SFU Psychology welcomes new assistant professor Molly Cairncross

November 01, 2021

Molly Cairncross will be joining the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University this November as an assistant professor.

Most recently, she completed her research fellowship at University of British Columbia (UBC) and had previously completed her  MA and PhD in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Windsor, and her BHSc, Psychology at Western University. Cairncross will be teaching PSYC 356: Developmental Psychopathology at SFU this Spring 2022 term. Learn more about Dr. Cairncross below!

What brought you to Simon Fraser University?

In 2019, I moved to Vancouver to start my postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of British Columbia. Right away, I fell in love with the city’s access to the mountains and backcountry. On top of the beautiful area, I am thrilled to be joining a Psychology department that offers specialized training in Clinical Neuropsychology. I completed my graduate training at the University of Windsor in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology.  I am excited to teach students who have the same passion for understanding brain-behaviour relationships.

How did your research interests in psychological determinants of health in neurological disorders, metacognition, etc get started?

My research interests are heavily influenced by my clinical work. When I was a PhD student, I completed a clinical practicum at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, a large rehabilitation hospital in Detroit. I saw patients across the spectrum of traumatic brain injury (TBI) severity and I was struck at times by the discrepancy between injury severity and functional outcomes in some of my patients. For example, seeing a patient with a severe TBI requiring long hospitalization who was functioning quite well, compared to a patient who had a seemingly minor concussion but was struggling to return to work or school. This sparked my interest in understanding the psychological, social, and cognitive challenges that affect recovery in concussion and related neurological disorders.

What is the most important issue that your research work addresses? And why/how is it important to you in particular?

I primarily study the psychosocial determinants of health after concussion and use these insights to develop psychologically-informed treatments. We know that mental health problems and other psychosocial factors are among the best predictors of slow recovery from concussion, yet few psychologically-informed treatment options exist. Moreover, there are a number of barriers to accessing psychological treatment in general, such as financial barriers and regional inequities in access to care. The COVID-19 lockdown emphasized the importance of being flexible and adaptive in psychological service delivery. By developing new digital interventions and conducting translational science, I hope that my work will create accessible and scalable treatments for patients who may not otherwise have access to that kind of care.

What are you most looking forward to in working at SFU and also in the Department of Psychology?

 I really value working with others who are passionate and curious about scientific discovery, so I am most looking forward to mentoring undergraduate/graduate trainees and collaborating with new colleagues. I am also excited to be teaching Developmental Psychopathology in the Spring term. I taught Psych 101 at UBC in 2020 entirely online, so I am looking forward to being (safely) back in the classroom and getting to know the students at SFU.

Do you have any advice to students who may want to consider graduate school or a career in Psychology?

Working in a research lab at SFU can help clarify your interests and goals. When I was an undergraduate student, I completed an honors thesis research project and volunteered in a research lab on campus. This experience confirmed my interest in pursuing graduate training. Also, talk to graduate students and professors! It helps to get a sense of “what comes after” graduate school to decide if it’s the right path for you!