Undergraduate Research Day Features Work of More than 100 Students

Commenting on Facebook posts has become a common occurrence for many people, but do we really understand why we respond to certain posts?

Iris Edelen, a senior in the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, has a better understanding of why people say things on Facebook – now that she’s studied some 20,000 posts and comments made on a number of businesses’ Facebook pages.

Her findings, as well as the research projects of more than 100 other UH students, will be on display Oct. 13 at Undergraduate Research Day 2011 in the Rockwell Pavilion, M.D. Anderson Library.

The event, which starts at 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public, will showcase the research achievements of undergraduate students from a wide range of majors and colleges across UH. It is coordinated by the Office of Undergraduate Research and The Honors College.

“This event honors the outstanding work of our undergraduate researchers. These students make real contributions to their field of study just a few years into their education,” said Karen Weber, director of the UH Office of Undergraduate Research. “In fact, many of their findings end up published in peer-reviewed academic journals – a rare feat for an undergraduate and one that shows the quality of the work they perform.”

The participants include students who were involved in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, or SURF, as well as any undergraduate students who conducted substantive research within the last year. Edelen was one of those involved in SURF.

“We were trying to do something very current, very relevant in the business world today,” Edelen said in explaining why she chose to study Facebook. “There are all these different companies out there trying to figure out how to utilize Facebook to reach their customers better. We decided to study Facebook and the posts made by the companies and the comments made to those posts.”

Edelen, along with her advisor, associate professor Norman Johnson, developed a system for separating the posts and comments. The comments were divided into four psychological categories to determine why people were making a certain kinds of comments.

“We wanted to determine why people felt the need to comment on certain posts … why do they write these paragraphs about themselves on these completely non-private media forums?” Edelen said.

Edelen said her research showed that certain types of posts prompt certain types of comments.  For example, posts designed to persuade readers inspired comments that reflected a reader’s competence.

“People felt a need to comment with a certain amount of competence. They went the extra mile to say, ‘Oh, I know what you’re walking about. I understand this,’” she said.

Edelen said her research could help companies better understand how to better use Facebook in their businesses.

“It’s good to have some understanding of what kinds of posts you should be writing to get a certain kind of feedback,” she said. “A lot of Facebook is just a shot in the dark, you don’t know what you’re going to get and yet thousands of people are following you. So if you can figure out how to hone your posts, you could hone your comments and you could find a kind of targeted audience within the millions that use Facebook.”

Edelen said she wanted to get involved in an undergraduate research project because she believes it will enhance her value as a potential graduate student. It also gave her the opportunity to conduct more comprehensive research.

Johnson said undergraduate research is important because it exposes students to different topics they may not study in regular classes and helps students develop lasting skills.

“In addition to the skills they get, the research helps them to understand what graduate work is about. As a result, they can better define their interests for admission to graduate school than a student with no prior research experience,” Johnson said. “By making our students better with this initiative, we make UH better.’

Edelen is looking forward to seeing the other presentations at the event and having the chance to meet students in other fields. “It’s a great way to network. I’ll meet students involved in the arts, writing, people outside my normal circle,” she said.

The one thing she probably won’t do after the event is go home and log on to her Facebook page and comment about it.

“After this project, I’m really not that into it,” she admitted. “I don’t want to see Facebook. I don’t need to see Facebook.”

About the University of Houston

               The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 38,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.