2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Dr. Allison Waters: Neuropsychologist in NYC
“Make time for creativity… It' not going to be a startup, it's not going on your blog, it's not going to be on Insta! It's not forwarding anything. It's just for yourself.”
I was a little stuck on who I would ask to interview for this week’s Role Model Spotlight. I knew that I wanted to interview a physician at one point in the series so I contacted a doctor relative and asked for her sister’s contact information. I wanted to know more about the life of a doctor who was living away from home and my relative’s sister fit the bill.
Canadian, Dr. Allison Waters is taking on life as a neuropsychologist in New York City. Allison was keen to describe the richness of life in the big apple. Animated and sincere, Allison seemed to go about life with curiosity at the helm of her existence. She helped me to understand the necessity of her work at a new centre that has brought together people from around the world to research and treat brain differences.
I asked Allison, “What makes you, you?”. After chuckling for a moment, she put her answer to words in true psychologist fashion. Allison noted that the "Big Five" personality traits may be helpful in explaining who she was. Openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism are characteristics of personality that fall on a spectrum of which Allison personally scores above the fiftieth percentile across the board. This means that her personality is expressed with greater intensity than many other people. Allison highlighted that she scores in the 98th percentile for the openness category. She explained that her curious and accepting demeanor are helpful in her line of work.
Allison's day-to-day is quite transient in that she isn’t sure what to expect of her career in the long run. Her work has to do with knowing the brain, a field that has a huge amount of territory to cover. By her titles, she is a clinical psychologist and a neurologist. Her day-to-day can involve research, meetings, providing therapy, teaching university students, and so much more. Allison enjoys the variability of her career and credits her satisfaction with it to the ever-changing circumstances that come along with her work.
RB: “What is the coolest aspect of your job?”
AW: “The feeling of bonding to [colleagues] like you've all reached the summit of a mountain and get to see a vista that no one else has seen. It's a wonderful primate experience. I say that because we're monkeys, right? We're social. I love that. I think that's the coolest part of my job – getting to experience discoveries with other people.”
RB: “Can you describe a moment in your career when you felt like things were falling into place?”
AW: “I'm going to say right now because I just started in New York City and we're opening a new Centre for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics. I make devices that are implanted in people's brains to help with severe depression. These devices are being made for a lot of human struggles like motor disorders and movement disorders like tremors and Tourette Syndrome and also other kinds of psychiatric disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The challenge is that everyone is studying those disorders in isolation. So the innovation with the Centre for Advanced Circuit Therapeutics is that we're acknowledging that all of those things; thinking, feeling, moving, they're all one brain. So we should all be together in this same space doing the research.”
RB: “What’s it like living and working in NYC?”
AW: “It's a dream. I just rode my bicycle here from Harlem. I love riding the subway. I love walking through the park. I love eating at a different place every day. I love looking at the people walking around. What are you wearing? Do you call that exercise? Is that a dog? What a strange combination of people! Are you guys friends? Are you family? Are you colleagues? It is so rich. I can walk all day and just look at everybody and everything and be so happy.”
RB: “Who’s a woman who has inspired you?”
AW: “My mum. My mum inspired me for sure. My mum has always been a very empathic person. She has a sixth sense. She can understand people who are struggling with things in a way that most people can't. She always worked in special education. It was amazing growing up watching her work in special education because I got to see her connect with people who other people weren't really seeing and understanding but for some reason my mum could always understand their language.”
RB: “What does role modelling look like to you?”
AW: “Good listening. I feel like we undervalue listening in our culture and I would like to create a course where we train in active listening and bring that into high schools. I think a good role model knows how to listen, summarize, reflect, and pull out the strengths they see in the person and reflect those strengths back.”
RB: “Do you have any advice for teen girls in 2018?”
AW: “Make time for creativity. Make time to do things that are generative, like produce something that wasn't there before, but for no reason at all. It' not going to be a startup, it's not going on your blog, it's not going to be on Insta. It's for no reason except to knit a pair of socks or to paint a picture or to write a poem. It's not forwarding anything. It's just for yourself.”
Kate Lardner: Down to Earth Social Media Strategist
“I think it's important for me to know… what other people are facing so that I am a better-informed citizen and know how I can help ease the struggles of others.”
RB: Tell me three things that make you smile.
KL: “I have a cat and a dog and my dog is the most ridiculous thing on the planet. Anytime he is around he makes me smile. And my cat, he is going through an angsty teen phase but he is the biggest cuddle bug on the planet. I have a niece and two nephews and they're a large part of the reason why I moved back home and they're just so full of life and it's so exciting to see the world through their eyes and get excited about little things. I love being by the water. So, in Ottawa, I was right by the Rideau Canal. It might not have been that big jovial smile but it was a kind of content smile that fell upon my face whenever I'm able to be by the water.”
