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Alumni: Sam Swift

sam swift

Sam was a major in Decision Science with a minor in Policy & Management, graduating in 2004. 

He is from Richmond, VA and moved to Pittsburgh to start his undergradate years in the fall of 2000.  After graduation, he worked as the Research Coordinator for the Center for Behavioral Decision Research ( for one year.  For two years following that, he worked for a CMU spin-off software development company in Pittsburgh called CM3 Consulting (  In 2007, he began in the Organizational Behavior and Theory PhD program at Tepper.  He now lives in Greenfield and is in the 4th year of the program.

Title of Undergraduate Research Project / Type of Support:  I received a $500 SURG for the project, "The Improper Use of Relative Information in Comparison" in 2004.  The project looked at whether admissions officers are able to account for the variation in grading norms when evaluating candidate's GPAs.  We have found in many datasets now that those candidates coming from schools which high average GPAs are more likely to be admitted, controlling for other related variables.

When did you become involved in undergraduate research at CMU?  I was a research assistant for Professor Don Moore (who was in the OB dept at Tepper, but just left this summer) starting the summer after my sophomore year, 2002.  I worked as an RA for Don and quite a few other grad students and faculty during the school years and summers of my junior and senior years.  

How did you find your mentor?  I was walking out of my last final of my sophomore year and mentioned to a friend that I had no job for the summer.  She said that a professor she had worked with was looking for an RA over the summer and it worked out perfectly. I eventually took my mentor's undegrad class and then did an independent study my senior year to work on my SURG project.

How has your idea/project evolved through the academic years?  The project has been growing and changing for 6 years now which is longer than I could have imagined.  Along the way, my collaborators and I have gotten a large grant from the NSF and a graduate support stipend from the Graduate Management Admission Council based on the work.  The project now encompasses somewhere around 20 studies and bits and pieces have been presented at 7 or more conferences.  One of the biggest changes was the growth of the research from a specific domain (average grades and admissions decisions) to more fundamental research on the extent of this psychological phenomena.  

What successes or difficulties have you encountered in this project or others?  This project has been my introduction to the publication process and that process has been very challenging.  Our paper presented convergent evidence through multiple methodologies which is generally thought to be a great approach.  However, we found that most reviewers like one type of study or the other, but not both.  In the end, we have published the experimental lab studies in one journal and have submitted the archival field data to another.

If you could summarize your experience in one word, what would it be?  Formative

How did your undergraduate research projects help to shape your future after CMU?  My SURG-funded project allowed me to get a very early start on graduate level research.  For starters, having a serious project of my own underway was central to my admission to the PhD program.  Currently, the fact that I started that project 3 years before I started grad school is the reason that I have a publication on my CV already, with more potentially on the way.  The duration and challenges of the publication process make the head start I got from SURG invaluable as a competitive asset when I go on the academic job market next year.