Associate Professor Colleen Sinclair’s Research on Social Network Effect Featured in New Animated TED Talk

Colleen Sinclair, PhD, joined the LSU Social Research & Evaluation Center (SREC) in 2022. Sinclair received a PhD from the University of Minnesota in social psychology with minors in quantitative methods, interpersonal relationships research, and law, and was featured in TED-Ed. Recently, Sinclair’s research on the Social Network effect, which examines the influence that friends and family have on our romantic relationships, was chosen for an animated TED talk.

We sat down with Sinclair to learn more about her passion for LSU, her research, and the journey.

Why LSU? Why did you choose to work at the LSU Social Research & Evaluation Center?

Coming to LSU was coming home. My father was a professor and department head here. Now that my parents have retired, I started looking for positions in Louisiana to be closer to them. Finding the opening at SREC was serendipity. I had been looking for a position that would allow me to focus on research, particularly applied research that makes a difference, and it all just fell into place.

Tell us more about your role at SREC.

I am an Associate Research Professor at SREC where I work on multiple projects on topics ranging from national security to increasing diversity in the biomedical sciences.

How has your research impacted the lives of others?

It is hard to say. I don’t really get a lot of direct feedback from those who might be recipients. I had some blogs I wrote on misinformation go viral, leading to multiple interviews, writing questions for the Congressional Hearings on Misinformation, and had them ultimately turned into K-12 learning modules by Actively Learn. I would thus like to think that has helped to inoculate people from the infodemic. I think the disconnect in seeing a difference is part of what led me to more applied research and volunteering.

What are some of your most recent accomplishments?

Aside from the TED-Ed video, I have also had my grant with the Department of Defense extended for an additional year, which is approximately another $3 million. I was a part of a SREC grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve equity in math education in East Baton Rouge Schools, and that was also going to be around $3.5 million.

Colleen's original TED Talk aired on April 19, 2016.

What was it like to give a TED Talk?

The original Ted talk was a unique experience. I had been accustomed to public speaking, having taught my first college course in the summer of 1999. But for TED I had to distill 10 years of research into 10 minutes and make it entertaining and accessible. I appreciated the challenge, honestly. I scripted my entire talk and memorized it. When I lecture I usually go in and wing it, but this time I had to have it down pat. I am also grateful to my sister, Heather, the artist who created the animations in my talk for me.

What advice would you give to current LSU students conducting research or students interested in pursuing research for the first time?

You have to try it! I thought I hated research when I was an undergrad but ended up in a research course by accident and it changed my life. Got my first grant and first publication out of it. Basically research gave me the tools to find the answers to any question I wanted to know the answer to. There is so much interesting work being done. Just find someone working on something you are interested in and volunteer.