Psychology is rooted in science that seeks to understand our thoughts, feelings and actions. It is also a broad field – some psychology professionals develop and test theories through basic research; while others work to help individuals, organizations, and communities better function; still others are both researchers and practitioners.
Dr. Andrew Ryder helped prepare the Fact Sheet ‘Why Does Culture Matter to COVID-19’ for the CPA. An Associate Professor in the Psychology department at Concordia University, Dr. Ryder self-identifies as a ‘cultural-clinical’ psychologist, and the intersection of culture and the pandemic is in his wheelhouse.
Why have some countries dealt with the COVID-19 so much better than others? How is it that others have fared so very, very badly? It’s not always as simple as good government vs. bad, or effective messaging vs. chaotic messaging. More often, it comes down to the people themselves. Do they tend to be rule-followers? Is there societal pressure to take public health seriously, and how do citizens of those countries respond to that pressure?
These are the type of questions that are of particular interest to Dr. Andrew Ryder. An Associate Professor and, currently, Associate Chair in the psychology department at Concordia University, Dr. Ryder self-identifies as a ‘cultural-clinical’ psychologist. His research is largely about how cultural context shapes mental illness like depression and anxiety. With COVID now, there are some new avenues to explore.
“I’ve turned my attention to whether culture may be involved in shaping physical illnesses, which we’re accustomed to seeing as strictly biological. Rather than retooling myself as a COVID-19 researcher, what I’ve been doing is applying the cultural-clinical framework to research that is being done by many of my colleagues.”
Of course, no country is a cultural monolith. Within every larger society are smaller cultural groups, each with their own ethno-cultural backgrounds, residing in different parts of the country and having different socio-economic statuses. And the difference between those groups in terms of combatting the pandemic can be stark, even within the borders of the same country. And on an even smaller scale, each individual within each community differs on their belief, approach, and conformity to the larger group ethos.
But let’s begin on the “macro” level – how might culture be involved in shaping physical illness?
“It’s an infectious disease, and an infectious disease that is socially transmitted. You have to get it from someone. Many of the things we are being told to stop the spread are behavioural. For example, wearing a mask. You might say ‘well that’s the same behaviour everywhere’, but it isn’t really. In Japan, Korea, Taiwan, it’s doing that thing you always do even when you just have the sniffles. For another cultural group it might be doing something absolutely novel.”
Then on the “meso” level – how might smaller cultural groups within those larger societies approach this?
“We know of some cultural groups where [mask-wearing] immediately seems like an imposition on liberty. Like there’s some kind of core cultural value that is violated by the government telling you to do something unusual. Your psychological state is different when you’re doing something that feels normal versus abnormal under the circumstances.”
What ends up happening, says Dr. Ryder, is that while we all feel like we’re doing the same things – mask wearing, social distancing – those things actually play out very differently for different people. He has spoken to some clients who were into the second week of lockdown before they even knew there was a lockdown. Computer programmers who lived in their basement and had their lives changed very little. Then there are others whose entire way of life was upended overnight.
So what, given the significant differences across cultures on a large scale and a small scale, should be done? Dr. Ryder co-authored a fact sheet for the CPA on Culture and COVID-19 with his colleagues Dr. Maya Yampolsky, Dr. John Berry, and Dr. Saba Safdar, that sought to answer that question. (‘Why Does Culture Matter to COVID-19’)
“An unprecedented number of people worldwide are concerned about the same disease and are experiencing broadly the same distancing measures. As such, there may be a temptation to focus on the similarities. At a minimum, policymakers, healthcare workers, and the public at large should keep in mind that the pandemic experience may be very different for different people. These differences are shaped by the society in which one lives, the communities of which one is a part, and culturally-shaped individual variations. Complicating matters, appreciation for difference does not mean treating all responses equally when it comes to effectively mitigating a pandemic. Clearly, some cultural patterns are more effective than others.”
Cultural differences seem to be enormous factors both in containing the spread of COVID-19 and in accelerating it. Some countries are doing exceptionally well, others not so much. And no one factor can determine why but Dr. Ryder points to a few factors. One is the “tightness” of a society, meaning the level of uniformity and narrowness in that society’s understanding and expectation is when it comes to rules, norms and customs. This seems to correlate directly with the degree to which that society accepts and implements public health guidelines. Another is “relational mobility”, which is a measure of how much people move around, and especially how much they move around between various social groups. This tends to correlate with the speed of the spread in those societies.
Never before has there been an event like the COVID-19 pandemic that can highlight the cultural differences in communities, cities, regions, and countries around the world, in terms of how they respond. For self-identified cultural-clinical psychologists like Dr. Ryder, that presents a whole new fascinating series of studies upon which to build his understanding and his work.
His attention is now turning toward cultural variations in how we will recover. Who will bounce back first, and who will bounce back better? How will the logistics of vaccines be handled, and how will those logistics intersect with public concerns about those vaccines? More than anything else, Dr. Ryder’s interest is in the long term. How effectively will different people in different societies respond to the crisis, learn from it, and be better prepared down the line for any future similar outbreaks?
Some of those questions are being answered right now, others will take some time before a larger picture emerges. In the meantime, each of us is fighting a devastating global disaster in our own way. It’s the difference in the ways each of us fight it that could be most illustrative in mitigating potential future damage the next time something like COVID-19 occurs.
Dr. Ian Nicholson is the Manager for Psychology and Audiology at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), and a former President of the CPA. As with most hospitals, the LHSC has had to change many of their practices since early 2020, including the way they deliver instruction as a teaching hospital.
It is a tough time to work in a hospital. Hospitals are, of course, one of the first places to have felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even those that are not currently nearing capacity are well aware that an increase in COVID-19 cases in their community could suddenly make beds scarce. Across Ontario, they are planning ahead for this by ensuring there are beds available, all the while dealing with patients in as safe a manner as possible and supporting vaccination clinics for the rest of the community.
London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is one of those hospitals. In addition to juggling advance planning, vaccination, and the safety of staff and patients, it has a few other balls in the air as well. An acute care teaching hospital, they have changed the way instruction is delivered across the board. They are also a children’s hospital, and provide a broad range of other physical and mental health acute care services, all of which have had to make major alterations as a result of COVID-19.
Much of this comes under the purview of Dr. Ian Nicholson, the Manager for Psychology and Audiology at LHSC. While COVID-19 in London was not, at the time we spoke, overwhelming the hospital and pushing it to capacity, LHSC was accepting patients from elsewhere in the province where the strain was more severe, and the possibility that such a thing could happen in London was always in the back of everyone’s mind. This means that Dr. Nicholson has to perform a delicate balancing act between keeping his staff safe, both physically and mentally, and providing psychological services to the patients that come through his hospital. Said Dr. Nicholson,
“The primary difficulty from a management standpoint is the balancing of the need to provide psychological services to patients in a way that is both safe to the patients as well as safe to staff. Given the broad ways in which psychologists work with patients in acute care hospitals, that means a broad range of strategies that have to be used to keep everybody safe during this pandemic.”
Those strategies are myriad, and most involve virtual technologies. Students who do not require work hours in a hospital to graduate are not going in. Psychology Residents are being trained to provide care virtually, often by teachers who are themselves just learning how to deliver virtual care. The supervision of residents and their educational activities are also being done virtually. The team of psychologists is still going into the hospital itself for work, but providing much of their expertise virtually, from offices elsewhere in the building.
Dr. Nicholson still goes in to the hospital every day. He gets screened at the front doors, just like the rest of the staff and the patients who enter the building. He spends the bulk of the day in his office, as he did before. The biggest change he sees in his own job is that he misses the casual discussions that would occur thanks to a chance meeting somewhere in the hospital – walking down the hallway, standing in the cafeteria line, those quick chats about a new idea or a new approach.
“In management, very often you have the meeting, but then you also have the chat before the meeting, or the meeting after the meeting to follow up on one of the items. Those things aren’t happening as much now. When you have these virtual meetings (we use WebEx at my hospital) there’s very little opportunity for schmoozing or chit-chat. This makes it more difficult to have the conversations you normally would around other things.”
Much like psychologists in other hospitals, one of the things Dr. Nicholson is seeing in staff is the impact this pandemic is having. Not that they are putting in longer hours than they normally do, but the added layers of protection mean that every procedure, every intake, is a little more difficult now. Constantly thinking about the pandemic takes its toll, as does being prepared for a wave that could come at any time. And, like elsewhere in the province, the pandemic is affecting both the home and work lives of all staff. Thankfully, he believes we are rounding this corner with something of a light at the end of the tunnel – a light that starts at the London Health Sciences Centre.
At the direction of the Government of Ontario, the hospital has set up a vaccination clinic, and they are vaccinating people as quickly as they can, as much as their supply allows. Based on direction from the Ministry of Health, the health units are prioritzing staff and residents of long-term care facilities, but are hoping that with more vaccine supply they can move on to the hospital staff and physicians shortly.
When the end of the pandemic does come, it will be thanks to the efforts of hospitals like London Health Sciences Centre. On that day, it will still be tough to work in a hospital. But rather than being the place where they watched the pandemic begin, they will be able to look at their workplace as the place where it began to end.
Chelsea Moran is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Calgary. Along with her supervisor Dr. Tavis Campbell, the bulk of her research has been about behavioural medicine – adherence to health behaviours. That research took a fortuitous turn when the pandemic began in early 2020.
“People are more likely to adhere to physical distancing behaviours when their motivations were that they wanted to protect other people, and they wanted to protect themselves. That they want to contribute to the overall well-being of their community. Given that information, although we can’t say for sure, theoretically public health messaging that incorporates those pieces can increase adherence.”
Okay…neat. So public health messaging should focus on keeping the individual safe and keeping their community and everyone around them safe. Seems reasonable. But what is the alternative? What other messaging could there possibly be during a global pandemic if it isn’t to keep your friends and neighbours and yourself safe from the virus? It turns out there is a lot more nuance that that!
Chelsea Moran is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Calgary. Along with her supervisor Dr. Tavis Campbell, the bulk of her research has been about behavioural medicine – adherence to health behaviours. Before March of 2020, that meant things like finding ways to promote physical activity and encourage sticking to medication regimens among people with chronic illnesses, like heart disease.
When the pandemic hit, Chelsea and Dr. Campbell thought that the work they had been doing on adherence to personal health behaviours could be applied to adherence to public health behaviours. What makes a person stick to a plan? What motivates them to continue doing the thing that will keep them alive? And how does that translate from the individual level to a community, public space?
Chelsea’s focus is now on the factors that promote adherence to COVID-19 public health guidelines, like physical distancing, mask wearing, and the like.
“We’re looking at individuals, and their day-to-day decision-making processes surrounding these things, and then using that to inform some of the wider public health campaigns that everyone is being exposed to.”
In their research, Chelsea, Dr. Campbell and collaborators Dr. Adina Coroiu and Professor Alan Geller discovered that adherence to physical distancing guidelines was motivated by two main factors. In a survey of more than 2,000 people globally, they found that the desire to protect oneself and the desire to protect other people were (surprisingly to the researchers) almost equally motivating factors.
So back to the messaging. Showing people that wearing a mask and sticking to a tight bubble keeps them, and other people, safer seems to be the way to go. This messaging can work. But what are the alternative messages? What might the media, public health officials, and politicians be saying that doesn’t work? What other message IS there?