RB: What is your educational background?
KL: “I went to elementary and high school in Saskatoon. I was part of my high school's dance academy and history study tour program. For university, I went to New York University. Through there I studied abroad in Florence, Italy and London, England. I majored in politics and minored in communication.”
RB: What has your working life looked like since university?
KL: “It's funny when people ask me that. With social media, it's never really the same. With my job right now, first thing, I get in and I kind of use social media and Twitter especially to monitor what news is out there and to see if there are any important stories that we need to be part of or react to. Obviously checking on our notifications and my employer's social media accounts. The rest of the social media stuff is anything that goes out through social media through any of the departments. I work for the Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation which represents over 13 000 teachers across the province. Any communications that go out through social media comes through me. So getting information from all of the departments and forming their message so that it's properly written for social media and scheduling that all out. Seventy percent of the time people will do what you think they will do but then sometimes they just completely surprise you so it's a lot of playing around with different things and seeing what your audience responds to.”
RB: I hear that you write a mental health blog. How is that experience for you?
KL: “When I was first diagnosed with depression when I was sixteen, the information that I was given about it through the media or what my high school health classes were teaching me was all in very extreme circumstances and so I didn't know how I was going to lead the life I thought I was going to while having this illness. Ever since I've become comfortable with the illness and comfortable talking about it. I've always wanted to share that message: you can lead the life you always thought you were going to. It might be a little bit harder, but you can still have a normal life. I got to a point where I thought the best place for me to do this is to start a blog so that it isn't just me doing a single post on my Instagram or Facebook. From my mom's side of it, she didn't know how to care for someone with a mental illness and so she learned a lot along the way as well. Some of her friends, they have children who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Same thing, they don't know what to do. I've brought her into it as well so it's not just a place for people with mental illness. It's for their caregivers as well so they can better understand the everyday life of what it's like to live with a mental illness.”
RB: What do you like to do when you’re not working on someone else’s social media or blogging about mental health?
KL: Laughing, “I'm on Twitter myself a fair bit. I try to stay fairly involved in the political scene and make sure I know what's happening both in Canada and the states. I think it's important to know what's happening especially in demographics that aren't my own because I have a very privileged life and I don't face a lot of the challenges that other people do. So I think it's important for me to know what those challenges are and know what other people are facing so that I am a better-informed citizen and know how I can help ease the struggles of others. I also love reading. I'm super nerdy and have a bookcase full of political history books and biographies that I have to read still. I moved back home three months ago. I'd been away for about seven years. I'm really enjoying just hanging out with my family.”
RB: Tell me about a woman who inspires you.
KL: “Actually throughout my life pretty much everyone who has inspired me has been a woman. I've had very few male role models that I've looked up to. On the personal level, my mom and my grandma. They're both very strong women who have faced a fair number of challenges but have pushed through and continued to see the bright side of everything and are there when it's important. One of those people that you don't know that you look up to is Queen Elizabeth I – someone I've looked up to ever since I was a kid. She had the deck completely stacked against her throughout her life and she went on to become queen and refused to marry in a time when that was basically heresy and brought peace and prosperity to her country that it had not seen in centuries.”
RB: What would you say to a teenager who would like to be a positive role model?
KL: “Just keep your head up. There's so much negativity in the world and you're never going to please everyone so just keep your head up. As long as you're happy and you're not hurting anyone, you're doing the right thing so just keep moving forward and being that positive light that you need and that people surrounding you need.”
Kate and I had an in-depth, thorough, and joyful conversation about her life and the role model characteristics she embodies. I have no doubt that we’ll see her name on an important social media campaign sometime soon. After all, she’s already worked on one for Bernie Sanders. This interview showed me the importance of putting family first, working on one’s self in order to help others, and staying on top of what’s happening in the world. There is much to be learned from people like Kate which is why 24strong has chosen to do a 2018 Role Model Spotlight Series. Stay tuned for the next blog post coming out on September 5th.
2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Mary Zhu: Physician in the Making
“If there's something that you're really passionate about then don't let what people think affect that or change that.”
– Mary Zhu
This week the 24strong role model spotlight is on Mary Zhu. Mary is a twenty-year-old student in the Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School. Hardworking, thoughtful, and articulate, Mary appreciates the element of trust between physicians and patients. Topics surrounding brain research and education have peaked her interest so far in her university studies and her participation in various extra-curricular activities and projects reflects this. Through her volunteer and research work, she hopes to help others as well as further her professional development as a soon-to-be doctor. The following is the best of my conversation with Mary Zhu. Enjoy!
