This blog has been reviewed by Béatrice Schueller and Alvina Lai, edited by Nicholas Murray.
Catherine, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi, my name is Catherine and I am completing a Ph.D. in psychology at UQAM. I also have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Montreal. I am especially interested in human development and positive psychology. Through my different research projects, I seek to understand how our relationships can influence our lives from the moment we are born all the way to adulthood. I chose to pursue a career in scientific research because I truly love to write and code!
When I was a child, I hoped to become a journalist. I wanted to travel the world and share my thoughts, discoveries and ideas about different subjects. I was curious and always had a lot of questions that were often left unanswered. Therefore, academic research definitely sparked my interest when I had the opportunity to work in a lab, back in 2013. I was a CEGEP student back then, and I didn’t know which career I wanted to pursue. I knew that being a clinician wasn’t my calling, but I was deeply interested in human health and behaviours. Psychology research was the perfect domain as I could write every day, work with a team of motivated students and collaborators, and continue to learn, grow and seek answers to my numerous questions.
I discovered positive psychology during my master’s degree. I was immediately hooked. In many ways, positive psychology overlaps with developmental psychology. In both domains, researchers are interested in finding the key elements to promote the optimal development of individuals. Although we all come across many obstacles throughout our lives, many people continue to thrive and find ways to keep evolving. I believe that finding what makes these people thrive is an important endeavour.
We all come across many obstacles throughout our lives, many people continue to thrive …finding what makes these people thrive is an important endeavour.
What do you think made you successful as a student?
I am a truly passionate person (I wrote a blog post on passion, that you can find here). When I discover an activity that I love, I tend to dive right into it and learn everything I can about it. For instance, I developed a passion for running back in 2012, during a quite difficult time in my life. I started by running a 5k race in Montreal and set a goal to run a marathon. For the next six years, I trained relentlessly towards this goal and achieved it in October 2018. I read countless books, listened to podcasts, had a blog and an Instagram account dedicated to my passion for running. As you may guess, it also happened for psychology. Once I understood that I could pursue a career in psychology, I knew that it was the perfect plan for me.
Although I have to admit that my passion for psychology is sometimes obsessive, it is most of the time harmonious. My passion gives me the energy to pursue all the projects I’m involved in and nourish my creativity. I am definitely a member of the team who has too many ideas. This leads me to another core skill essential to succeed as a student. As you may have noticed if you read the other student ambassadors’ Success Stories, organization and planning are very important. As my supervisor often says, “plans always change, but planning is important.” Having a goal can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to our studies. Planning skills help us reach our goals. I’m a pretty inattentive person in my personal life– I lose everything, my keys, my cell phone and even my wallet. I’m the person who always forgets to buy bread or ketchup at the grocery store even if it’s on my list. To cope with this lunatic tendency, I over-plan pretty much everything in my professional life. This has proven to be incredibly useful in my academic path. If you want to see a glimpse of the organizational system I use, look at Remi’s blog post on time management.
My passion gives me the energy to pursue all the projects I’m involved in and nourish my creativity.
What strength, skill, strategy, mindset, or habit allowed you to get where you are today?
I’ve been a university student for 8 years now and practicing self-compassion has been crucial for my mental health. We all have difficult moments when we are not proud of ourselves and we feel like we’re the worst. In these times, self-compassion is truly life-changing. It helps to remind ourselves that we are not alone (our shared humanity). We also have to take a step back and wonder what we would say if this situation happened to a close friend. In other words, we have to learn to be kind to ourselves. Mindfulness made a significant difference in my life. I developed a mindfulness meditation practice during my undergraduate studies and it helped to reduce my stress. Breathing techniques are a powerful tool to come back to the present moment when things get chaotic in my life. Practicing mindfulness, being kind to myself, and remembering that I am not alone allowed me to get where I am today and to thrive in an environment that is not always easy to navigate.
Empathy and the ability to work in a team are strengths that are important to acquire. Learning to work with other people and share ideas respectfully is essential. All our lives, we are surrounded by people, many of whom we don’t necessarily relate to. Despite this, we need to learn to connect and find some common ground. In today’s society, division is becoming more prevalent and we need to find ways to improve unity and relatedness. I find great joy in collaborating with other people, students and researchers. Exchanging ideas, even when we disagree, helps us grow and improve our thoughts and ideas. This is the basis of peer review, which is central to academic publishing. By submitting our work to fellow researchers, we obtain feedback and improve our writing and ideas about different challenges. A great example is an incredible collaboration we witnessed during the COVID pandemic among researchers from around the globe. These numerous collaborations lead to discoveries, such as an efficient vaccine, which could save countless lives for many years to come.
Exchanging ideas, even when we disagree, helps us grow and improve our thoughts and ideas.
Finally, I think a commitment to growth and gratitude helped me get to where I am today. My main focus is that in whatever I do, I want to acquire new skills, learn new things and become a better person through this process. My grades have always been important to me, but I highly value getting out of my comfort zone if the opportunity can make me grow. When I choose a new project to get involved in, I always ask myself two questions: Am I genuinely interested in this project? Will this project help me grow as a person or as a professional? I also practice gratitude regularly. I plan some time to think about the people I’m grateful for, those who allow me to grow and learn every day.
How would you invite other students to cultivate those qualities?
- Be kind to yourself (practicing self-compassion): It is important to remind ourselves that we’re all human. Sometimes we have great success and sometimes we fail. All the successful people you look up to went through a series of failures before they achieved their goals.
- Be mindful and take time to reflect on your path (cultivating self-awareness): Once every few months, take the time to write down your goals, how you feel, and if you feel like you have more space to grow. If you feel stuck and uninspired, it may be a sign that you should take the time to figure out what your values are. Once you know what truly matters to you, you can make better choices with regard to your career, your relationships and your lifestyle. It is essential to feel a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do. This is the key element in human motivation.
- Always try to find ways to connect with peers (relatedness): Finding a community is incredibly beneficial for our health. Relatedness is one of our basic psychological needs, and there are countless studies on the impact of relationships on our lives.
Any last words you’d like to share with fellow students?
Oftentimes, we feel like we have to follow a specific path to reach our goals, whether that is to get into a specific program or have a specific career. However, there are so many ways to build a rich, deep and meaningful life. I hope that by reading our CPPA student blog posts, you will find an array of tools and that we inspire you to use some of them in your own lives.
If you feel like reaching out, you can join me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you aren’t part of the CPPA student ambassadors already, I warmly encourage you to join our community. Thank you for reading our blog posts. If you like them, please consider sharing with people who you think could benefit from them and know that we are grateful for you.