What Chelsea has been seeing, and what Dr. Campbell has been showing in some of his own work, is that much of the public messaging can sometimes have a fear-based component. There’s a big difference, as Chelsea points out, between a message that says, “wearing a mask makes you less likely to infect your neighbour”, and “not wearing a mask could kill your neighbour”. The message often is that if the guidelines are not followed, the cases will go up and there will be more death as a result.
While fear can be a motivating factor in the short term, in the long term it doesn’t help. This is true of individual health behaviours as well. It’s much easier to get someone to be healthier by emphasizing the positive benefits to their well-being that come from exercise, rather than telling them “if you don’t exercise you will have a heart attack”.
Another thing Chelsea, Dr. Campbell and their team discovered in their survey was one of the sources of motivation to break the rules – to go against public health guidelines. It wasn’t surprising, but it was good to have it quantified in data, that loneliness was a significant factor in people eschewing physical distancing rules. Chelsea lives alone, and she has been feeling that loneliness as well. Her family is in Ottawa, her partner is in Toronto, and while they connect on Zoom and Skype and FaceTime and all that, it’s tough not to feel a little disconnected.
Chelsea’s practicum placement is at a hospital – one in which she has never set foot since she provides clinical services virtually or over the phone. She has met her clinical supervisor in person once, in September. Chelsea has to stay in Alberta, because that’s one of the provincial rules – even virtually, you must physically BE in Alberta to see clients in Alberta. And so she does. She says she’s grateful for the way the University of Calgary has made online learning accessible so quickly, and once she’s done,she may move to Toronto to be with her partner. For now, they make do.
“We have a standing phone date. He has about an hour commute on the way home from work, so we connect over the phone, catch up, and debrief on how our days went. And then FaceTime and Zoom are good because they provide that visual feedback, the non-verbal support from people.”
Chelsea is staying put. As a trainee, she’s seeing people via virtual platforms, doing school online, and generally coping with a solitary existence for the time being. She wants to keep herself safe, and wants those around her to stay safe as well. That motivation thing is really working!
Dr. Gabrielle Pagé works with people experiencing chronic pain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her team have had to pivot to a number of different forms of care. They have discovered some expected results among those suffering from chronic pain, but also some real surprises.
“Chronic pain has always been one of the more neglected areas within the health care system. Within the context of the pandemic, we didn’t expect that to improve – rather, the opposite.”
Dr. Gabrielle Pagé is an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the Université de Montréal. She is also a clinical psychologist working out of the Montreal General Hospital specializing in chronic pain conditions. When COVID-19 struck, Dr. Pagé and her team decided now was the time to move more toward an advocacy role, to inform the public about chronic pain, and to make this a larger part of the overall health care discussion.
They began by launching a Canada-wide survey of people experiencing chronic pain, and found out that over the first few weeks of the pandemic and the lockdown, 2/3 of them reported that their pain was getting worse. This was in April-May, right as the first wave was rising across all provinces. The idea that most people’s chronic pain would get worse at this time was an expected result given the magnified difficulties to access pain treatment, increased stress and social isolation.
What was less expected – and almost shocking for Dr. Pagé and her team – was that a small group, 5-10% of respondents, actually reported that their pain had been lessened during this time.
Stress is a big predictor of the severity of chronic pain. When patients are stressed out, they experience more pain – more pain leads to more stress, which leads to…well, you get the idea. So it was very surprising that such a large number of people reported an improvement. Maybe they were going for walks, taking the time to connect with family members, or were laid off from a job that had been causing the bulk of their stress. Dr. Pagé can’t say what the cause is, or was, but she is determined to find out.
As I’m speaking with Dr. Pagé, her team is wrapping up a follow-up study to the one they conducted in May. Will the outcomes be similar, or will something new present itself? They should know soon enough. Also, as we’re speaking, Montreal is entering Day One of the big winter lockdown. Curfews in place, all non-essential businesses closed, and the multidisciplinary pain clinic in the Montreal General Hospital is deciding how to move forward.
Dr. Pagé’s clients, for the most part, have been receptive to virtual therapy. Even the group therapy programs which were a concern seem to have adapted well.
“The social bond, the connection that they make and just being around other people who get what it’s like to have pain every day, is one of the central elements of group psychotherapy in chronic pain. So we were wondering how that would translate into a virtual format, being able to see people only through a screen. We’re doing a qualitative research study around this. And while it’s very preliminary, so far it appears that the screen is not a barrier for them to create bonds between one another.”
Because of the nature of the work, however, many of Dr. Pagé’s clients either don’t have access to computers, phones, or tablets – or are unable to use them. For this reason, the clinic has moved to a more hybrid form of care. Group sessions and many individual meetings are still conducted online, but for those who are unable, or uncomfortable doing so, the clinic remains open for in-person masked and distanced visits. While it`s great to be able to offer this service, it`s quite a challenge to demonstrate presence and empathy during therapy through a mask and face shield!
This means Dr. Pagé still goes into the hospital, in one of Canada’s COVID hotspots. She gets screened for symptoms at the door goes through the protocols every time and then she goes home to an 8-year-old who is, at the time of this writing, doing virtual schooling, and a 4-year-old boy going to daycare.
It can be a demanding situation. Thankfully, Dr. Pagé does not experience chronic pain herself. But she is doing everything she can to collect data and get the message out. It’s stressful to have pain. And it`s painful to be stressed. There is a vicious cycle there, and one that is under-recognized in the overall health care system. A system that is starting to realize, more than ever before, where all those gaps lie.
Dr. Jenn Gordon is an associate professor at the University of Regina, and a Canada Research Chair in the bio-psychosocial determinants of women’s mental health. A study she conducted at the beginning of the pandemic identified a major gap in how women in academia were faring during the pandemic compared to their male counterparts, especially among those with young children.
The pandemic, and the resulting lockdown, has not affected everyone equally. This is true across nearly every demographic, including the most highly educated among us. In a survey of almost 1,000 academic faculty members, it was found that parents of young children were less productive and worse off all around – especially, and most significantly, women who were parents of those young children. Women like Dr. Jenn Gordon.
Dr. Gordon is an associate professor at the University of Regina, and a Canada Research Chair in the bio-psychosocial determinants of women’s mental health. She is also the mom of three very young children. Her husband is an accountant. That meant that when the pandemic first started, causing lockdowns back in March of 2020, Dr. Gordon’s husband was in the thick of a suddenly more complicated tax season.
With her husband working long hours preparing taxes, their children gravitated toward Mom – even though Mom had a huge amount of work to do herself. In addition to her work with the University of Regina, the research she does on the effects of estrogen on the mood of menopausal women, and her work with the Women’s Mental Health Research Unit, Dr. Gordon is also the editor for the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine newsletter at the CPA. It was the section newsletter that sparked the idea for this study.
Dr. Gordon and Dr. Justin Presseau, the Chair of the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Section, were discussing article ideas for the newsletter. Dr. Gordon says,
“I suggested a piece that talked about academics, and the tough time that faculty are having. Particularly around parenthood, and juggling having kids at home while working and that sort of thing. [Dr. Presseau] suggested that instead of just a piece, why don’t we survey profs across Canada and ask how they’re doing. So we did.”
Almost 1,000 professors responded to the survey, and many of the results were as expected. Most experienced a decrease in work satisfaction, in productivity and publications and grant submissions – with data collection being totally on hold at that time. What was more surprising however, was the size of the gap in those areas between academic faculty who had kids under the age of 13, and everybody else. And then the even bigger gap between men and women who were parents to those young children.
Women were worse off compared to men. Fewer grant submissions, fewer first-author publications, and an ever-widening gap in work satisfaction. Dr. Gordon acknowledges that this survey represents only a slice in time, a snapshot of where we were when the pandemic and the lockdowns began. A follow-up study is in the works, to see whether these effects diminished over time or increased. Her situation today hearkens back to concerns Dr. Gordon had when she first decided to become a researcher several years ago – the idea of work-life balance.
“Could I have a family if I was a researcher, would I have to give up my life? I was always flip-flopping, but over time I decided that I really love research, and the choice became clear.”
While she found that work-life balance soon after embarking on a career in research, specifically research into hormone levels and estrogen levels and how they affect the mood of menopausal women, the pandemic has altered that balance significantly – both for the participants in her survey, and for Dr. Gordon herself. But it has also provided her with an interesting, and timely, research study that, depending on how long the pandemic lasts, might produce more studies down the road on academic faculty, gender disparities, and work-life balance for parents of young kids. Parents like Jenn herself.
We kick off Psychology Month 2021, Psychology And COVID, with a profile of Dr. Steven Taylor. Dr. Taylor’s book ‘The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease’ was published in October of 2019
“I knew a pandemic was coming, we all did. But I didn’t think it would be quite so soon.”
When Dr. Steven Taylor says “we all” knew a pandemic was coming, he means infectious disease experts, world health authorities, epidemiologists and mathematical modelers - and psychologists like him, who work in this space. He does not mean the rest of us – the general public who were, for the most part, blissfully unaware that such a global disaster was looming. Those of us who thought of pandemics and epidemics as something that devastated one part of the world while staying mostly contained to that region. Ebola, SARS, H1N1 – we’ve lived through those and, as regular Canadians, they haven’t changed our lives a whole lot.
This time, the pandemic has changed our lives. And although he saw it coming, Dr. Taylor was not exempt from the disruption. Of course clinical work, teaching, research, and interviews have all been moved online. This is something for which Dr. Taylor’s unit was better prepared than some others – but it is his leisure time passion that may have taken the biggest hit. He loves scuba diving and super-macro photography. In December, when news of the pandemic first broke in Wuhan, he was in the Galapagos taking extreme close-up portrait photos of colourful sea slugs and other marine life. Thankfully, there is some interesting marine life to photograph off the coast of BC, but those opportunities are understandably fewer and farther between than they once were.
Dr. Taylor’s initial publisher was one of us regular people in the sense that they thought of a global pandemic as an ethereal, far-off concept. When he wrote his book The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease, his American publisher rejected it. Who wants to hear about some unlikely hypothetical catastrophe anyway? Thankfully, a second publisher thought there was some value there and agreed to publish the book. It came out in October. Of 2019.
It is the first comprehensive look at the psychology behind every aspect of a pandemic. The initial public response. Panic buying. Conspiracy theories and xenophobia. Adherence to, or refusal to follow, public health guidelines.
“What really surprised me was that all the phenomena that had been described previously unfolded almost like clockwork throughout 2020. It’s one thing to synthesize the historical literature and say X, Y, and Z are what happens – it’s a completely different thing to see those things happening in real time. That’s the astonishing thing for me – that everything that has happened before is happening during this pandemic, except on a grander scale and faster.”
Dr. Taylor points to the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and the fact that we are all digitally interconnected as the reasons for the acceleration in behaviours humanity has seen before. There was a major backlash against a public mandate to wear masks back in 1918 during the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ outbreak. There were conspiracy theories during a Zika virus epidemic a few years ago that never really went away, and are being recycled today as the conspiracy theories we see pop up on our Facebook timelines related to COVID. All that was old is new again.
“There’s a very interesting article from the New York Times in 1918 where they cited one of the health authorities. He thought there was some credence to the theory that the ‘Spanish Flu’ was being caused by German U-Boat submariners coming to shore in Manhattan, getting out of their U-Boats, and going into cinemas to spread germs.”