RB: 1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
MZ: So, I went to Queens for the Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School (QuARMS) program so I'm part of the medical school's class of 2022. I grew up in Toronto for most of my life. Most of my life I didn't think I wanted to go into medicine actually. I made a very late decision. I, you know, love politics and I loved law and criminal law so I thought I wanted to go into that. I had a really, really great mentor, someone who I really looked up to, who really inspired me to make a change decision quite late. I mean, I would say it's quite early in the grand scheme of things but I would say amongst many people who are applying for medicine or want to go into medicine I would say it's quite late, comparatively. I've majored in psychology at Queen's. I love neuroscience, I love learning about the brain, human behavior, and why we do the things that we do.
RB: 2. What does a typical day as QuARMS student look like for you?
MZ: It varies from day to day. I would say there were probably around four or five hours of classes on the average day. I also really got involved on campus during my first year. I was involved in the student government. I was involved there as a Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs. I did a lot of policy work and I did a lot of advocacy and a lot of policy writing. I would have office hours. I spent about ten hours a week on that. I worked on campus to make some money on the side so I spent the evenings usually working. I'd get home and find pockets throughout the day, you know, a half hour there a one hour there. I'd try to go to the library or go to a quiet place and go through my notes and go through any readings that I had to get done for the next day for my classes. In the evenings, around 11:30, you know, sometimes working on projects that I wanted to do. So I really got involved in research later on in high school and especially last summer. Then going to bed at a reasonable hour and get up in the morning. I would go out for lunch with friends so I had that social time and time to relax and kind of recharge.
RB: 3. Since you have such busy days, how do you take care of your mental health?
MZ: I think it really makes a huge difference having a really great support network and having people that you know you can count on. You don't have to talk to them or see them every day necessarily, but having people that you know that if you're going through anything or having a difficult time you can always talk to them. They will always be there, willing to support you, regardless of what it is. And not being judgmental, giving advice. It's also important to know where your own boundaries are and how much you can handle. I think the importance of learning how to say know and learning when to know when you have too much on your plate which is such a huge skill that took a while for me to learn and that I'm still learning.
RB: 4. Why do you want to be a physician?
MZ: For me, what really draws me to medicine is it's so inclusive. It doesn't necessarily matter what background someone from. If someone walks into an emergency room and they need medical attention it doesn't matter what their socioeconomic status is. It doesn't matter what they're religion or anything like that is. As physicians, we're always treating patients equally to the best of our ability and giving them the best medical attention that we can. In our society, there's a lot of places where there's a disparity in how we treat people and the service that people can receive. I'm thinking law. There are disadvantages for people that shouldn't exist because it should be a very fair system. It should be a very equitable system. I think in medicine there's still inequities but I'd still say that within medicine that's less so than within other fields. I like that part. It doesn't matter how rich or poor you are. It doesn't matter who your family is. Everyone will need to see a doctor at some day. I think that's very humbling and very equaling for us as people to remember that. I love the impact that physicians are able to have on their patients. I think the trust in the relationship between a physician and their patient is something that is so rare. I can’t think of any other career where you have such a strong relationship. You know, it's a relationship where a patient is being vulnerable towards a physician. Physicians are seeing people at some of the worst times of their lives. Being able to make them better and bring them back up is so inspiring.
RB: 5. Can you tell me about your involvement with Parachute Canada?
MZ: Parachute Canada does something called "Brain Waves”. It's an outreach campaign where we go into elementary school classes and we teach kids about the basics about neuroscience and what the brain is like and what the spine is like. You know, the five different senses. The key message that we want to drive home to these students is concussion is preventable. We want to make sure we're driving home to make sure you're playing safe, make sure you're having fun. You're playing but want to play safe. For example, wearing a bicycle helmet is a huge part of that. We teach kids to fit them. I was the coordinator for the Queen's chapter. We were coordinating about 150 volunteers... to teach kids for an hour, sometimes two-hour long presentation.
RB: 6. What does being a positive role model mean to you?
