Bre O’Handley | Student Success Series

CPPA Students
5 min readSep 5, 2023

By: Bre O’Handley

This blog has been reviewed by Chiamaka Okigbo and Matthew Patterson; edited, formatted and published by Nicholas Murray.


Bre, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello! My name is Bre, and I’m a first year Ph.D. student at Trent University. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in research since starting my undergraduate honour’s thesis in 2016 and have worked on projects examining LGBTQ+ people’s memories of coming out, sexual minority women’s current and desired gender style, and the psychophysiology of sexual prejudice. My master’s research applied the Minority Stress Model to understanding LGBTQ+ people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, I looked at how the experiences of identity concealment and identity rejection were related to psychological distress among LGBTQ+ people at this time. During this research, I came across some papers criticizing the deficit-based focus of a lot of LGBTQ+ psychology research and I became more interested in positive psychology and how this field can apply to LGBTQ+ experiences. Going into my Ph.D., I’m interested in exploring LGBTQ+ people’s positive identity development, experiences of minority strengths (i.e., what are the positive aspects or strengths that LGBTQ+ people draw from their identities and the LGBTQ+ community), and predictors of positive mental health among LGBTQ+ people. This newfound interest is what lead me to the Canadian Positive Psychology Association and how I have ended up here writing this blog post!

I’m passionate about knowledge mobilization and how we can make our research useful to the communities we are researching! As someone who has worked directly supporting LGBTQ+ young adults, it’s important to me that my research can find its way into the hands of people who can utilize it. Outside of academic life, I’m an avid runner and biker and have just recently started volunteering at my local community bike shop so I can learn more about building and fixing bikes!

What do you think made you successful as a student?

I think my success as a student is partly due to my curiosity, finding and (trying!) to maintain balance, and being lucky enough to have found a supportive research lab. I’ve always been someone who has asked ‘why’ and found myself going down rabbit holes of reading, and I find that when I am feeling the most successful as a student it is often because I have embraced and nurtured that curiosity. I think, as post-secondary students, it can be easy to get caught up in stress surrounding grades, which makes sense, our grades can play a large role in what our options for next steps can be. But I think sometimes we lose sight of why we’re pursuing higher education in the first place, which is often because we are curious about a specific topic and want to know more about it.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I worked for two years in student services. In this job, I worked Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, and I think this experience helped me develop a work/life balance that I’ve tried to maintain as a graduate student. It can be hard to feel like we have the time, but cultivating some sort of work/life balance as a student has been essential for my success. I try to keep my school work to 9–5 hours and only work Monday-Friday (this is easier some weeks and semesters than others) and I have intentionally tried to make time for other hobbies and goals — such as running, biking, reading for fun, and nurturing my friendships.

Finally, I think being a part of a research lab that is supportive has played a large role in my success as a student. I have had the same research supervisor throughout my academic career. Part of the reason why is that I feel like my supervisor and other colleagues in the lab have provided me with incredible research and learning opportunities, along with emotional and social support.

I’ve always been someone who has asked ‘why’ . . . when I am feeling the most successful as a student it is often because I have embraced and nurtured that curiosity.

What strength, skill, strategy, mindset, or habit allowed you to get where you are today?

Developing a growth mindset has played a huge role in my academic journey. As I mentioned earlier, I think we can lose sight of why we are engaged in post-secondary education when we get too caught up in grades. When I began my undergraduate degree, I was really discouraged by my grades and I started to believe that I wasn’t smart enough to be in university or that I was bad at school. Through my education and also through some hobbies outside of school (such as running), I have cultivated a growth mindset where I don’t expect to have all the answers right away, I urge myself to enjoy the process of learning and gaining skills, and I try to view challenges or setbacks (like a disappointing grade) as an opportunity to learn and grow. It isn’t always easy to maintain this mindset, but I genuinely believe that learning and growing are some of the greatest joys of life and nothing feels better than achieving something you never thought you could — whether that’s publishing your first academic journal article or running a half-marathon!

How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?

I would urge students to remember the reason that you’re pusuing higher education in the first place and to remind themselves of the joy of learning! Sometimes taking a step back to gain some perspective on why you are completing a degree or taking a class can help you enjoy the process of learning and be motivated to keep moving forward when you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated. Sometimes working towards a goal outside of school-work can also be a good way to remind yourself that you’re capable of growth and that learning and growing can be a fun and rewarding experience. For me, running and learning more about bicycle repair have been two activities outside of school-work that have helped remind me that I am more than capable of achieving goals that once seemed impossible or that it’s okay to be a beginner and that learning is a joyful process.

Any last words you’d like to share with fellow students?

Sometimes when we’re in the thick of school stress, it can feel like nothing else exists. Remember that there is a whole world outside of your academic life and your academic success. The nice side effect of remembering the outside world through cultivating a work/life balance, nurturing your friendships, and pursuing hobbies is that your curiosity and academic success will likely improve as well!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments for me, you can reach me at or follow along with my research on Twitter at @breohandley. If you found this blog interesting, you might want to consider checking out the Canadian Positive Psychological Association’s Student Zone (possibly even joining the association as a Student Member) or liking and sharing this blog post.



CPPA Students

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