In the Motivation & Goal Pursuit Lab, we take an interdisciplinary social scientific approach to studying how the interplay between people’s social contexts and identities influence their motivation to pursue their goals, and their success in goal pursuit efforts. We explore the context-sensitive, and experiential nature of motivation and goal pursuit processes in a variety of domains including education, health, and environmental sustainability. We study these processes by triangulating across a variety of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological methods that enrich our understanding of social processes in ways that allow us to develop and test interventions that we hope can improve social outcomes and equity in those outcomes.

The bios below introduce our current lab members and provide brief snapshots of some of the specific research questions and topics they are currently exploring.

Current Lab Members


Dr. Marissa Bell is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, where she is studying how to facilitate increased interconnection and mutually beneficial collaboration between academia, policy, and the broader public, and how context and place shape community engagement in policy and decision-making. As a broadly trained human geographer, Marissa combines diverse experiences in environmental justice, economic geography, and STS, with enthusiasm for facilitating community well-being within dynamic and challenging contexts. She received her BA from King’s College London, and her MA and PhD from the University at Buffalo, where she examined fairness and justice in Canadian nuclear waste siting. To learn more, you can visit her website, or Twitter @MarissaZBell.


Zachariah Berry is a fifth year PhD student in Organizational Behavior at Cornell University. He is broadly interested in how our identity – especially as it relates to our individual and group values – shape our understanding of the world, and the downstream consequences this has on judgments, decisions, and social interactions. His work with Neil is currently investigating how people interpret events based on features of the context and identity-relevant features of the individual(s) in the events. Together, they hope to use the insights from their research to inform policy decisions both at organizational and national levels. You can read more about Zach on his personal webpage:


Bharathy Premachandra is a fifth year PhD student in Communication at Cornell University. She is broadly interested in the psychological and structural factors behind social inequalities and how individuals and groups operate in such contexts. Bharathy believes that it is imperative for policy makers to not only consider political, cultural, and economic concerns, but to also account for psychological processes in the implementation of interventions designed to address social disparities, and hopes to advocate for this in her career.

Mikaela HS 1

Mikaela Spruill is a fifth year PhD student in Social Psychology at Cornell University. Her research investigates how bias at the person-level sustains systemic inequities. Mikaela works to understand the cognitive processes and social contexts that help facilitate large-scale racial disparities via policy preferences (e.g., opposition to reparations) and legal decisions (e.g., jury decisions about police indictments). Her ultimate aim is to develop bias reduction interventions that can aid in alleviating these inequities. You can read more about Mikaela and her work on her personal webpage:

Teairah Taylor

Teairah Taylor is a fourth year PhD student in Communication at Cornell University. Her research interests are largely centered around the influence of racial/ethnic identity on interactions with the healthcare system, health behaviors, health perceptions, and health-related goals. Teairah is interested in improving the health of racial and ethnic minorities in America through translational health messaging and communication research for health promotion programs and interventions. You can follow Teairah and her work on Twitter:

tepper headshot

Stephanie Tepper is a fifth year PhD student in Social Psychology at Cornell University studying the relationship between high-level social inequities and individual decision-making. She is interested in how perceptions and experiences of social inequality influence behavior and, in turn, how individual behavior can contribute to the maintenance or reduction of inequality. She is excited about drawing connections between basic and applied research and aims to develop and test interventions to reduce racial and economic disparities. You can follow her on Twitter, @stephanietepper, or visit her website,

A Brief Note About Graduate Admissions

Prospective students periodically email to inquire about whether I am taking new graduate students. It is important to note that in our program, admissions decisions are a collective process, rather than the decision of any one particular faculty member. I recommend looking at the broader faculty in the program you are interested in applying to (e.g., Communication, Psychology) and applying if there are multiple people you could envision working with. If I am one of the people you are interested in potentially working with, simply mention that in your application materials (e.g., in your statement of purpose); you do not need to email me in advance—the admissions committee will let me know that when the time comes. 