MZ: It's definitely seeing someone that's in a position that you want to be in in the future. It doesn't have to be exactly so. In high school, there was someone that I interacted with. I worked at the hospital. She was someone that I really admired. She was incredibly strong and at the time she was the only female in her entire department. Yet she was in charge of a lot of things. She had her own lab running, she was in charge of the blood analysis lab. She was just a really, really strong person who was still so friendly and down to earth. She wasn't condescending at all. You don't always have to do the exact same thing as what your role model or mentor is doing. I think a really good mentor would be able to recognize that and see that if you're really not interested [in what he or she is doing], they'll be able to direct you on the right path. It is someone who is very, very giving. Very open to speaking to you and very open to giving advice and time to talk to figure out who you are. I don't necessarily know if I would have chosen to go into medicine if I didn't get to see that representation. My interactions before tended to be with male doctors. I think there's still a little bit of bias in people to think that physicians are generally male. I think that the fact that [my role model] was female made it all that more important for me.
RB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
MZ: You're always going to get people who are going to say you shouldn't do it or you're not cut out for it. There will always be some people who are going to try to bring you down. It's not a reflection of who you are as a person or what you can or can't do. That's something that everyone faces regardless of who you are and to not take that personally. It means it's constructive feedback. Take that but take it with a grain of salt. If there's something that you're really passionate about then don't let what people think affect that or change that.
It is evident to me that Mary is an all-star leader and a competent student and researcher. I was amazed by her candor and her genuine passion for her field. As Mary summed up so nicely, role models are people who take interest in the wellbeing of others. Good ones don’t push their experiences onto the younger generation and instead use their understanding of their profession to be expert guides. Mary and I had a lovely conversation. I hung up the phone feeling proud of our generation and eager to collaborate with student leaders like her from coast to coast to coast in Canada.
2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Jase Falk: Non-Conformist, Writer, Trans Woman
For the second segment of 24strong’s 2018 Role Model Spotlight Series, I interviewed Jase Falk. A student at the University of Winnipeg, Jase is a talented writer, a committed non-conformist, and an avid reader who identifies as a trans woman. Every morning, Jase wakes up and begins reading as much as she can. Her efforts to stay well-informed and to apply her knowledge with care are noticeable in her daily life which is why I reached out to ask for an interview. I was surprised to learn that Jase is not comfortable with the idea of being a role model; but still, she believes it is important to be of support to others.
“Don't let other people's ideas of you affect you too much.”
RB: Describe yourself in five words or less.
JF: Non-conformist / Content with uncertainty
RB: What does a typical day look like for you?
JF: My days are quite inconsistent. I'm mostly a student and also the various jobs I work are ones that I make my own hours for which is cool, it just means I'm very all over the place doing different things every day. I usually get up around eight or sometimes later when I'm having one of those days and do as much reading as possible, go to classes if I need. It's mostly just a heck of a lot of reading.
RB: Who inspires you?
JF: CeCe McDonald inspires me a lot. She's a black trans woman from the states who is a prison abolitionist and incredible activist person. She spent like seven years in a men's prison because she was assaulted and fought back because of it and now is doing just incredible activist work. There's a great documentary about her life.
RB: Was there a moment or a period of time when you began to consider yourself a writer?
JF: Yeah, when I was like eight or something I was like yeah, I'm going to be a writer, I'm going to be a novelist and for many years, probably like for sixteen through like eighteen or something, I very much felt like I kinda lost that for a while. It felt very scary and uncertain. It's been only the last number of years when I've kinda felt like I've had my entire sense of self kind of collapse in a lot of ways and I had to rebuild it. And relearning how to write and create art in whatever way was a big part of doing that. I'm still kinda uncertain as to where that's leading. In some ways I still feel like I'm learning even though I've done like quite a large amount. I feel like I'm always learning and always reconsidering what kind of writer I am.
RB: What is it like to be a trans woman in 2018?
JF: Identity categories are strange. In terms of understanding myself, I had signs very early on that things were different for me. I did not pay attention to them and I was very good at learning how to repress things and that's not a good thing. It took me a really long time to really feel comfortable with myself and it's still a process of learning that every day basically. I feel very comfortable identifying as a trans woman. Like I use she/her pronouns. I feel still like quite alienated by this whole idea of gender binary. I was very well-received with my friends and family but a lot of people had expectations like I was going to be super feminine all the time. I love being feminine but I feel like I can do that in multiple kinds of ways.
RB: What would you tell someone who is in the middle of their teenage years if they're struggling with their identity?
JF: It's okay to be unsure of yourself. It's okay to try things. It's okay to be wrong too. A lot of it was like, I'm not one hundred percent sure of myself, I don't know if this is true. I wish I could have just pushed that aside. Don't let other people's ideas of you affect you too much.
