Alumni Profile Elijah Mudryk

BA in Psychology, Simon Fraser University,`16   
Clinical Psychology PhD student at the University of Mississippi                           
Connect with Elijah on Twitter here; feel free to check out his recent TEDxUniversityofMississippi talk here.

1.      Where do you currently work and what is your position? 

I am finishing my Master’s in clinical psychology at the University of Mississippi and I am moving on to my PhD here as well! My thesis is on how religion can influence our perceptions of mental illness biologically, spiritually, or socially, and I intend to present my dissertation on the use of faith as a coping mechanism for adversity. In addition to this, I am an advocate for civil rights through community volunteering, speeches and workshops (like my recent TED talk), and enjoy mentoring for undergraduate students from different backgrounds.

2. Why did you decide to study psychology?

I started my academic career in psychology but left to explore a few other fields. What drew me back to psychology was the fact that career options were endless; they could be customizable to my personal interests and goals. Even when I left psychology during my gap years, I found myself citing it in casual conversation or referencing psychology studies to see what advances were out there. Psychology was always on my mind.

3. What were your favourite courses? Who were your favourite professors at SFU psychology?

Dr. Shannon Zaitsoff was one of my favourite PSYC professors because she made psychology accessible to me, which is a genuine talent - you can’t teach someone to connect with individuals despite being in a full auditorium. She taught the introduction to abnormal psychology class and helped me understand the psychological disorders that I had so much curiosity about. Another psychology professor that comes to mind is Dr. Jodi Viljoen. She taught a forensic psychology class that piqued my interest in risk and protective factors. During her office hours, her words about the potential for research to help broader populations of people was a turning point in my life that led me to where I am now.

4. What did you originally plan to do with your degree in psychology during your undergrad, if you had any ideas at that time? Is that different than what you do now? If so, how?

During my undergrad I originally just wanted to know more! About people, reactions to extreme situations, resilience, religion, racial encounters… all of it! My guiding idea was that I wanted to be in a field where I wouldn’t “need a weekend” to escape from what I was doing during the week. It was less important to have a plan. Instead, it was more important to have a loose idea of how I could fill that tenet and aim myself towards it, like a ship riding a soft current.

5. How did your time at SFU change you and influence your career?

SFU helped me grow by stoking my curiosity through teachers like Dr. Zaitsoff and Dr. Viljoen. Up until then, coursework had always felt like something I had to do. After spending more time at SFU, I found a passion in me that I didn’t know had been there. It wasn’t exactly telling me who I was, I already knew who I was - instead, it showed me more who I could be and that was so much more inspiring.

6. What advice would you give to students that you wish you knew in your undergrad?  What was important to you then and what’s important now?

This may seem counter-intuitive, but don’t pressure yourself to become your major or make it your whole identity. Think more on what’s important to you (e.g., advocacy for certain groups, working with people, working public or private) and ask questions from people in different fields to help direct you towards those goals. You don’t need that “lightning bolt of passion” because, for so many people, passion builds by giving things a chance and letting it grow over time. I’ve always been the type to go down a Google binge of things I was curious about for a lot of things the answers aren’t there yet, so psychology is that fit where I can find them myself.