It is stories like this, and interviews with epidemiologists and disease modelers, that convinced Dr. Taylor that The Psychology of Pandemics was an important endeavour. Those interviews, and those stories, resurfaced in 2018 with the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic. As he absorbed those stories he realized that a plurality of infectious disease experts believed that there would be a global pandemic within the decade. And that it would be a flu, likely caused by a corona virus. Dr. Taylor also recognized that there was a surprising lack of psychological literature on the subject.
“It’s all psychological. Psychology is essential to the spread of these diseases – that is, people choosing to travel – and also essential to containment, because all containment measures require people to do agree to do stuff. Agree to wash your hands, to cover your cough, to get vaccinated, to wear a mask, to maintain physical distancing.”
Dr. Taylor and his team have, of course, been staggeringly busy since the first mention of the virus in Wuhan, and have been studying the psychology of COVID-19, specifically, since December. They have published 6 or 8 papers, and have another 5 or 6 under review (it’s tough to remember exact numbers when you’re doing so many!)
“There has been more research conducted on pandemics in the past 12 months than has been conducted for all other pandemics in the history of human existence.”
There is now enough material for a second Psychology of Pandemics book, describing how all the phenomena we see are interconnected. From vaccination non-adherence, to mask rebellion, to disregard for distancing, to COVID-related emotional distress, excess alcohol consumption, and general coping during lockdown. None of which is particularly new, but all of which has a new context and better data and can build on the historical findings laid out in the first volume.
Dr. Taylor believes that people are resilient, and that we are not going to be wearing masks for the rest of our lives or becoming germophobes. We will one day get back to doing the things we love to do, even though that is likely to come too late for him to take his scheduled scuba diving trip in South Africa in June.
There will, however, be another global pandemic. Hopefully it is decades away, and not two months after the release of Volume 2 of The Psychology of Pandemics. But when it does arrive, we will be better equipped, as global citizens, to handle it. We’ll be more prepared thanks to the work Dr. Taylor did putting together the historical information last year, and the work he and his team are doing to learn everything they can this year.
Will the follow-up book be called The Psychology of Pandemics Volume Two: I Told You So? Almost certainly not. But it could be.
Kaytlin Constantin is the CPA Campus Representative at the University of Guelph. She’s helping children get over their fear of needles, and looking forward to a return to kickboxing competition.
A graduate student at the University of Alberta, Emily Cruikshank mentors Ryerson University undergrad student Lucy Muir. The CPA’s Student Mentorship Program is one of many things Emily and Lucy have in common.
Spotlight: Alejandra Botia, Chair-Elect of the Student Section of the CPA, and the Student Representative on the CPA Board of Directors
Alejandra Botia is the Chair-Elect of the Student Section of the CPA, and the Student Representative on the CPA Board of Directors. She is also a competitive swimmer and a salsa dancer.
Ece Aydin is the CPA Undergrad Rep for the UBC-Okanagan campus. After a lifetime of travel, taking her from Turkey to Dubai to countries throughout Europe, this may be the first time she has spent three consecutive years in one city.
You might recognize Chris Schiafone from convention presentations and online workshops he has done for the CPA on accessibility for the visually impaired. Chris is the CPA Student Campus Rep at the University of Guelph-Humber, and is currently joining us all in mourning the loss of Eddie Van Halen.
Zarina Giannone has seized every opportunity presented to her – CPA Student Rep, Chair of the Student Section, Student Member on the CPA Board. She has also created her own opportunities, like when she created the Student Mentorship program that continues to this day.
Konrad Czechowski was the recipient of the Jean Pettifor and Dick Pettifor award in 2019 for his work to include transgender and non-binary people in scientific studies.
Too often, trans and non-binary people are left out of scientific studies. Large data sets get collected, then split into the two largest (and therefore easiest-to-work-with) cohorts – men and women. So what to do with the trans or non-binary people who answered the survey, or participated in the study? Unfortunately, their data is often jettisoned in the process of simplification. Konrad Czechowski is on a mission to fix that. And it was this project that earned him 2018’s Jean and Dick Pettifor Award from the Psychology Foundation of Canada.
The estate of Jean Pettifor established a scholarship fund for graduate student research. The award supports graduate student research projects in the area of professional ethics with respect to the practice of psychology. It is designed with a special focus toward diversity – as examples they cite ethnicity, gender, and disability.
Konrad hopes to figure out a good method to ensure that trans and non-binary people are included in psychological research, and the right way to go about doing it. What kind of terminology and questions might offend them? How can researchers design their studies to make this population feel included? How can we create experiments that are specifically designed in a way that this oft-marginalized group has a voice as strong as that of their cis-gendered peers? Konrad is on his way to figuring that out. Figuring things out is something he does well.
There are a few canards in psychology, and maybe the most common one is that psychologists know an awful lot about undergrad psychology students. This stands to reason – the most available group to any university student is their peer group and classmates. The bulk of the studies done by that cohort are done ON that cohort – and so is born a canard.
This is one of the data-collection issues psychologists must overcome once they start doing larger and more involved studies outside of a classroom. But while they’re in school, what to do? Konrad Czechowski had a pretty clever solution. Of course, he’ll tell you it was luck and happenstance. I happen to think it was good planning.
Konrad did a study on non-consensual condom removal. He became interested in the subject when media reports started mentioning “stealthing” – the secretive removal of a condom during sex without informing your partner. Those reports appeared to indicate that this practice was on the rise, that it was becoming a pervasive problem among young people and on college campuses.
That was good news for Konrad – he was already ON a college campus! The University of Ottawa campus, to be exact, where he had access to all those university students about whom these stories were being written. If you can’t get another group to participate in a study, create a study for the group you have!
Konrad says his study was about “non-consensual condom removal” or, NCCR as the kids call it. It is NOT about “stealthing”, as the media calls it. The “non-consensual” part of the phrase is clearly the most important part.
A genial PhD student with a wide smile, Konrad is generally reserved and affable, with a quick laugh and a quick wit. His eyes twinkle when he talks about his childhood dream of becoming a professional volleyball player, doing the circuit somewhere in Eastern Europe. He’s charmingly self-deprecating when he talks about how he lied about his height to play his position, and how he realized that he would never grow the other foot he needed to fulfill that ambition. And his passion for the sport comes through in his eyes when he talks about his previous volleyball coaching experiences.
It’s in emphasizing the “non-consensual” part of NCCR that Konrad’s eyes harden. While his study on NCCR was designed for journal publication, he has become invested in seeing a change. He recalls the truly reprehensible message boards he encountered while researching this phenomenon, boards that insisted that men have a right to women’s bodies to be treated as they please. And sometimes much worse. While Konrad makes a point to say that this is not the only reason someone might engage in NCCR, or the most common reason, it’s clear he has been affected a fair amount by going down that particular internet rabbit hole. Given the high prevalence of NCCR he observed in his sample, he speculates that most perpetrators of NCCR may have a range of other motivations for perpetrating it, something he hopes to investigate in future research.
He even enlisted the help of a law scholar to write about the potential Canadian legal implications around NCCR, in the hope that it one day gets written more specifically into Canadian law. Given the high prevalence of NCCR he observed in his sample, he speculates that most perpetrators may have a range of motivations for perpetrating it, something he hopes to investigate in future research.
It was while studying NCCR that Konrad got his next idea for a study that can hopefully close some of the gaps in psychological research. The NCCR study surveyed 592 undergrad students, then split them into two groups – male and female. What did the men think of NCCR? Was it a different assessment than that of the women? How many gay men had NCCR perpetrated against them vs. straight women? All of this was available in the data set. They surveyed 153 men and 435 women, giving them a substantial set of data for both.
But what of the other 4 undergrads? The ones who, by virtue of being transgender or non-binary, did not identify as either a man or a woman? What do you do with their answers? There are a few options, none of them great. You can take the biological sex of their birth and lump them in with that group. You can leave those who identify as binary-trans with the current gender with which they identify. You can ask them to pick one or the other. Or you can, as so many studies do right now, just exclude them entirely from your data sample. The more often this happens, however, the less heard trans and non-binary voices will become. To Konrad, it didn’t seem right to exclude them from the study but it also didn’t seem right to force them into another group without telling them that’s what he’d be doing.
And so Konrad has embarked on his new project – how best to include trans and non-binary people in psychological research. His study on trans and non-binary data inclusion is just getting under way, partly funded by the Jean and Dick Pettifor Award he received last year. For the time being there are no results to show, but he hopes that when he’s done he will have created a more inclusive, leave-no-person-behind process for future studies of a similar nature.
In the meantime, he and two colleagues are putting the finishing touches on a three-pronged study that overlaps a fair amount. One is studying “ghosting” – the practice of, rather than breaking up, simply ignoring the other person and blocking them so they go away. Another is looking at the sharing of nude photographs, without the receiver’s consent.
Konrad’s portion is ‘disproportionate reactions to online rejection’. Much like his initial look into NCCR, this project stemmed from the truly startling things he heard from female friends. Rejection that leads to death threats, rape threats, stalking and escalating demands. (Send me more nude pictures or the ones I already have will be sent to your family and your employer and pasted all over school.) And his research has, once again, involved some disturbing and misogynist messages his participants shared with him, reporting on the threats they received after rejecting people online.
The three of them are hoping for acceptance to present their findings on this study at the CPA 2020 convention, and have submitted their symposium proposal. So you might see Konrad there, talking about the project he did while he was doing that other project and starting this third project. All of which had the perfect research subjects right there in the building – undergrad students! Konrad’s friends and his peers. And, one day, the students who will be sitting in his chair. Making the world a better place through studies of their own.
Angelisa Hatfield is the CPA’s Undergraduate Student representative for the University of Guelph–Humber …
Melissa Mueller is the CPA’s Graduate Student Affairs Officer, collaborating with Graduate Student reps on campuses across Canada. She is also a boxer.
Nicole Boles is the CPA’s Undergraduate Student Affairs Officer, collaborating with Undergrad Student reps on campuses across Canada. She is also a Polish folk dancer.
Psychology Month Profile: Meghan Norris – The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science
We’re closing out Psychology Month by connecting you with a resource that could help you with one of the career paths you may have read about in February. Dr. Meghan Norris’ open-source book The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science.
Meghan Norris – The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science
Throughout Psychology Month (February) we have been highlighting people who have completed advanced psychology degrees and gone on to work in a field outside clinical practice and academia. Some work in the aviation industry, like Marais Bester or Gregory Craig. Others are business owners, like Susan Underhill and Lauren Florko. And still more are government scientists, like Natalie Jones and Chrissy Chubala.
Part of this campaign has been designed to show people in general what psychology is, and what people trained in the discipline do all around us. Another goal has been to show students what a wealth of possibilities await at the end of a psychology degree. It is in this pursuit that our campaign has intersected with that of Dr. Meghan Norris, a social psychologist and the undergraduate chair in psychology at Queens University.
Meghan has created an open-source (FREE online) book, The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science. It is a guide for psychology students featuring all the things she wishes she had known as a psychology student herself. This begins with obvious practical advice for the job-seeking student. The best way to construct an email, leave a voicemail, or ask for a letter of reference. It moves on to things that might not be top-of-mind. How to dress at a conference. Where to wear your nametag. Which plate is which at a formal dinner setting. And how to practice holding food in your left hand at a reception so your right is free for shaking hands.
