“Aha!” moments have shaped Abigail Panter’s life, thanks in large part to the attentive educators with whom she has studied. Now, the UNC psychology professor gives her students similar opportunities for clarity of thought and purpose.
Panter grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., north of New York City. Her father, a physician, and her mother, a professional pianist and writer, instilled in her a deep appreciation for the arts, concern for others and enthusiasm for life. A talented cellist, Panter played in ensembles and orchestras from an early age. Starting in the seventh grade, she traveled to Manhattan every Saturday for music classes at Juilliard under the tutelage of an “incredible teacher.”
At Wellesley College, Panter studied psychology, French and music. “It was class after class of accessible professors who were willing to mentor me, who were caring yet rigorous with the academics, who had a true passion for what they were doing,” she recalled.
Panter earned her doctoral degree at New York University, where she studied social/personality psychology with a “kind and gifted mentor” who sparked her interest in quantitative psychology, research design and psychometrics. In 1989, she joined the UNC faculty in the psychology department’s L. L. Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory. Her wide-ranging research interests have included developing new measures and designs in social/personality psychology, testing the effects of educational diversity, evaluating the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS treatment and educational programs and exploring issues related to the status of women.
She teaches quantitative and research methods to undergraduate and graduate students. In her classes, Panter asks students to step into the researcher role to gain a clearer view of the process and to apply the learned concepts and skills in settings beyond her courses.
“I like to get into the trenches with my students and show them how the research process works from start to finish,” she said. “It gives them the support they need to do their work, and it tends to alleviate any fears they might have about generating ideas, conducting research or analyzing and presenting data.”
Student Cerina Buchanan believes as a result of her time with Panter that she has the skills necessary to “conduct an experiment related to vision impairment prior to my acceptance into optometry school.”