set of attributions around the self, their relationship and the context. It is through these attributional processes that I believe social influence truly comes to life and by shedding light on these processes, I hope to help people better understand the conditions under which they are more or less likely to get the material outcomes they seek with minimal social costs or even with gains in reputation. 

What attracted you to the ILR School? What are you most excited for about your time at ILR?
There are several factors that attracted me to the ILR School, but the people definitely stand out. I find my research interests to be complementary to those of the faculty at ILR and am incredibly excited about the prospect of collaborating with, and contributing to, the impressive group of scholars. I was also very impressed by the enthusiastic and engaged students I met during my visit and look forward to passing on the knowledge and insights I have gained from my generous advisers to the next generation of scholars through close mentorship and collaborations. Most importantly, I could really picture myself being happy and productive at ILR, which made Cornell the natural choice for me.