The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science contains a lot of information about the possible career paths open to those with a background in psychology. There is a list in the first chapter of all the skills upon which employers are currently placing a premium. They include skills related to leadership, teamwork, communication (written and oral), problem-solving, work ethic, initiative, adaptability, and analytic and technical skills. All areas where Meghan realized psychology students tend to tick all the boxes.
There are some practical and specific job possibilities included in the book, the way we’ve included them in our Psychology Month campaign. Community mental health worker (like Evangeline Danseco), grassroots organizer (like Amanda Parriag), community development (like Troy Forcier), program or project director (like Alexandra Thompson), policy analyst (like Natalie Jones), the list goes on and on. But it does more than that. The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science is designed a little more like a roadmap.
As Meghan says, the earlier students start thinking about this stuff, the more opportunities they’re going to have. The work of career development is incredibly important, but it doesn’t tend to feel urgent for people. You can’t start networking a week before submitting a job application. Chipping away at small healthy behaviours when it comes to a career is a good thing to do as early as you can. And once you have started down the path to an education in psychology, a world of possibilities awaits.
The Director of Marketing and Membership at the Canadian Psychological Association, Leanna Verrucci’s background in psychology has led her to jobs in TV, newspapers, travel, entrepreneurship, and now the CPA.
Leanna has a Master’s in Child Development from Carleton University, and that degree has carried her all over the world, from Toronto to Ottawa and then back to Toronto and then Ottawa. With quite a bit of time in Tuscany tucked in the middle. Leanna is the Director of Marketing and Membership at the Canadian Psychological Association, but her journey to get here has taken many turns.
She has worked in television, as a field producer and reporter for CBC TV and other stations. She started Food & Leisure newspaper here in Ottawa back in the 90s before selling it. She has been a hiking and biking guide, a communications professor, and the Director of Bespoke Travel. There were also stints as a Marketing Manager, a Senior Brand Manager, a Communications Director and, more recently, the Managing Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Algonquin College.
It’s a lengthy resume, and it’s probably longer but I couldn’t be bothered clicking ‘next page’ on LinkedIn. I had just one question for Leanna – how does all this tie together, and how did psychology play a role?
“The one through-line in all my work has been communications. In television, newspapers, travel, and marketing it all really is about communication. In addition to learning how to do research and gather and analyze data, the main thing psychology taught me was how to speak to people, how to listen to them, and the right questions to ask. It’s important as a manager to know what motivates each individual, and how to play to their strengths.”
In the time she has been at the CPA, Leanna has built a cohesive and complimentary team. Yussra, with her sharp analytic mind and quiet persona. Kathryn, who has terrific people skills and a gregarious demeanour. I’m probably good at some stuff too. And, of course, Leanna - who holds it all together with spreadsheets, forward thinking, and strategic plans that make our lives easier and create an environment in which we enjoy coming to work every day.
As the Director of Research and Strategic Planning for BC Corrections, Dr. Leigh Greiner leads a multi-disciplinary staff on a huge variety of evaluations, assessments, and projects.
When she was in school, completing her PhD in Forensic Psychology at Carleton University, Dr. Leigh Greiner learned from experts in psychopathy, risk assessment, female offenders, sex offenders, youthful offenders, and more. All were areas of interest then, and all remain relevant to Leigh now as the Director of Research and Strategic Planning for BC Corrections. She leads a talented and diverse multi-disciplinary staff with backgrounds in mathematics, criminology, education, and many other disciplines.
“My education gave me a solid understanding of so many areas of forensic psychology, including where the field has been and where it’s going, and evidence-based practice more broadly in Corrections. As my role touches so many aspects of our business, this breadth of knowledge has been so useful, as have the relationships I built while completing my degrees—many of these relationships I have maintained in my current role and are people with whom I continue to work collaboratively today!”
Day to day, Leigh and her team are responsible for examining the effectiveness of correctional programs, assessing the need for new jails, providing data to inform policy or practice decisions, working to improve the quality and usefulness of the organization’s data, providing research expertise when developing new correctional programs…and the list goes on. Their portfolio is extremely large, and they are rarely left twiddling their thumbs.
It’s the variety that Leigh enjoys most.
“Every day is different, and each day brings new problems to dissect and analyze… and hopefully solve! I’ll admit that at times it can be challenging to juggle all the various demands placed on our unit, as we support the research and data needs of the entire branch. However, being part of an organization that values evidence and wants to make decisions based on data really makes my job easy. Being able to see the impact our work has on the organization and, though less directly, on the individuals in custody and those under community supervision makes the job very fulfilling.”
A wide scope of knowledge is great preparation for a wide scope of responsibilities. And in BC, from evaluating programs designed to help offenders to change their behaviour, to determining how effective body scanners are at detecting contraband, Leigh and her team are right in the thick of it.
In the growing field of Aviation Psychology, PhD psychologists are increasingly being hired to help keep air travel safe. One of them is Dr. Marais Bester, a Manager of Assessments and Psychology at Qatar Airways.
Despite some tragic news stories in the past few years, air travel remains the safest mode of mass transportation. It can seem otherwise, as plane crashes make the news far more often than motorcycle accidents and sinking boats. But a lot goes into putting planes in the air, and just as much effort goes into keeping people safe while they’re up there.
A lot of those safety protocols are the purview of a rapidly-growing discipline, that of aviation psychology. Dr. Marais Bester has been in that field for more than five years, since graduating with a PhD in Industrial Psychology from the University of South Africa. Seven months ago, he moved from Dubai to Qatar to become a Manager of Assessments and Psychology at Qatar Airways.
Working with a team of two other Industrial/Organizational Psychology PhDs, Marais is responsible for ensuring that the personnel operating Qatar Airways aircraft are healthy, supported, and working well with their teams. This begins with psychometrics for talent acquisition (the job interview process) and continues through talent development (workshops, trust, resilience and team building).
Pilots must be resilient and cope well with pressure. They also must be one of those rare individuals who are both meticulous rule followers and are able to think on their feet and act very quickly. The cabin crew must be open to diversity and embrace new experiences, and have a high aptitude for teamwork and cooperation.
Like the employees with whom he works, Marais is always learning and changing at his own job. He is implementing best practices and creating new standards all the time. He maintains membership in the British Psychological Society and the European Association for Aviation Psychology (EAAP), to connect with like-minded people in this quickly growing field.
After a tragic incident in 2015 when a German co-pilot took his own life, and the lives of his passengers with him, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) has required airlines to have psychologists on staff. This is one of the reasons the field is growing so quickly around the world, which Marais thinks is wonderful – after all, it will make air travel even safer than it already is. He quotes Richard Branson:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
So Marais and his team take care of their employees, through career facilitation and coaching, career guidance, psychometrics and team building. And in doing so they are not only helping those pilots and crew members in their lives, they are helping to make the skies safer for all of us.
A Senior Program Evaluation Officer with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Dr. Natalie Jones says her colleagues and fellow researchers are the highlight of her job.
Dr. Natalie Jennifer Jones wears many hats. Singer-songwriter, perpetual learner, yoga enthusiast, cat person. Today though, we’re going to talk about just one of those hats. The one she wears as a Senior Program Evaluation Officer with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
What this means is that she is part of a team that examines the effectiveness and the efficiency of federal granting programs. They determine whether these funding programs are achieving the goals they were designed to achieve. They go into the field to interview the recipients of those grants, they do data analysis, and a vast range of other things on any given day.
(A note for those who are looking to obtain SSHRC grants – Natalie has nothing to do with that process. So buttering her up will not help you achieve this goal. That said, if you want to ingratiate yourself to Natalie for any other reason, volunteer at a cat rescue.)
Natalie completed her PhD in Forensic Psychology at Carleton, and SSHRC was not on her radar as a career option. And while she acknowledges that the job she’s currently doing is outside her area of study from a content perspective, she says,
“All of the research skills, and core analytical skills, that I developed in grad school are highly transferable to my current work environment. Everything from research design to quantitative methods, those are skills that I use every day. So there’s actually a lot of overlap – it’s really interesting, and I love working there.”
Many of us can attest that our co-workers make all the difference in whether we like our job or dread going to work. And so it is with Natalie, whose favourite thing about SSHRC is her colleagues. Half of them work with Natural Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC), as theirs is a joint evaluation division with SSHRC. Many have psychology backgrounds just like she does, and many have a background in a wide variety of other scientific fields. They all work together toward a common goal.
“It’s really important to have a group of colleagues that you get along with and that you respect. They’re all very good at what they do – a lot of attention to detail and they care about quality. We’re very like-minded in that way. I’m proud to call them my friends. We help each other out professionally, but I know they always have my back in my personal life as well.”
That personal life is as busy for Natalie as her professional life. Her hobbies include: enrolling in a 16-month graduate diploma program in Public Policy and Program Evaluation, which she completed this past December. She suspects that she will still be enrolling in classes and continuing to learn well into her 80s. She’s involved with cat rescue charities, and planning to get back on stage at her local cafés as a singer-songwriter. It’s a safe bet that when she does, the first three or four tables will be packed with scientists and researchers from SSHRC and NSERC. Natalie’s co-workers and friends, both in the lab and out.
Dr. Jen Welter is many things – the first woman to coach in the NFL, and the first to play running back in professional football. An author, speaker, TV producer and fashion designer. And also a PhD psychologist.
For much of Psychology Month, we have been putting the spotlight on one job at a time, showcasing the variety of careers populated by people who have advanced degrees in psychology. But what if you didn’t have to pick just one thing? What if you could use your psychology PhD to do everything? Dr. Jen Welter is doing as many things with her psychology PhD (from Capella University) as she possibly can.
She runs girls-only football camps, as well as football-and-tech camps called KickGlass with her partner Mike Brown (former NFL player turned tech entrepreneur). She’s just coming back from being the keynote speaker at VISA’s pitch competition for female founders doing great things in technology and commerce during New York Fashion Week. She’s working on a project with Ryerson University’s Experiential Sports Lab to reach for gender equality in sports media. She’s the executive producer of a TV show called Fangirl, set to debut soon about two superfans who get a chance to run their favourite college football team. She’s even talking about collaborating on a project with high-fashion designer Vivienne Hu, something more street-savvy than high-end.
Before getting to this point, Jen did a whole lot more. Things no one else had ever done, and that most would never consider doing. She was the first female professional football player in a contact position (running back for the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League). The first female head football coach in international competition (Team Australia for the 2017 World Championships). And the first female coach in the NFL (2015 with the Arizona Cardinals). She also played on Team USA twice at the world championships, winning gold medals in both 2010 and 2013 (both times defeating Canada).
She tells us that her psychology training and background has come into play throughout all of this. As a football player and coach, she says
“Even as I was learning things in school I would try them out in my own games. Something as simple as sitting on the bench and looking up at people. Your body posture says a lot, and you would never find me with my head down. That was something I learned in psychology – the way we interpret the behaviour of other people, and realizing that the impact you have on your competition is just as relevant between the plays as it is during the plays you make. I still work with athletes on a lot of that to this day, in both big and small ways.”
Jen, in addition to producing TV, breaking barriers for women in sport, collaborating on fashion projects and encouraging young girls to break through preconceptions, is currently working on a follow-up to her book Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL. The follow-up will focus a lot more on the lowlights of her career than the highlights. She says it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t get spoken about very often, since we all tend to talk about the highs without truly examining disappointments and struggles. For example,
“My first book got turned down by everyone because they said ‘women in football doesn’t sell’. I mean…I’m pretty sure I was the first – how many times have you tried? I’ve done it on the field, and now I have to do it in literature?”
