Each year, doctoral students from five Canadian universities and the Canada Council for the Arts vie for the prestigious Killam Doctoral Scholarships. Established in memory of Izaak Walton Killam through the Will of his wife, Dorothy J. Killam, Mrs. Killam desired that those selected to receive scholarships: “Be likely to contribute to the advancement of learning or to win distinction in a profession. A Killam scholar should not be a one-sided person… Special distinction of intellect should be founded upon sound character.”
This year, a passion to change the world and an abundance of sound character, led Paige Copeland, Maria Correia, and Tashia Petker to receive the prestigious award.
“It’s exciting to see three promising researchers at UBC Okanagan being recognized by the Killam Foundation,” says Dr. Peter Simpson, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “Student researchers play an important role in shaping our world and laying the groundwork for future generations of researchers. These scholarships will go a long way in helping Tashia, Maria, and Paige to continue their promising research.”
Killam Doctoral Scholarships are the most prestigious awards available to graduate students at UBC. Approximately 15-20 awards are made each year to the top doctoral candidates in the Affiliated Fellowships competition. At present, the Killam Doctoral Scholarship provides an annual stipend valued at $30,000 for two years plus a small travel allowance.
Tashia is a Ph.D. student in the Clinical Psychology program supervised by Dr. Zach Walsh. Her research focuses on the therapeutic applications of psychedelic substances to help people recover from drug addiction. Tashia’s research is especially relevant today in light of Canada’s worsening opioid epidemic. She is particularly interested in how psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can be used to treat problematic opioid use and improve currently available treatments. As a doctoral student at UBCO, Tashia is excited to be conducting innovative clinical research that could inform future approaches to addiction treatment.
Before this work, Tashia published studies on the cognitive effects of cannabis use, ADHD, using yoga to treat addiction, neuroimaging studies, and behavioural addictions such as gambling and binge-eating.
Tashia’s passion for her research comes from her lived experience with addiction and the challenges she, her friends, peers, and patients have faced navigating the health care system.
“I was 17 when I received life-saving treatment that helped me turn my life around at a young age, however, most are not so lucky,” says Tashia. “Sadly the current model of addiction treatment is not effective for many people, and there is an urgent need to discover treatment approaches that fill this gap.”
Over the last 10 years, Tashia has worked as a peer mentor, addiction counsellor, and addiction researcher. Through these experiences, Tashia came to believe that to solve the addiction and opioid crises, we need to shift the way we view substance use treatment. Her research delves into this, exploring the use of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy as an innovative treatment for problematic substance use.
“There still is a lot of controversy surrounding psychedelics, especially in substance use treatment, which is why I think it is important to do high-quality studies that will critically evaluate their potential role in reducing problematic opioid use.”
Maria is a Ph.D. student supervised by Dr. Aleksandra Dulic in the Sustainability theme of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies program.
Her research involves comparing participatory modelling and Indigenous research methodologies for multi-actor consensus building and sustainable management of Okanagan Lake – with a focus on fuzzy cognitive mapping and the Syilx-specific Enowkinwixw process.
Before returning to the Okanagan and entering the Ph.D. program, Maria had a long career in international development, which included working for the World Bank in Washington DC for over two decades. During these professional years, Maria had the opportunity to work on gender and social inclusion in over 40 countries.
It was Maria’s return to the Okanagan, where she was born, that sparked her passion for climate-related research with Indigenous communities.
“Coming back home and studying climate change issues from an Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspective is like seeing Canada for the first time, and rethinking what it was, what it is, and what it can be,” says Maria. “My research, including engaging with the SyilxIndigenous community, has challenged me to reconsider the way I think and live in profound and long-lasting ways.”
Paige is a Ph.D. student in Kinesiology supervised by Dr. Brian Dalton. Her research aims to investigate how different concentrations of THC and CBD affect sensory, motor, and cognitive function over the adult lifespan in males and females. The research initiative will involve an integrative neurophysiological approach focusing on identifying factors within the brain, spinal cord and muscles that may be influenced by cannabis use and impact movement and balance control.
The rate of cannabis use is increasing in older adults quicker than any other age group. If cannabis were to impair the neural control of movement and balance, there may be an increased risk of falling. This increased risk of falls may outweigh the benefits of cannabis use as falls lead to catastrophic outcomes for older adults.
“I believe there is great potential for cannabis to be incorporated as a beneficial aspect of our health care system, but first we must have a more holistic understanding of the effects it can have on human body function,” says Paige. “This project will allow me to conduct research under the supervision of Dr. Brian Dalton and Dr. Chris McNeil, both experts in neuromuscular physiology, and complete a Ph.D. at a world-class institution, UBC.”
Paige believes UBC provides her with the optimal environment to grow and develop the skills necessary to succeed as a health researcher. She also hopes that her project, funded by the Stober Foundation, will help foster collaborative relationships with local innovators and industry partners to further our understanding of human neurophysiology as well as develop and improve the efficacy of cannabis-related products.