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University of Michigan School of Information


Faces of UMSI: Penny Trieu

Penny Trieu

Penny Trieu is investigating who people really are online — and whether it will influence how they actually see themselves.

If someone claims to be an extrovert on Facebook, or a fitness buff, or a pessimist, is that how they see themselves? And will that actually influence how they see themselves? Questions like these are at the intersection of identity and social media — the research area Penny Trieu is exploring as a second-year PhD student.

Specifically, one of her major research projects right now asks the question, “When you present yourself one way publicly, is there an identity shift that you experience making you more likely to internalize those traits so that you become what you claim to be?”  

As a psychology major at Randolph College in Virginia, Penny was interested in questions about self-presentation and social media. One of her questions concerned the change in how people presented themselves online over time.

“In the ‘beginning’ of Internet usage, people were more likely to be anonymous or use fake names. Now we’re seeing the opposite of that. What has changed?” 

Penny was becoming increasingly drawn to these big ideas about interpersonal processes and identity and the budding online world. Building on that with a doctorate seemed like the next step. 

In her studies she came across the research of Professors Ellison and Lampe. Once she was aware of the match between her own and those professors’ research interests, the reputation of the University of Michigan, and the cutting-edge work being done in the School of Information, she wanted to pursue a doctorate here. “I was accepted to a handful of schools, but the interdisciplinary nature of this PhD program is what cemented the decision for me.”

Penny is happy with the UMSI atmosphere. She knows she made the right choice personally and professionally by continuing her studies at U-M. “Everyone in my research group has been supportive. As a first-year, I was amazed at how helpful everyone was. I also love how collaborative we are in our approach to research.”

Not yet halfway through the five-year program, Penny is still open to the possibilities of the future.  “I’m not sure what I’ll do after my degree. I would like to be a research professor but I still have a few years to think about it.”

At UMSI Penny is also a member of the Diversity Committee. “Since I came to the U.S. from another country [Vietnam], I think that makes me appreciate and care about issues surrounding diversity. Of course I’m also lucky to have a fair amount of privilege in some regards, so I know what that feels like too. UMSI already has many great diversity policies but, together with the Diversity Committee, I want to be proactive when it comes to pushing those initiatives that create a more inclusive environment for everyone.”

As a U-M student, Penny has grown fond of Ann Arbor. “One of the great parts of the city is how accessible it is without a car. I love that I can walk anywhere, to restaurants, all over campus, wherever I need to be. And it’s perfect that I’m still close to the airport since I love traveling.”

This student has graduated! This information was accurate at the time of publication.

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