Then, she sums up her entire post-psychology-PhD career in one sentence.
“It’s constantly answering questions that other people have not even known should be, or could be, asked.”
Last year, Eva Best earned a CPA award for her thesis on the ‘positivity effect’. This year, she scored a terrific research job at Gameloft, one of the biggest mobile gaming companies in Canada.
When Eva Best stays up way too late, it’s because she’s gone down a rabbit hole on Wikipedia, researching marine animals and getting more and more engrossed in the nesting habits of the leatherback sea turtle. That, or she’s strumming the ukulele, shredding on her Fender Stratocaster, and making music until the wee hours.
Many of the rest of us stay up way too late playing Overdrive City or Disney Magic Kingdoms on our iPad. And we are the people who are of particular interest to companies like Gameloft. Eva is the manager of the qualitative research department in user experience at Gameloft Montreal, one of the biggest mobile gaming companies in Canada. Psychology graduates, and researchers like Eva, are becoming more and more a part of gaming companies as their particular sets of skills are ideally suited to the job. They allow gaming companies, and really any company that has a service or an interface used by human beings, to make decisions based on reports and data that is accurate, correct, complete, and relevant.
Qualitative research in a gaming company is currently more geared toward usability and functionality. Whether an app works, how easy it is to navigate, and so on. Moreso than in the past, the approach to user experience is a ‘holistic’ one, and people with backgrounds in research – especially those whose research experience is in a multidisciplinary environment – are increasingly in demand.
Eva graduated with her Master of Science in psychology from the University of Montreal, then obtained a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification from the Project Management Institute, precisely so she could get a job like this one.
Last year, Eva’s Master’s thesis on the “positivity effect” earned her a Certificate of Academic Excellence from the CPA. The positivity effect is a phenomenon where elderly adults tend to rate negative stimuli as less negative and positive stimuli as more positive than do younger people. Eva’s research provided a ‘proof of concept’ that this trend appears to be almost a straight line from birth, as children rate their responses to stimuli more negatively than do young adults, who in turn report more negative feelings than older adults, and so on.
Her project proposed a new theory on “lifespan emotional development”. One that put the positivity effect at the peak of development by showing that it can be produced in younger people as well. When they are desensitized by exposure to a negative stimulus, even younger people are likely to rate all other stimuli in a more positive way. Even the most neutral (boring) stimulus can feel more positive under these circumstances.
Gaming makes life less boring while in the waiting room or on the bus, for example. Figuring out how to improve your gaming experience is the goal of the qualitative research department. Who better to help create and ensure a positive experience than Eva? If she can make you as interested and invested in a mobile game as she is in gaming, sea turtles and the ukulele, then mission accomplished!
Dr. Lauren Florko is the founder of Triple Threat Consulting, providing managerial consulting for corporate social responsibility, change management, and organizational development.
Dr. Lauren Florko
“Consultant” is such a nondescript term, isn’t it? Virtually everyone can style themselves a “consultant” when writing a CV or a LinkedIn profile. Which is why it’s good that Lauren Florko can get a little more specific than simply saying she’s “self-employed” as a “consultant”.
Lauren created Triple Threat Consulting, a firm which provides managerial consulting for a variety of projects - from corporate social responsibility to change management to organizational development. With a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology specializing in workplace stress, Lauren’s statistics training gave her a competitive advantage over similar consultants who come from a HR background.
Triple Threat Consulting plays on the film industry’s play on ‘triple threats’ as she specializes in Talent Management. The “Triple” also plays on the concept of triple bottom lines (planet and people outcomes on top of profits).
Triple Threat Consulting also fills a unique market need with psychological assessments, thanks to Lauren’s training. This means empirically-based strategies with practical implementations. Statistical analysis and reporting to produce key business insights. And the ability to engage a variety of audiences through keynotes and workshops.
The founder of a Multi-disciplined Research Lab, one of Triple Threat’s clients, says:
“She's doing advanced research methodologies...doing hierarchical linear modeling and item response analysis...She is highly motivated, particularly with high end analysis – she gets excited about that. She is very punctual with delivery."
What Lauren likes most about her job, she says, is the work-life balance it affords her. Well that, and of course the excitement she derives from high-end analysis to drive better business decisions.
Heather has a long career in public service, working in three different federal departments. She recently moved into Substance-Related Harms, to help tackle the opioid crisis.
This is an excerpt from a larger article written by Dr. Heather Orpana in this month’s issue of Psynopsis. Click this link to read the whole article.
My path to a career in psychology was in no way a straight one. I started an undergraduate degree in science with a specialization in physics before completing two years of a baccalaureate in nursing and then finally switching to, and graduating with, an honours degree in psychology. After spending a summer as an intern at a non-profit organization writing plain language summaries of research studies that would impact patients, I decided to pursue a career in research and applied for my doctorate. I wanted to be part of the system that creates the evidence used to promote the health of the population.
I completed my doctorate in experimental psychology at the University of Ottawa, at the same time that the university was establishing a multidisciplinary program in Population Health. I was very fortunate to be funded by Health Canada’s National Health Research and Development Program, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research during my doctorate and was hired by Health Canada to conduct policy-relevant data analysis before I had finished my program.
It has been sixteen years since I started my career in public service. During that time, I have worked in three federal departments: Health Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Every single position I have held has benefited tremendously from my training in psychological science. My first analysis project demonstrated the relationship between mental health and healthy living behaviours, in 2003, using Canada’s first national mental health survey. After working for several years at Health Canada, conducting analysis, and contributing to data policy and coordination, I moved to Statistics Canada to focus on research and analysis. There, I engaged in research in the areas of healthy weights, healthy aging, and mental health, all informed by my education in psychology.
Most recently, I have been appointed as a Senior Research Scientist and am working in the Substance-related Harms Division, supporting surveillance and applied research contributions to addressing the opioid overdose crisis. In this role, I advise on research methods and conduct research studies to inform our understanding of how the crisis is evolving.
Public health cannot address the complex problems we are faced with in the 21st century without the knowledge and skills of psychological science researchers. I have yet to find a single public health issue that is not informed by our discipline. Even public health issues that may seem like they belong more in a wet lab, such as anti-microbial resistance, can be addressed only with the incorporation of a behavioural perspective. I hope that other psychological science researchers see their value in contributing to improving the health of all Canadians.
Dr. Gregory Craig is part of a team of “human factors researchers” at the National Research Council. His work might one day lead to a new frontier in aviation – pilotless airplanes.
One day, you might take a flight from Saskatoon to Dublin. There will be in-flight movies, tiny difficult-to-open bags of peanuts, flight attendants distributing cheap headphones and tiny pillows, and free tiny cans of wine once you’re over international waters. There will, however, be one major difference. On this flight, there will be no pilot.
At least, such a thing is possible. But not until a whole lot more studying is done on the subject. Some of those studies are currently being conducted by Dr. Gregory Craig and a team of human factors researchers at the National Research Council of Canada.
Gregory has been involved in a wide variety of research projects. He’s done research on night vision goggles, displays for infrared cameras for search and rescue, and the design of symbolic information displays for pilots. Currently, he’s involved in examining ‘trust in automation’ to assess pilots’ trust in automatic flight systems. This ranges from basic elements like an off-the-shelf autopilot to looking at fully autonomous (no pilots) flight.
Gregory spent his formative years at Carleton University, earning a PhD in Cognitive Psychology in 1997. While his current role is mostly unrelated to his studies, he credits the people he met along the way for getting him to where he is today.
“There is a wide gulf between what I studied in university and the type of research that I do now. The main elements of my university studies that helped were basic experimental design, document editing and data analysis. Much of my training in applied research came from one of my supervisors who was employed at the Communications Research Centre and an adjunct at Carleton. He encouraged me to participate in several of the applied research projects that he worked on for CRC. The other source of applied research thinking came from a course for which I was a teaching assistant at Carleton. The course was a basic introduction to sensation and perception, but the prof teaching the course had a large number of industrial design students in the class. For those students, the prof took the time to explain how basic elements of sensation and perception could be applied to the design of systems and products intended for use by the general population.”
One might expect a psychologist to lead project teams, analyze data, submit research proposals, prepare reports and presentations, and manage projects. But maybe not to design and conduct flight tests, evaluate advanced cockpit technologies, and explore human factors issues for pilots, crew and passengers.
So think about Gregory Craig the next time you’re on a plane – it might be his work that enhanced the technology in the cockpit, or designed the display used to navigate. And while you’re doing that, you might want to check to see if, up front in the cockpit, there’s still a pilot.
Dr. Alexandra Thompson is a Program Leader with the NRC working on ‘High Performance Buildings’. Her team aims to reduce energy emissions by identifying industry, scientific, technological & societal issues that can stall the adoption of new technologies.
Alexandra Thompson is helping to devise a vision for future scientific exploration, as a Program Leader with the National Research Council of Canada. She manages a large team and a portfolio of science and engineering projects focused on a strategic goal. Specifically, that goal is focused on the ‘High Performance Buildings’ program.
This program, established in 2013, aims to reduce energy emissions in buildings by identifying the industry, scientific, technological and societal issues that could stall the adoption of new technologies. Alexandra is working at knowledge mobilization (the translation of science to action) to ensure the science is used for environmental change. She also has the chance to encourage younger researchers to develop their careers, scientific interests and to have confidence in their abilities.
In 2007, Alexandra obtained her PhD in environmental psychology and human factors from the University of Southampton in the UK. She says her training has aided greatly with, among other things, knowledge mobilization.
“My psychology training has enabled me to ensure good scientific methodologies and statistical analysis are used and the ethics of a project are considered. Also, working in an engineering multi-disciplinary environment understanding the human and societal implications of an engineering project has helped with the applicability of projects to real world conditions or expectations.”
As climate change becomes more and more devastating, and as environmental concerns become the number one national priority, programs like ‘High Performance Buildings’ will be at the forefront of the effort to curb emissions. Knowledge mobilization to that effect is becoming more critical than ever. We’re glad that Alexandra Thompson, and others like her, are working on those exact things. Bringing about the change that is needed to tackle the most serious issue of our time.
Working as a Design Researcher on a suite of business intelligence software tools at IBM’s Ottawa studio, Robin Langerak says “I get to do a little bit of everything I loved about running my own research studies as a psychology graduate student!”
It’s convenient when you can find a career in the city where you are completing your PhD. Such was the case for Robin Langerak, who began working at IBM in their Ottawa Studio while completing her doctorate in Cognitive Psychology at Carleton University. She has now been there more than a year, working as a Design Researcher on a suite of business intelligence software tools designed and developed by the Ottawa product team.
Robin provides design recommendations that will help improve the user experience for this software. That involves everything from problem definition to study design and data collection to synthesis and communication of research findings. Psychology has prepared her for all of this in a big way. She says,
“Data collection, storage, and analysis methods that I learned in training are invaluable at my job. I also rely on the understanding of human thought and motivation that I studied in school as well as the techniques I learned to check my bias and measure constructs as accurately as possible.“
The best thing about her job?