As a policy, I do not meet with prospective students in advance of admissions decisions due to my concerns about equity in higher education. I do not have the bandwidth to meet with all applicants that write to request meetings, and therefore I do not meet with anyone so as to not give any students unfair advantages in the admissions process.

My general advice about applying to Ph.D. programs is summarized in this Letters to Young Scientists article on applying to Ph.D. programs I co-authored a few years ago with Drs. Jay Van Bavel and June Gruber. I wish you all the best in your application process!

Current Collaborators

Our lab adheres to a “team science” philosophy – we can achieve far more as collectives than as individual researchers. Below is a list of some of our most frequent collaborators.  

At Cornell:

Marlen Gonzalez, Department of Psychology

Rene Kizilcec, Department of Information Science

Tashara Leak, Division of Nutritional Sciences & Division of General Internal Medicine

J. Nathan Matias, Department of Communication

Jamila Michener, Department of Government & Brooks School of Public Policy

Jeff Niederdeppe, Department of Communication & Brooks School of Public Policy

Erica Phillips, Division of General Internal Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine

Amelia Greiner Safi, Department of Communication & Public Health Program

Monika Safford, Division of General Internal Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine

Jonathon Schuldt, Department of Communication

Andrea Stevenson Won, Department of Communication


Melissa Ferguson, Yale University

Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University

Sarah Gollust, University of Minnesota

Katy Milkman, University of Pennsylvania

Steven Moore, Wesleyan University

Ivuoma Onyeador, Northwestern University

Adam Pearson, Pomona College

Rainer Romero-Canyas, Environmental Defense Fund

Walter Sowden, Tripler Army Medical Center

Lab Alumni

Jennifer Allen (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now PhD student in Social Work @ Michigan State University)

Saarah Anjum (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Product Specialist @ SchoolCity Inc)

Wendy Cortes (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Law Clerk @ Family Law Project)

Rachel Cultice (University of Michigan, B.A. 2017, now PhD Student in Social Psychology @ Rutgers University)

Alessandra Cruz (Cornell University, B.A. 2022, now Private Equity Analyst at Neuberger Berman)

Monica Ellis (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now Medical Student @ Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine)

Anjuli Fink (Cornell University, B.A. 2021)

Ryan Foley (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now PhD student in Clinical Psychology @ Central Michigan University)

Daniel Geda (Cornell University, B. A. 2022, now Postbaccalaureate Intramural Researcher @ National Institutes of Health)

Nora Greenstein (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now MSW student @ University of Michigan)

Alex Grombala (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now Account Management Associate @ IT Practice)

Sara Helmer (University of Michigan, B.A. 2014, now Clinical Social Worker @ The Children’s Center of Wayne County)

Mariam Khan (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Health Management & Policy Student @ University of Michigan School of Public Health)

Andrew Khouri (University of Michigan, B.A. 2017, now Law Student @ University of Maryland Law School)

Elena Khutoretsky (University of Michigan, B.A. 2015, now Scala Development Specialist @ Huxley Banking & Financial Services)

Dr. Nicholas Michalak (University of Michigan, Ph.D. 2020, now data scientist @ Insight Data Science)

Saachi Pawa (University of MIchigan, B.A. 2021, now M.S. student @ Tufts University)

Celina Romano (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now PhD Student in Social Psychology @ UC-Berkeley)

Alaina Stevenson (University of Michigan, B.A., 2017, now Business Analyst @

Elizabeth Stewart (University of Michigan, B.A. 2016, now MSW Student @ University of Chicago)

Lucus Tse (Cornell University, B. A. 2019, now Analyst @ IBM)

Caiwei Zhu (Cornell University, B. A. 2020, now PhD Student in STEM education @ Delft University of Technology)

Current Research Sponsors:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Cornell University College of Human Ecology

Cornell University Center for the Social Sciences

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

New York State

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Social Science Research Council 

United States Department of Agriculture