Spotlight: Linnea Kalchos, Chair of the Student Section of the CPA

Linnea Kalchos

Linnea Kalchos photo
Linnea Kalchos

“Hi, my name is Linnea, I’m a student at UBC. [Spiel about UBC]. I was a teacher, and I have a real passion for social justice and in particular feminism. My research is attempting to come at these things through that perspective. Everything you say is going to be confidential, and this research will be practical. The goal is to disseminate it once we’re done, and I will make sure you have access to it.”

This is what you would hear if you were a newcomer Canadian youth participating in a project with Linnea Kalchos, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia. Her project is looking at how newcomer youth experience school integration when arriving in Canada. How do schools support them, and what kind of supports do they need?

The preamble Linnea gives these youth is by design. It incorporates all Linnea has learned over the years about approaching research through a social justice lens. Make sure the people involved in the research are also involved in the benefits derived from it, and the whole process along the way. Ensure that their participation is as comfortable and low-risk as possible. And aim for the research to have a real impact on the lives of real people.

When we spoke, Linnea was a UBC Master’s student, and has defended her Master’s thesis in the interim. The incoming chair of the student section of the CPA, Linnea uses the words ‘social justice’ the way some others use the words ‘like’ or ‘um’. That passion for social justice is one she’s keen to bring to the student section in the coming year. The section in particular has always been a leader in this realm, with many past chairs making important strides in this direction. Under the previous chair Alejandra Botia, the section created an executive position called JEDI (the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Executive), a position currently held by Emily Winter. Where Linnea takes it from here is still to be determined, but initial plans involve a shift to a social justice theme in the student newsletter. More broadly, she hopes the student section can invite more diversity both in experience and in research.


What is the psychological concept (bystander apathy, confirmation bias, that sort of thing) that blew you away when you first heard it?
Along the way in studying psychology, I really started get interested in somatisation – this idea that something psychosocial goes on in our minds and then our body manifests it in different ways. I feel like when I learned about it something really clicked with me, and in particular in my work with children. They don’t always have the language or the awareness to say ‘I have a stomach ache and it’s because of my anxiety’. They just have a tummy ache! I feel like our bodies do so many sophisticated things to protect us – including developing physical symptoms.

You can listen to only one musical artist/group for the rest of your life. Who is it?
It’s 100% Matchbox 20! This is definitely my dad’s influence. He’s a chef, and I have all these great memories of being in the kitchen with him watching him cook and listening to 3 AM in the early 2000s.

Favourite book
One I come back to a lot is a poetry compilation by Iain Thomas called I Wrote This For You. It’s an anthology of poems, but it also has photography infused throughout the book. It was such a beautiful book to me that I’m pretty sure I cried in the bookstore as I was reading it!

Favourite quote
“When they go low we go high” from Michelle Obama. It reminds me that if you’re living your life with integrity and as an example to other people you can’t really go wrong!

If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes who would it be and why
Michelle Obama again! I actually want to be in her brain (and her real shoes, literally – she’s a style icon!) Her advocacy work is so important, she’s done so many things in her career beyond being the First Lady. A decorated lawyer, a mother, an activist, writer, public speaker, public health advocate. I’d love to step into her shoes and try all those roles – and hang out with her family. I think she’s fabulous!

“There’s so much great work and research in this area being done by students, and we want to invite all those different perspectives. We also want to highlight different forms of research. Methodologies that aren’t as widely recognized in psychology but that are making an appearance now. Things like social justice research, community action research, all qualitative methods, Indigenous ways of knowing, that kind of thing.”

The other part of Linnea’s current project – the kids part – is her other passion. In a previous life Linnea was a teacher. While her interests shifted to the subject of mental health and psychology, her passion for working with young people has not abated. When all is said and done, she hopes to have a clinical practice where she works with children full time. The journey to psychology was somewhat circuitous, and is best explained by Linnea herself.

“I got really into social justice in high school. I went on a volunteer trip, got connected to social justice groups, became a vegetarian – you know, all the things. I had always wanted to go to the teacher education program at Queen’s University, and that’s where I did my undergrad. I found a way to work my degree so that I could major in Global Development Studies and still be a teacher while I got my B.Ed. While I was there, I got connected with a psychology research lab doing bullying research with Dr. Wendy Craig. That was one of the best experiences of my life. Working with Dr. Craig and with PREVNet taught me so much!

I finished my undergrad and moved to Australia, where I was a teacher for three years. After my first year there I thought that while I loved working with kids, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher forever. I had a real passion for mental health, students with special needs and school support programs. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school at that point and found the perfect marriage of all my interests – which was school psychology.”

Linnea always wanted to live in Vancouver, so the program she started at UBC ticked another box for her – albeit not immediately. She did her first year of school from Australia, stuck there because of COVID travel restrictions. Luckily, she was able to move for her second year of school, so now that she’s finished her Master’s it’s with a full year of Vancouver residence under her belt.

Now starting yet another new chapter in her schooling, Linnea is embracing the new challenges that will come with studying for a Ph.D., as well as the opportunities that present themselves as the Chair of the Student Section. In approaching this new role, Linnea is drawing inspiration from some psychologists who have been doing this work for years.

“The leadership of people like [CPA Past President] Dr. Ada Sinacore has been huge. People sharing who they are openly, infusing those things into their research, representation matters so much. A practice I’ve learned from my supervisor, Dr. Anusha Kassan, is ‘outlining our positionality’. It basically means acknowledging your position and your role (which often includes your privilege) in the research process itself.”

That research will continue, as Linnea embraces a new role and gets on to her Ph.D. work. And one day the spiel she gives her research participants, or the kids she’s counseling, will start a little differently. “Hi, my name is Linnea, and I’m a psychologist”.