“I get to do a little bit of everything I loved about running my own research studies as a psychology graduate student in a fast-paced, high impact environment.“
Dr. Suzanne Simpson founded the talent management firm Human Resource Systems Group Ltd. more than 30 years ago. Now the CEO, HRSG is a global company, hiring people and taking on clients from all over the world
For much of this month, we have been focusing on jobs and careers available to psychology majors once they graduate from school. Suzanne Simpson not only found one of those careers, she helps others find theirs. Suzanne is the founder and CEO of Human Resource Systems Group Ltd. (HRSG), a software-as-a-service talent management firm.
What that means is that her company creates software for human resources departments to simplify their work. Need to build the perfect job description, so you can attract the perfect employee? HRSG has the software for that. Then they have an interview guide built for you, so you can make the correct decision. Now you have a new employee with a job description that puts them and their management on the exact same page. From there, that employee might use one of HRSG’s career pathing programs, complete with assessments and learning resources to help them in their current job today, and to reach their dream jobs tomorrow.
All of this is built based on Suzanne’s training in psychology. She earned her PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Ottawa, and says the training she received there supports the main focus of HRSG’s service and software offering to their clients.
HRSG celebrated 30 years in business in 2019 and offers its services and products to organizations worldwide. HRSG employs professionals trained in Industrial / Organizational and other related disciplines from across Canada and around the world.
It is challenging to build a business, and very rewarding when it comes to fruition. Suzanne takes satisfaction in offering a service that is highly valued by her clients, and embraces the continuous learning and innovation that comes with her role as CEO.
Dr. Chrissy Chubala helps naval personnel make better decisions during mission planning and execution. She is a Defence Scientist in Maritime Decision Support at Defence Research & Development Canada’s Atlantic Research Centre.
My name is Chrissy Chubala, and I am a Defence Scientist in Maritime Decision Support at Defence Research & Development Canada’s Atlantic Research Centre. My job is to guide and assist in the development of tools that will help naval personnel make better decisions during mission planning and execution, from the perspective of cognitive psychology. This involves a consideration of human factors, human-computer interactions, team dynamics, and basic cognition.
My training in psychology (PhD, Cognitive Psychology, University of Manitoba 2017) has provided me with both concrete and abstract forms of knowledge that help me in my current role. The concrete skill sets of experimental design and statistical inference are directly applicable to my work, although the constraints and goals of applied research are different enough from those of academia that some relearning and rethinking has had to occur.
Thankfully, the more abstract forms of knowledge provided by my training have positioned me well for this transition. My training in psychology taught me versatility, creativity, and lateral thinking. I have the ability to learn about a new topic very quickly, to creatively apply my existing knowledge and skill sets to new scenarios, and to find connections between seemingly disparate ideas or fields of study. With these abstract skills in hand, I have been able to adapt my more concrete areas of expertise to the requirements of the job.
What I enjoy most about my current position is the level of structure it provides, the direct sense of impact that comes from conducting applied research, and the ability to collaborate and exchange ideas with a very diverse group of scientists.
I receive specific problems to solve but I am free to explore them in any manner I see fit; this provides me with some structure around which to focus my efforts, but enough flexibility to follow my interests. Moreover, the ability to see the direct effects of my research on the lives and work of others is rewarding in a way that my academic career in experimental psychology was not. Finally, I get to work with interesting and brilliant researchers from all areas of study, from physics to chemistry to computer science. Not only do I get to learn new things I would otherwise know nothing about, but my own unique perspective and expertise are a valued part of the whole and I get to teach as much as I learn.
Amy Bucher graduated with a PhD from a psychology program that no longer exists, and that made her skill set unique in the post-grad world. She puts those skills to use at Mad*Pow, a design agency that improves peoples’ experiences with technology, services, organizations and each other.
“Mad*Pow leverages strategic design and the psychology of motivation to create innovative experiences and compelling digital solutions that are good for people and good for business.”
That is Mad*Pow’s mission statement, ripped right from their webpage. Mad*Pow employs medical doctors and all kinds of behaviour change design experts. But perhaps you would be surprised to learn that Mad*Pow’s behavior change experts come from a variety of training backgrounds. Currently, there is only one person on the team with a PhD in psychology!
That one person is Dr. Amy Bucher, the vice president of behaviour change design at Mad*Pow. Amy brings a unique skill set to her position, and took a rather unique path to get there. She started school at Harvard, doing an undergrad focused on social psychology. From there, she moved on to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbour for her Master’s and PhD in Psychology. Although that is the official title of her degree, it was achieved a little over a decade ago in a program that no longer exists.
It was called Organizational Psychology. It was not an Industrial/Organizational program of the type we see offered now, it was more as Amy describes it a “contextualized social psychology program”. That means that when she graduated she was more of a social psychologist, albeit one with a deep knowledge of workplaces and organizations.
Amy realized as she was nearing the end of her schooling that she did not want to go into academia. That track meant specialization, and she wanted to broaden her horizons rather than narrow her focus. She began to work with other researchers and learned many different research methods before graduation. She learned how to dive into information and deal in the “grey areas”. After all, research is always in progress.
That comfort with the “grey areas” has served her well at Mad*Pow, as often clients will ask Amy for definitive answers on how to tackle a problem. She is adept at explaining that while formative research can provide a direction, it can’t often come up with a concrete and foolproof series of steps to take to achieve an aim. It’s important to experiment with different approaches that are specific to the clients’ customers and their needs to figure out the best solution.
Her desire to broaden her scope is also an asset, as Amy thrives on having a variety of projects and problems to work through. She likes being exposed to new things. She says,
“Right now, I’m leading a project to understand what people with a rare genetic condition might be looking for from an online portal to support their condition management. So we’ve designed moderator guides, recruited people with this condition, and recruited people who serve those with this condition to conduct interviews. We’ll be creating output reports with insights from that research, doing a workshop with the client that we will also design, then translating all the insights from the research into designs for this portal.”
Amy says that before starting this project, she had never heard of this particular genetic condition before (it is very rare). Now she’s had the opportunity to learn quite a bit about it and understand more about the day-to-day lives of the people who live with it.
“I feel excited by this type of new knowledge that I don’t think I’d encounter in any other way.”
She’s also excited at the prospect of some new colleagues. There are many different types of researchers at Mad*Pow (which further helps Amy broaden her horizons as she learns from them), but soon there will likely be a few more psychology grads joining the fold. As Amy says, there are now many great opportunities outside academia for graduating researchers. And working alongside Amy seems like a pretty great opportunity.
A writer, blogger, public speaker, and volunteer board member at the Psychology Foundation of Canada, Liane Davey has made her mark on corporate culture with her consultancy group 3COze.
“You need to have more conflict.”
This is Dr. Liane Davey’s advice to almost every organization with which she works. These include enormous companies like TD Bank, Amazon, and smaller companies like Shoretel. Chris Burgy, former VP of Strategy at Shoretel, says of Liane and her company 3COze,
“Liane supported us in rolling out a methodology for productive communication and conflict to our top 100 leaders in the company. Without a doubt, I fervently recommend Liane to any company seeking to improve their organization’s accountability, communication methods and for those seeking a fantastic facilitator for strategic level planning.”
3COze is named in conjunction with their mission statement. They seek to transform the way people “communicate, connect, and contribute” in their organizations. Liane is the co-founder and principal of 3COze, and brings her “more conflict” approach to CEOs and senior leadership teams around the country and across the world.
She says the number one thing that’s getting in the way of productivity is that people are avoiding conflict and being passive-aggressive. That means conflict sits unresolved causing a lack of productivity, eroding trust and engagement, and causing stress for individuals.
Liane says the things she learned in obtaining her PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Waterloo are the same ideas she puts into practice today.
“It’s very much applied social psychology. So, issues of motivation, team dynamics, conflict, culture, all the sorts of things that are the bread and butter of organizational psychology have been my whole career.”
And what a career it has been! Not only does Liane work with some of the biggest CEOs and companies around the world, she is also an author (her book The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track is available at online book sellers everywhere), a blogger (at www.lianedavey.com) and a public speaker, bringing her message of productive conflict to corporate crowds everywhere.
She is also a volunteer member of the board of trustees at the Psychology Foundation of Canada (PFC), a charity that brands itself a “child-based (birth-18) mental health promotion organization” thanks in part to Liane’s strategic skills in directing the board and the group. And also her ability to create productive conflict, and not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations.
She first encountered the PFC at a fundraising breakfast twelve years ago, and was impressed by what they were able to do with so few resources. With just a handful of staff members and an army of volunteer facilitators, they were able to create resilience, attachment, and stress management skills in what are now hundreds of thousands of Canadian children every year.
When not writing, blogging, speaking, volunteering, or whipping a group of executives into shape, what does someone like Liane do? Well, she says it’s often important to do things at which you are terrible. With that in mind she just had a Bob Ross paint night with her kids, and the painting now rests proudly in her house. A Bob Ross paint night sounds like just the kind of soothing, mellow thing that might be as far from “conflict” as possible. And even the expert on the subject likely needs a break from conflict now and then, if only for a little while.
A defence scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada, Angela Febbraro works to create messaging that counters the recruitment propaganda put out by extremist groups like ISIS.
What messaging does an extremist group, like ISIS, use to recruit young people to join? Is their messaging different for young men than it is for young women? And how can we create a counter-messaging strategy to dissuade those people from a life of extremism? These are the questions currently being tackled by Angela Febbraro and her team of (mostly social psychologists) at Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).
Angela is a Defence Scientist, and has studied all kinds of issues pertaining to national defence, most of them around gender. Early on, she studied the leadership styles of women in leadership positions in the military. Did they feel the need to conform to a more stereotypically “masculine” leadership style, or were they comfortable forging their own? It turns out that women in those leadership positions did not feel the pressure to behave in a more “masculine” fashion, but at the same time women in more subordinate positions felt this pressure quite acutely.
In discussing the studies in which she’s involved, Angela speaks a lot about context. Early on in her school journey, she was struck by the notion that human behaviour depends in such an enormous way on the context in which that behaviour occurs. Now, after all that school and a PhD in Applied Social Psychology from the University of Guelph, context still matters a great deal.
Yes, the messaging from extremist groups target men and women differently. But counter-messaging must take into account much more than just gender. Angela and her team look at the local landscape in the areas that are being targeted. The culture in that part of the world, the method through which they receive the extremist messaging. A counter-messaging campaign to prevent the radicalization of a young woman in the Idlib Governorate in Syria might be vastly different than one targeting a young man in Maple Ridge BC. Or even one targeting a similar young woman in a neighbouring province of Syria.
There are many highlights in Angela’s job, but she says this, specifically, is the best part:
“The opportunity to apply my expertise (e.g., on gender and diversity, developed during my graduate training in psychology) to current defence and security challenges (to work on interesting/exciting challenges, such as gender and counter-radicalization!); the opportunity to communicate my research findings/analyses through written reports and articles; and the opportunity to mentor junior scientists.”
Angela’s scientific training in psychology, both content-related and methodological, has helped her carry out her responsibilities as a defence scientist. At DRDC her focus is on conducting applied, defence-related research, and broadening her expertise to address current and future defence and security challenges. Her responsibilities include planning, organizing, conducting, analyzing, and reporting basic and applied social- and organizational-psychological research; interacting with the Canadian Armed Forces and other national/international security partners; and building the scientific capabilities of the entire organization.
And currently, of course, using psychology to counter the propaganda of extremist groups all over the world.
