My name is McKenzie Braley. I am Cree and a member of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. Currently, I am a graduate student in the Clinical Neuropsychology stream of the Clinical Psychology program and am involved in Dr. Wendy Thornton's Cognitive Aging lab. My master's thesis focuses on the relationship between anxiety symptoms and social cognition in healthy younger and older adults. Broadly, my research interests are typical and atypical aging, neurocognition and language in clinical populations, as well as the interplay between psychosocial vulnerabilities and neurocognition. I am also the Graduate student representative for the Indigenous Reconciliation Committee in the Department of Psychology. Through this role, I am excited to share my unique experiences as an Indigenous graduate student with others, and to contribute to reconciliation, Indigenization, and cultural safety in my department.
What motivated you to pursue your MA/PhD studies in Clinical Neuropsychology?
When I started my undergraduate degree in psychology, I knew that it was my passion to help people with mental illness, but I didn't really know what this would mean. As I took more psychology courses and started working as a research assistant, I realized how interested I was in the brain! After my undergraduate degree, I worked with Fraser Health to manage a project on assessing frailty in seniors. I loved working with the older adult patients, who had so many stories and wisdom to share! Through my experiences, I've come to realize that my calling is becoming a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in the brain to help older adults and other individuals with psychiatric illnesses.
Could you tell us a bit about the Cognitive Aging Lab?
I am a master’s student in the Cognitive Aging lab where we are currently working on studies that assess aging within the context of the covid-19 pandemic. One study involves understanding older adults’ psychosocial wellbeing amid the pandemic. We are specifically comparing data collected in our lab on older adults’ psychosocial vulnerabilities (e.g., depression, anxiety, loneliness) from before and after the outset of the covid-19 pandemic. Secondly, we are conducting studies to understand risk factors for financial fraud victimization in younger and older adult populations. This is currently a vital area of research, as covid-19 has triggered a dramatic increase in financial fraud, with already a loss of $5.55 million CAD reported between March and July 2020.
What are you enjoying the most about your studies/research at SFU?
I was originally drawn to SFU for many reasons, such as the exciting research, tight knit community, and beautiful Metro-Vancouver location. Now, I am most excited about the clinical training. In the clinical psychology program, we have so many opportunities for exciting and unique clinical experiences! This fall, I look forward to starting a neuropsychology practicum at UBC Hospital’s BC Psychosis Program Inpatient Unit, where I will receive training in conducting neuropsychological assessments of patients who have schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders.
Do you have any tips/advice for prospective psychology graduate students?
If you’re considering graduate school, get involved in a research lab to gain important experiences and to help you decide what you like (and don't like!). However, don’t get too caught up in thinking that you need to have everything figured out as an undergraduate student. Take your time to find what you enjoy and go from there. Remember that graduate school is not a race; everyone works at their own paces and has their own unique stories. Above all, enjoy the journey and have confidence in yourself as an applicant!