Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D., credits much of her personal and professional success to the opportunities she experienced early in her career.
One such opportunity was an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Goldman-Wetzler applied to the fellowship program because she believed the newly formed DHS would have interest in her applied work examining the impacts of humiliation on aggression, specifically within the context of global terrorism.
“I wanted to learn from the best minds in the field and contribute to the field of social psychology in an applied way,” said Goldman-Wetzler, who was working on her doctorate during her fellowship. “The program was a perfect fit for me.”
As part of the fellowship, Goldman-Wetzler had the opportunity to serve as a research intern in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division of DHS over the course of two consecutive summers, which provided her with an understanding of how science and government are interrelated.
At Columbia University, the fellowship made it possible for her to pursue her graduate studies full time and to focus on the applied nature of her research, which examined the relationship between emotion and social identity. She hoped to establish a greater understanding on how challenging emotions like humiliation, anger and rage can lead to aggressive responses, particularly by those who have felt humiliated regarding social identity characteristics such as nationality, religion or ethnicity. The results
of her research suggested that those who are humiliated regarding a social identity characteristic are more likely to act aggressively against others than those who are humiliated regarding a personal characteristic.
Her DHS-funded research and her experiences as a fellow at DHS helped Goldman-Wetzler to establish the groundwork for her future endeavors, culminating in her recently published book about how to free yourself from conflict. The book, “Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life,” details eight groundbreaking practices designed to help people break free from recurring conflicts in each area of their lives. It contains many influences from the research Goldman-Wetzler conducted during her DHS fellowship.
“I didn’t realize at the time that my dissertation would serve as the foundation for my continued research and writing, or that it would culminate in my writing a book for the general public about how to free yourself from conflict,” she said. “But everything I’ve done in my career has served as a logical stepping-stone to the next opportunity, even if it wasn’t clear exactly where each experience would lead to. The ideas I learned about conflict during my graduate research fellowship—specifically, that conflict naturally begets conflict—served as the foundation for all the rest of my work consulting to leaders in organizations, as well as my writing.”
Beyond furthering her research and career interests, Goldman-Wetzler’s fellowship also taught her many skills and qualities that have proved valuable in her profession.
“The work ethic I developed during my fellowship—where I learned to focus, to stop procrastinating, to manage stress, distractions and the demands of other people, to set and reach to attain high standards in research and writing, to question everything and keep working until I completed what I had set out to do—those all serve me very well now,” she said.
She encourages students and prospective researchers to take advantage of the ORISE programs, and urges them to be proactive in both their personal and professional development.
“Learn from everyone you meet,” she advised. “Ask lots of questions. Travel. Spend time with your mentors.”
Goldman-Wetzler remains connected with two of her own fellowship mentors, and she is grateful for the lasting professional relationships her fellowship established. Many of her current endeavors, particularly her dedication to public speaking and the cultivation of the professional workforce, are inspired by the role models she has had throughout her education and career.
“I will always be grateful for all I learned and to those who took the time to mentor me,” she said.
Goldman-Wetzler earned her bachelor’s degree in social psychology from Tufts University in 1996, followed by a doctorate in social-organizational psychology from Columbia University in 2008. She is the founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, a New York-based consulting firm that advises CEOs and their executive teams on how to optimize organizational health and growth.
She also serves as a keynote speaker at Fortune 500 companies, public institutions and innovative, fast-growing startups. She inspires audience of all kinds, including those at Google, Harvard University, TEDx and through her popular course at Columbia University. Her book, “Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself
from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life,” was published by HarperBusiness in February 2020 and was selected as a Financial Times Book of the Month.