Amanda owns her own consulting business, the ParriagGroup, and spends much of her spare time working in her Ottawa community to end violence against women.
“Amanda is a star! She has leveraged her MUN education to provide stellar research and evaluation services. She has become a trusted advisor to her clients and is a leader of Women's issues in Ottawa. She was the president of MediaAction for 8 years, has run Ask Womxn Anything for more than 5 years, and sits on the board of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCEVAW). She has owned and operated her own business for 20 years and for me, she is a friend, a supporter and a role model.”
Susan Underhill is effusive in her praise for Dr. Amanda Parriag, her current colleague and collaborator and long-time friend since university (MUN is the Memorial University of Newfoundland, where they studied psychology together years ago). Amanda obtained her PhD from MUN, but not a lot of her clients know this. She doesn’t refer to herself as “Dr.” and rarely tells people she has a PhD in psychology. That’s because when she does, she finds people behaving a little differently, choosing their words more carefully, and thinking that Amanda is psychoanalyzing them at every turn.
Not exactly her thing – Amanda is a researcher – but on occasion this response can come in handy! Amanda runs the ParriagGroup, a consultancy that specializes in research, evaluation and performance measurement. Her small business has been running for 20 years, and while Amanda is the lead on everything, she works with a team. She has six research assistants and six consultants that she pulls in at different times to complete bigger projects.
The ParriagGroup works mostly with governments and not-for-profits. Recently, she and her team worked with an Ottawa not-for-profit on a program they were doing jointly with another not-for-profit. It was a program to work with women who were potentially victims of gender-based violence, and were intersecting with the child welfare sector. The program was designed to provide an intersectional lens in supporting the women and their families. It had been running for a few years, but the group wasn’t sure they were helping the women in the way the program was designed. Amanda and her team looked at the location of the program, the governance, how it was resourced, the skill sets of the people working within the program. The ParriagGroup also did a document review to determine what had been written about how these types of programs were supposed to function.
The group took Amanda’s recommendations to heart (always gratifying!) and ran with them. They made some immediate changes, started to implement others, and looked to outsource a few more. Amanda says,
“Hopefully, because of my work, women in the community who are in this frustrating space, intersecting with the child welfare system and potentially experiencing gender-based violence, can get better support. This can help them make better decisions and move forward in a more sustainable and human way.”
This is where Amanda’s real passion comes out. She feels lucky to be living the dream – she works out of a home-based office with the rest of her team spread across Canada. She can carve her day out as she pleases. And on a beautiful sunny day, she can post an out-of-office and spent time in the pool.
And she also loves the time she can take to work in the community. The focus of her studies at MUN and Carleton was gender-based violence, and she is still doing everything she can in that field.
Susan mentioned Amanda’s work with OCEVAW, and Ask Womxn Anything. AWA gathers together amazing women from the Ottawa community to talk about their expertise on a particular topic. People from across the city are invited to come and have a discussion in a warm and inviting environment. Amanda says,
“Women are not often heralded as experts and so this is an opportunity for these women to be recognized as such, especially among our peers. And it’s an opportunity for women and men in the Ottawa community to see these experts. You can’t be what you cannot see.”
The next Ask Womxn Anything event is called ‘Black Womxn Making the World A Better Place’. They are focusing on black women because February is Black History Month, and the AWA panels are designed to be intersectional without tokenizing the participants. ‘Black Womxn Making The World A Better Place’ is coming up February 18th – at the Pressed Café, if you’re in the Ottawa area. The speakers include Deborah Owusu-Akyeeah, a feminist activist and Campaigns Officer at OXFAM. Meghan Wills, President at Parents for Diversity and current project coordinator at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. And Maya McDonald who is an educator, facilitator, and storyteller – among many other things!
AWA is a great way for people in Ottawa to get to know experts and remarkable women. Much like Amanda herself, and Susan, and the splendid teams with which they surround themselves.
Anne-Marie coordinates virtual field trips, among many other things, for students in remote northern indigenous communities with a program called Connected North.
Anne-Marie Côté became passionate about the field of education after accepting a three-month replacement contract in a school in Guyana, South America, where she ended up spending the next two years. She was able to experience and understand the crucial impact teachers have on shaping how kind, resilient, adaptable, and confident students become regardless of curriculum taught, and therefore how important it is for students to be surrounded by positive role models at school. Back in Canada, she now teaches an online English as a Second Language course to children in China, and she also works with TakingITGlobal, a non-profit whose mission is to empower youth to understand and act on local and global challenges. She mainly works on a program called Connected North.
Connected North delivers immersive and interactive education services to remote indigenous communities in Northern Canada through Cisco’s TelePresence video technology. Anne-Marie coordinates virtual field trips and guest experts for schools in Nunavut. She also works on developing Francophone content for the program.
Anne-Marie says her Master’s in Organizational Psychology from Carleton University has served her very well in her professional career:
“My psychology training has helped me in my work with children and Indigenous communities. It's helped me approach everything I do from a standpoint of compassion and understanding. Every behaviour has a reason. People don't just ‘’do things for nothing’’. It's helped me appreciate that anyone "in trouble'' (or not, everyone in general) has their own story and if you're trying to make change you need to invest and really care about people.
My organizational psychology training has also helped me understand the dynamics of the workplaces I have been a part of. It's helped me understand good and bad leadership, and how to recognize these. Although I’m not currently consulting, it's also helped me guide some of my workplaces through change and development as well as understand program evaluations and other organizational development processes.
It’s also made me become a better employee in general. I know from the research what makes happy employees and organizations and it has made me brave enough to ask for certain things or just share some of this knowledge with employers in hopes to make a better workplace for everyone. This training has also made me more compassionate. Just understanding some of the processes behind human behaviour makes you really care about people and where they’re coming from.”
Anne-Marie is thrilled that she is able to positively impact children in so many different ways.
“Children spend most of their time growing up at school and I think it's so important for them to be surrounded by supportive adults and be in an environment where they feel safe to be who they are and to learn. Equally, it’s important that they have access to engaging and culturally relevant educational resources, regardless of where they are. That's really my main goal working in education; build empowering and innovative classrooms and be a positive role model children feel like they can come to easily.”
She loves being part of this incredible program that creates opportunities for Indigenous communities in the area of education – an area that's so important, and where a lot of trauma still lies. Her hope is to begin to focus on programs that promote mental health and teach emotional regulation early on in those schools where she makes such a large impact.
President of the Connor Claire Group, a consulting firm that works with both the government and non-profit sectors, Susan is a specialist in doing more with less.
For people who work in the non-profit sector, doing more with less is a massively important key to being successful. When it comes to the public sector, we Canadians are all invested in efficiency and innovative practice. Thankfully, there are people out there who specialize in helping such organizations become the best they can be. Susan Underhill is one of them.
Susan is a management consultant for both government and the non-profit sector, as President of the Connor Claire Group. She does policy research, organizational design and development, coaching, business process improvement, and much more to help improve the performance of organizations of all shapes and sizes. Her colleague and collaborator, Amanda Parriag of the ParriagGroup, says of Susan,
“We went to university together and have stayed friends through the years. In the last few years we’ve had the opportunity to work together. It’s really a joy for me. We don’t agree on everything, but she can present things where she needs to change my mind in such a way that I can hear it. I implicitly trust her, she’s extremely smart and gets things very quickly. I really love working with her.”
We asked Susan how her training in psychology (she has a Masters in Experimental Psychology from the University of Newfoundland) has helped her in her current role.
“I am a good researcher - both qualitative and quantitative. I know what questions to ask, where to find information, and how to interpret that information to provide sound, evidence-based policy advice. Psychology has also helped me to consider organizational dynamics and the impact of these dynamics on implementing changes.”
One of the highlights of a job like Susan’s is that there are a never-ending set of policy questions that require new research. Susan says she loves the variability of her job and supporting government and not-for-profits to better serve individuals who need important services.
A staff scientist for VPixx Technologies, Sophie helps bring eye capture technology, among other devices, to scientists and labs around Canada and the rest of the world.
Somewhere in the world, right now, there are researchers using a specialized device manufactured by VPixx Technologies. These researchers might be working in a behavioural laboratory, an MRI or MEG space, or even working with non-human primates. That device might be an eye tracker, a video projector, a sound system or a calibrated visual display.
Whichever device they are using, there is a strong possibility that Sophie Kenny helped to bring their work to fruition. As a staff scientist for VPixx Technologies, Sophie works directly with the academic community. Her role is not only to understand the current needs of researchers, but also to identify research trends and opportunities for growth of the company.
More precisely, Sophie provides consultation services for lab setups. She writes work orders for custom software and hardware development, designs and presents product or technology-oriented workshops, and gives seminar lectures and invited talks. She also visits conferences (Society for Neuroscience, the Vision Sciences Society, the Psychonomics Society) to interact with academic clients and partners. It is there that she sets up independent and collaborative research projects, such as conducting literature reviews, methods papers, and perceptual/cognitive experimental research.
Sophie obtained her PhD in Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Sciences from Queen’s in 2017, and says that her academic studies have prepared her admirably for her current career:
“During my research training, I have worked on research spanning attention, reading, memory and movement perception research. Through this broad experience, I used advanced methodologies which have included eye tracking, whole body motion capture, virtual reality headsets, fMRI recordings, and scripting for high-level research experiments software and game engines. This knowledge and skill base has been invaluable, because in most aspects of my work, I am called to comment and advise clients and colleagues on a eclectic variety of research designs and applications.”
Now working for a company doing those exact things, Sophie has found her niche.
“VPixx Technologies is an incredibly dynamic and collaborative environment. I feel that as a staff scientist, my work has a positive influence on the quality of the work that happens in our industry, and ultimately, in the laboratories of the researchers who use our devices.”
Troy has worked in Child and Youth Mental Health for years, since graduating with an M.Ed. in Education Counselling Psychology. He is the Director of Operations for the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) in Williams Lake, B.C.
You might expect someone with an M.Ed. in Education Counselling Psychology to work as a Child and Youth Mental Health clinician, or some such thing. And Troy Forcier did, for several years after graduating from UNBC. From there, he moved on to a job as a clinical supervisor, before taking on his current endeavour.
Troy is the Director of Operations for the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) in Williams Lake, British Columbia. The MCFD is, among other things, the main child protection service for the province. They also do a lot of preventative work (family support, parent psychoeducation groups, Child and Youth with Special Needs support). Troy manages contracts, HR, resources and guardianship, facilities, child and youth mental health for the region, and community relations.
After spending many years dealing one-on-one with children and families, Troy embraces the more bureaucratic nature of his new position. There are two things, above all others, that make this job pleasurable for Troy. One is working with people – something he has always done, but it is now in a different context. The other is making change – specifically, changes he can help create at his own specific bureaucratic level.
Natalie is a Program Manager at the provincial team that oversees grants made by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Her current work is informed enormously by her studies in psychology and experience as a TA.
Natalie Therrien Normand
My name is Natalie Therrien Normand, and I'm a Program Manager at the provincial team that oversees grants made by the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), an agency of the government of Ontario. I have my MA in Experimental and Applied Psychology from the University of Regina. I received it in 2013, but so much of what I did at university I am still doing today.
