Ovul Sezer is a Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Behavior program at the Harvard Business School. Prior to joining the doctoral program, Sezer graduated with honors from Harvard University with an A.B in Applied Mathematics.
In her research, Sezer focuses on self-presentation and the behaviors used to convey specific information about or an image of oneself to others. She studies how people present themselves to others and whether these attempts are successful in social interactions.
The question of how to present oneself most effectively has been studied for centuries by scholars from Aristotle to Goffman, each arguing that self-presentation is an integral aspect of social interaction because both material and social rewards depend on others’ impressions. The motives underlying self-presentation generally emerge from the desire to be liked or to establish a particular reputation personally and professionally. Prior research has identified several self-presentation tactics used by individuals in an attempt to achieve one of these goals. For example, to achieve liking, people may engage in strategies such as ingratiation, while to convey an impression of competence and establish a reputation, people engage in self-promotion strategies such as bragging.
In her dissertation, Sezer examines previously undocumented and common self-presentation strategies that aim to elicit both liking and respect. For example: “humblebragging” is bragging masked by complaint or humility, “backhanded compliments” seem to praise but simultaneously draw implicit unfavorable social comparisons, and “namedropping” is the casual mentioning of important people. Drawing on data from social media to job interviews and from lab and field experiments, Sezer documents the ubiquity of these strategies from real life in several domains and provides the first empirical examination of why people frequently employ these tactics and what their consequences are. In particular, she shows how attempts to elicit liking and respect using such strategies backfire because they seem insincere. Through a close examination of these strategies, she explains the neglected phenomena of misguided self-presentation.
Sezer’s research is published in academic journals including Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Association of Consumer Research and Current Opinion in Psychology and her dissertation work has been featured in media outlets such as Washington Post, Business Insider, Forbes, The Atlantic and Boston Globe. “Humblebragging: A Distinct and Ineffective Self-presentation Strategy” was featured in Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin’s Year in Ideas for 2015 and was in the top ten most popular articles of the year on HBS Working Knowledge. During her time in the doctoral program, she won the Derek Bok Center Certification of Excellence and Distinction in Teaching six times consecutively.