By any measure, it’s a milestone.
It’s a personal milestone for Nadia Al-Dajani and Allison Eades, who this week are defending their PhD dissertations. And it’s a professional milestone for their department – they will be the first students to complete their PhDs in U of T Scarborough’s Graduate Department of Psychological Clinical Science, which was founded with a combined MA/PhD program in Clinical Psychology in 2013.
Al-Dajani, who wrote her dissertation on risk factors that predict suicidal thoughts, was there at the start. “I had heard about the program beforehand during my undergrad at U of T, so it was always part of the plan,” she says. “And the program has been great. I feel I have come out as a very well-rounded clinician and researcher.”
Eades, who investigated clinical methods for her dissertation, arrived in 2016 as the program’s first PhD-entry candidate after a series of diverse academic and professional experiences. “Joining this program was such a positive experience in my life,” she says. “I’ve developed some lifelong friendships in addition to professional contacts, and I have had access to incredible training opportunities.”
Vina Goghari, Chair of the Graduate Department of Psychological Clinical Science, says the program has passed several milestones in its seven-year history, notably becoming accredited by the Canadian Psychological Association in 2018.
“This is a time to celebrate,” says Goghari. “We persevered for seven years to meet all these rigorous markers and fully launch a new clinical psychology program at U of T Scarborough. It's a celebration for us, a celebration for the campus, a celebration for the community.”
With the program, she notes, U of T has joined McGill and UBC in being the only universities in Canada to offer what’s known as the clinical science model, fully integrating research and clinical work. For graduates, this means that “regardless of whether you're a clinician or a researcher or a hospital administrator, you're using the research to guide your decision-making. Science and data is at the forefront of everything you do, regardless of what role you're in.” The program has been innovative from the beginning, Goghari notes. “I am really proud of our students and I think that in whatever they do, they will change how things work and innovate in their work.”
Both women have received highly positive assessments of their written dissertations and are currently working in a one-year, full-time clinical internship that will be the last step to their degrees when completed on Aug. 31.
Al-Dajani will continue her work in September as a post-doctoral fellow for one year at Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. After doing her master’s thesis on an aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder, she wrote her PhD dissertation on how day-to-day emotions can predict, and even reinforce, suicidal thoughts. With the help of Mobile Application Development Lab (MADLab) at U of T and others, Al-Dajani customized open-source app software to allow participants to use their smartphones to track their emotions before, during, and after thinking of suicide. One section of her dissertation has already been published in the journal Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation.
Al-Dajani hopes eventually to work outside the lab as well. “I see a lot of value in working both as a researcher and as a clinician, so I can still have my hand in both worlds. That way, my research can inform my clinical work and vice versa.”
Eades came to U of T Scarborough with two master’s degrees under her belt, first at Concordia University in Human Systems Intervention and later at the University of Colorado Springs in Clinical Psychology. In between, she worked with the elderly at Baycrest in Toronto, which stoked her interest in geriatric psychology.
Her dissertation examined aspects of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2-RF, a psychological test commonly used in clinical practice. She found that the test is good at spotting patients who may be exaggerating or misstating the magnitude of their difficulties, but may have weaknesses in differentiating between different types of exaggerated symptoms.
Eades is still looking at her future options, but she feels her long and winding PhD journey, including rejections at times, has shown the benefit of perseverance. “If I could offer one thing to younger students,” she says, “I would love to help them believe in the value of their unique experiences and perspectives, even if these experiences are sometimes awkwardly or painfully outside the box of ‘academic tradition’.”