I help people apply for grants by delivering presentations (like the courses I used to guest lecture in as a TA) and doing one-on-one coaching (like office hours), I assess grant applications when they come in (like scoring papers and exams as a TA), and monitor grants that are funded (which works a lot like monitoring all the work happening in my old labs). I also work on OTF's volunteer education initiatives to train our volunteers to meet corporate goals. This means a lot of juggling, like in my academia days.
Studying psychology has helped me in a myriad of ways. First are the obvious project management skills I learned in my graduate level studies, which apply to managing grants. Juggling multiple projects and deadlines is essential to my work, and indeed my career. But beyond that, learnings about human behaviour and the mind keep popping up, whether it's communication skills, the team-forming framework I learned in, literally, one sports psychology class that comes up over and over again. People think you have crazy ninja human behaviour skills, but it's things anyone can learn in basic psychology courses (which is what I tell them!). What may be most important are my critical thinking skills, and being adaptable in a field where feedback and constructive criticism are constant. We all know from our training that the constant cycle of producing work, receiving feedback, and working to improve that work is how you grow, or how a project/paper gets better.
I love that I get to work with people. I love that I get to apply my skills in an unexpected way. I work with people with super varied educational and professional backgrounds but I don't think anyone expects to have someone with an advanced degree in Psychology among them. The assumption is that this would mean I'd be a clinician or a counsellor. And as I mentioned above, even the basic principles of an education in psychology come up in the every day working world.
Sandra works for the provincial government in Saskatchewan. She is the Manager of Planning, Evaluation and Improvement in the aptly-titled Office of Corporate Planning Evaluation and Improvement.
In 1994, Sandra Meeres graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Masters in Applied Social Psychology. Sandra is also a Credentialed Evaluator through the Canadian Evaluation Society. She achieved the designation in 2017. Today, she remains in Saskatchewan working for the provincial government. Sandra is the Manager of Planning, Evaluation and Improvement in the aptly titled office of Corporate Planning Evaluation and Improvement. She conducts needs assessments, program development and design, program review, and evaluations in human services. Her current work focuses on justice, corrections, and policing. Sandra says,
“All aspects of my formal psychology training have helped in my current role - especially the internship and practicum placements that were part of my graduate program. I have also relied on ongoing professional development to ensure I stay up to date with current practices and trends. I have been working in my field since I graduated – more than 25 years - and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I get to work with a variety of people in many different roles throughout the organization, and also with stakeholders from other ministries and external service providers.
It's very fulfilling working with key stakeholders - gaining insights by interacting with everyone from clients and participants to program managers and leaders. My work is very satisfying because I know it is helping to provide decision makers with the essential information they need. It guides them to see what aspects of programs and services are working well, and where there are gaps or areas that could be strengthened or improved.”
Dr. Jenn Richler has always been deeply passionate about championing the work of others. Jenn has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology and is putting it to use as a senior editor at two scientific journals – Nature Climate Change and Nature Energy.
The January issue of Nature Climate Change has papers on changing bird migrations, projections of lemur habitats in the Malagasy rainforest, climate change detection in daily weather, and the risk of breadbasket failures. It’s a publication that brings together a number of disparate disciplines from every corner of the world in a common cause – tackling climate change. One of the people responsible for this publication is Jenn Richler, PhD Cognitive Psychology, Vanderbilt 2010.
Jenn works at Nature Research, where she is a Senior Editor at Nature Climate Change and also another research journal, Nature Energy. She evaluates, selects, and oversees peer review of scientific manuscripts from across the behavioral and social sciences, including psychology, sociology, behavioral economics, political science, human geography, and communications. In addition, she commissions, edits, and writes non-primary research content like Reviews, Comments, Research Highlights and Editorials. It’s a job perfectly suited to a psychologist, and Jenn says,
“A key part of my job is evaluating scientific manuscripts from across social science disciplines. Although I handle manuscripts outside of psychology, training in scientific thinking and research design applies broadly across the fields I cover. We also get very ‘hands on’ with papers that are ultimately published, and so the experience I have writing manuscripts and presenting data is very valuable. Finally, being in academic publishing means that I rely a lot on what I learned about publishing and peer-review when I published my own papers in graduate school and during my post-doc. Those experiences were critical to shaping my ideas about what makes peer-review work well, what the problems are, and how we might develop innovative solutions.”
One of the highlights for Jenn is the intellectual side of the job –justifying editorial decisions requires balancing a lot of different factors, as few decisions are easy. It’s intellectually stimulating to craft arguments about each manuscript, and then discuss them with colleagues. This is the part of Jenn’s work that takes place behind the scenes, but is of crucial importance to the final product. Jenn says that, and highlighting the work of others, give her the deepest satisfaction.
"I always liked research, but I was never deeply passionate about any one research topic - I never wanted to have to convince anyone that my research was interesting. I get much more satisfaction from getting a bird’s eye view of a lot of different fields, inviting experts to write about important topics, championing the work of others, and helping authors make their work as strong and impactful as it can be. I feel that I am truly providing a service to my authors, and take a lot of pride in that.”
Christina has achieved a remarkable work-life balance thanks to her background in psychology. She works from all over Canada, from home and from the office on her own schedule, as an Account Executive for McCabe Promotional Advertising.
One of the things a person might learn in university, if they’re lucky, is the ever-elusive work-life balance. In Louisiana, while pursuing her undergraduate degree, Christina Bilczuk managed to balance her studies with the rigour of playing Division I NCAA soccer. After completing her Masters in Social Psychology at Carleton University, Christina moved on to a job as an Account Executive with McCabe Promotional Advertising, but of course had to maintain her soccer bona fides with her beer league team the Goaldiggers.
Work-life balance is easier when you’re not stuck behind a computer all day. Working from home when you want, traveling as often as you like, in a relaxed atmosphere in an ever-challenging career. Such is the case for Christina at McCabe.
At the moment her work is taking place largely in and around Ottawa, where she is working with the Air Cadets (specifically the 51 Air Cadet Squadron, based out of the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum) on some fun apparel items. She’s doing the same with Camp Fortune, a ski hill located just across the Ontario-Quebec border in Chelsea. Ottawa kids planning to become fighter pilots, or those training to one day compete in the Olympic giant slalom, might soon do so in clothes provided by McCabe.
Christina works directly with clients who need promotional products (anything with their branding on it). Her role requires a lot of person-to-person contact. Some interactions are great, others not so good, but all her interactions are informed and assisted by her training in psychology. Christina says:
“My experience within psychology allows me to take a step back and think about things from [the client’s] point of view (but that also comes from my own struggles while in school, and being able to relate to others experiencing a difficult time). Of course, time management, being able to respond positively to constructive criticism, research skills - there are endless ways in which my education has aided in pretty much every aspect of my life.”
Christina showcases artwork, provides product suggestions and pricing, and she pushes sales through to completion & delivery. She can do all of this from home, while traveling, or in person all over Canada. It’s a role that suits her well, and her background in psychology is what made it such a good fit.
Director of People Analytics for the National Bank of Canada, Marc-André coaches a team of data scientists, combining scientific rigor and creativity with practical considerations. His team, he says, is “at the forefront of innovation”.
One could make the case that every psychologist specializes in “Advanced People Analytics”, depending on how one defines such a term. For Marc-André Larfrenière, “Advanced People Analytics” is exactly what he does. That’s his job title with the National Bank of Canada. People analytics helps business leaders unlock the power of data to improve the way organizations identify, attract, develop and retain employees
As Director of Advanced People Analytics, Marc-André develops a people analytics vision and a roadmap that are aligned to business priorities. He leads, motivates, and coaches a team of data scientists as they implement methodologies and governance processes to address business needs. Marc-André and his team combine scientific rigor and creativity with practical considerations. In his role, Marc-André is able to provide leadership, subject matter expertise and business insight on all sorts of people analytics projects, including turnover prediction, pay equity analysis, psychometric testing, natural language understanding, and employee engagement analysis.
Marc-André says his PhD in Social Psychology from UQAM has served him very well in his professional career:
“Knowledge of social and IO psychology helps me bridge the gap between business needs and data science. It allows me to ensure that analytics projects are aligned to clearly address business issues. Also, my background in social psychology aided me play a key role as an analytics translator across multiple projects. Furthermore, scientific knowledge that I acquired during my studies and maintained afterward allows me to play a role as a subject matter expert on several subjects (e.g., employee engagement, compensation programs, psychometrics assessment, etc.). Finally, both my expertise in research methods and statistics eased my transition toward data science and allowed me to champion the scientific method and ethical principles inside the organization.”
Marc-André works in a multidisciplinary team, and his particular discipline is well-suited to people analytics. He likes that his team has a direct and clear impact on the business, and helps with HR transformation through technology and data. His is more than just a data translator role, he and his team are, as he says, “at the forefront of innovation”.
Dr. Evangeline Danseco loves that her job has an impact on improving mental health services and addressing system-level issues. Evangeline is the Performance Measurement Coach at the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.
A position that gives you the opportunity to have an impact on improving mental health services and addressing system-level issues would be desirable for many PhD graduates in Applied Developmental Psychology. Evangeline Danseco earned that degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 1997, and now does just that.
Her psychological training has prepared her with a knowledge of research and evaluation methods (both qualitative and quantitative) as well as of child, youth and adult development, and with skills in critical thinking and writing. These body of knowledge and skills plus a thirst for ongoing learning and a desire to bridge the gap between research and practice, have served her, and Ontario, well.
Evangeline is the Performance Measurement Coach at the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. There, she leads the development and implementation of various initiatives taking place in Ontario’s child and youth mental health sector focusing on performance measurement and/or system planning. The province of Ontario recently developed new quality standards in regard to youth and family engagement, and it is Evangeline who has led the evaluation of those standards.
Evangeline consults with and advises key stakeholders such as Ministry partners, expert panels, advisory groups, and lead agencies. She also collaborates with youth and family members on provincial initiatives. Her position has an impact, addresses important issues, and is a terrific example of knowledge mobilization in action.
From her very first introductory psychology class, Jennifer Veitch knew she wanted to get into environmental psychology. Many classes, years, and a PhD later, Jennifer is living her dream as a Principal Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada.
Sometimes, a career path can be determined very early on, whether you know it or not. Such was the case when Jennifer Veitch became excited about environmental psychology in her very first introductory psychology course. She later volunteered in that prof’s lab where she learned practical data collection skills that she still uses today. A few years later, she was graduating from the University of Victoria with a PhD in Environmental Psychology.
To this day, the research Jennifer does is reflective of what she learned in those first intro psych classes, and from that professor. The big difference, in research terms, is the setting. She is a full-time psychological scientist in an interdisciplinary research setting, and uses her psychology skills to study how people relate to their physical surroundings.
Jennifer is a Principal Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada, where she is responsible for the initiation (including obtaining internal and external funding), management, and conduct of research on the effects of the physical environment on occupants’ behaviour and well-being, and for disseminating the resulting knowledge through pertinent industry and research channels. That means that she publishes papers in journals, but also contributes to national and international standards and recommendations by participating in organizations like the International Commission on Illumination. For example, she leads a project that is conducting a systematic review of the literature on the effects of daytime light exposure on cognition, well-being, and physiology; she also is an active contributor to both North American and international recommendations for lighting that will be based on that literature.
“The research I do today is a direct extension of things I learned [in that lab, from that professor] - but now I can study more complex problems with my engineering, physics, and architectural colleagues, and I have routes through which to influence decision-makers to apply what we learn.”