My conversation with Jase was informative. The gist of what I learned was that showing you care often just looks like listening. Listening is especially important when someone who is within a marginalized population has something to say. As a cisgender woman, I now understand that is my responsibility to step back and to let people of other genders be represented in mainstream culture and media. Jase’s amazing command over written and spoken word is something to keep an eye on, especially when looking for work that respects and incorporates many ways of knowing. Though the term “role model” isn’t quite up Jase’s alley, her daily grind offers a glimpse into how she has forged her own path while keeping in mind the feelings and experiences of everyone around her.
2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Mental Health Advocate Extraordinaire
“I think it's important to be courageous so these girls can be courageous as well – to be the person I needed when I was younger.”
Earlier this week I had the chance to speak with Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, a Master of Social Work student at McGill University and a mental health advocate extraordinaire. Kharoll-Ann’s work in her community as a volunteer and leader reminds us that role models need to be constantly committed to the betterment of the next generation. It is quite fitting that she hopes to become a university professor because she is aware of the positive change that young people may make when provided with support and guidance. Kharoll-Ann lives with Bipolar Disorder and speaks about her lived experience with mental illness to large audiences on a regular basis. She is resilient, honest, and articulate and knows how to use those attributes to communicate big ideas. I asked Kharoll-Ann some questions about her life as it is in 2018. So, here’s a closer look at Kharoll-Ann Souffrant’s work as an advocacy mogul in the mental health landscape in Canada.
RB: What are three personal characteristics that make you unique?
KA: “I love to laugh, like, I laugh like every day with my family, friends. It's really easy for me to laugh. The other thing is that I have a lot of empathy for others. I also don't judge others really. I take the time to understand other people. I always think that everyone is fighting a battle that no one knows anything about. I would say when I want something I work to get it and I work until I get it. I never give up.”
RB: Tell me about your history as a mental health advocate.
KA: “When I was in high school and elementary school I experienced a lot of, like, bullying, racism, and my parents separated when I was fourteen. So because I was not doing well in school and at home I was not feeling well at all. So I got diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was seventeen. For all of these years I was not doing well. I had a lot of anxiety, depressive symptoms mostly. When I finished high school that's when I got diagnosed. I quickly accepted the diagnosis. It made sense for me. I knew that I would speak eventually about my experience. I just did not know when and how. A few years after that I saw a call for applications to do a Ted Talk in Quebec City. I had my idea in mind. I wasn't really sure but I still applied a few days before the deadline. I knew that it was going to be about recovery, mental health, my story but also with some research to illustrate my story and the points that I wanted to make. They called me back for an audition and I got selected to do the talk. That was in December 2015. That was the first time I spoke really publicly about my mental illness and my experience.”
RB: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
KA: “I wanted to be a singer, but I don't sing really well. I learned to play the guitar and I wanted to write songs. Avril Lavigne was my huge idol. I learned English through her songs because I was translating the words because I wanted to understand. I felt like her songs meant something that was meaningful. When I was not doing well, music was something that was really important for me. So I was listening to songs that I could really relate to.”
RB: What does your career path look like today?
KA: “Today I'm a Master of Social Work student at McGill. I did a Bachelor of Social Work and before that I did a degree in youth and adult correctional intervention. I want to apply to do a PhD in social work and I would like to be a teacher and a professor in university. I'm really passionate about social work and I've worked before in the field with women who were victims of violence, mental health, and other fields. I've also been a volunteer since I was like twelve years old. I would like to be a professor because when I was not doing well in high school the professors that I had really had a positive impact on me. They really believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. So I would like to be that person for the next generation and to be a role model for them and to really, like, mentor them to eventually be better than I am. I'm applying to do a PhD in fall 2019. I have one year left in my masters and we'll see how it goes.”
RB: What does it mean to you to be a positive role model, especially as a person of colour?
KA: “I do a lot of talks. [I've been invited] to speak to teen girls of Asian descent in Montreal. This really means a lot to me because when I was that age, I didn't have a lot of role models that looked like me and that I could identify with. It's really important for me to be a positive role model for young girls because I remember when I was that age I did not have that. I also think as women, when we try to go forward we get imposter syndrome. For me, like, sometimes I'm doubtful about the things I do but I always think about the young girls and I always tell myself that I need to go forward if I want these girls to go forward and pursue their dreams. I think it's important to be courageous so these girls can be courageous as well – to be the person I needed when I was younger.”
We concluded the interview with a promise to stay in touch. To me, that kind of commitment to continuing relationships is an example of why Kharoll-Ann is an excellent role model. In life, there are connections to be made wherever we go and as women and girls, it’s essential to foster them as much as possible so that we can develop strong networks and broaden our circles. Kharoll-Ann reminded me today that we must be open to gathering new experiences because learning never stops.