" The lab is incredibly productive, with many projects occurring simultaneously. I am involved in multiple collaborations focused on gratitude and prosociality, and the experience I gain here is so invaluable."

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Kristina Castaneto

January 17, 2024

Psychology master's student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

A little about me: I am in my first year of graduate school, I love to engage in all forms of art, and I love making people laugh and smile even if that means being a bit silly! I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Psychology (Honours), with specializations in Pre-counselling, and Disability and Applied Behaviour Analysis. I wasn't always certain that I would pursue psychology as a career, but I did have an idea early on that I was curious about people and why we do the things that we do. I have always been interested in what sparks joy in others and how we share joyful experiences with those around us. In my second year of undergrad, I was sitting in a psychology lecture when I came to realize that I wanted to be an educator one day. I want to be able to encourage enthusiasm and genuine curiosity about psychological content, and I wanted to create a space for students to feel like they are allowed to have fun and to make mistakes as part of the learning process. It would be so incredible to reach this goal, so I will continue to try my hardest to get there!

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

I came to SFU so that I could work alongside my supervisor, Dr. Lara Aknin. Not only is she exemplary in the field of positive psychology, but she is also an amazing mentor from whom I am already learning so much from. Studying at SFU also meant that I'd become a member of Dr. Aknin's Helping and Happiness Lab, which is home to many of the kindest and most hard-working students I have ever met. The lab is incredibly productive, with many projects occurring simultaneously. I am involved in multiple collaborations focused on gratitude and prosociality, and the experience I gain here is so invaluable.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

For my master’s thesis, I am studying when, why and how people reach out to old friends with whom they have lost touch. Social relationships are vital for happiness, yet most people have old friends that they think fondly of and miss dearly because some friendships simply fade away. If given the chance to reach out to an old friend, are people willing to do so? What motivates them? What do people say? I am currently studying the content of these reaching out messages to begin exploring these questions. With the insight gained from analyzing these messages' features, I can then determine practical solutions that may increase people's willingness to reach out to old friends.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Friendships, Prosociality, Happiness

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

I think that the greatest gain that comes from these experiences is being able to interact and connect with such a vast range of people. I would like to say that what I have achieved thus far was soley due to my own merit, but I am comfortable to say that I truly couldn't have done this alone. Whether it be wisdom from my professors, the struggle and solidarity from my cohort, the gratitude received from the students I have taught, or the encouragement from my friends and family - all of these wonderful encounters have supported my academic growth in a multitude of ways.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

This year, I was fortunate to be a recipient of the SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship ($17,500) and a Special Graduate Entrance Scholarship ($5,000). I feel very lucky and grateful to have earned this funding to support my research endeavors.

What have been the most valuable lessons you've learned along your graduate student journey (or in becoming a graduate student)?

To give myself grace when things become difficult, reminding myself that, above all else, I am here to learn!


Contact Kristina:kristina_castaneto@sfu.ca