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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Alumni Interview with Kashmala Qasim

Author: Claire Gage

We recently got the opportunity to meet with Kashmala, who completed her MSc in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. She is finishing the final 6 months of her PhD in psychology at York and we were delighted to have the opportunity to connect with her!

What is your current role? What have you been doing since graduating from the MiNDS program?

I'm a PhD student at York University in the graduate program of psychology, and more specifically, history theory and critical Psych. I'm in my last year of doctoral studies with six more months to go before I can defend my dissertation. In the second year of my master's program, McMaster was offering funding for community engagement projects. So, I along with two other students decided to apply for this grant. We ended up getting the money and the applications approved. Essentially, what they wanted us to do was to go out in the community and translate our research in a way that's simple for community members to understand. Creating awareness for neuroscience, psychology and mental health research in broad society. That was my foundation for doing community work and I've been continuing those workshops up until now. I continue to do mental health workshops within primarily the Muslim and minoritized ethnic communities.

Since then, I also tried my hand at therapy. I did two years of a pastoral counseling program at UofT and I have completed a faith-based course at Al Huda Institute, which is an institute founded for women, by women in academia where you study the Quran in an academic way. It can help you with your spirituality and get you a better grasp of your faith. I was trying to combine my interest in Quranic studies with neuroscience, psychology, therapy, and counseling. I talked to my supervisor towards the end of my two years of that therapy program and just said, hey, if I want to continue, I would like to combine my own faith-based practices, because at that time, Christianity was the only option that you could kind of blend that with. She suggested that I would need to have an evidence-based model, and for that I need to do a PhD. I entered a PhD and switched over to psychology because my research interests were going more towards mental health. Initially, I was doing quantitative psychology and then slowly ended up being where I am currently, which is more qualitative and community-based psychology.

How did the MiNDS program help get you where you are today?

As a graduate student, I learned how to write grants and do literature reviews. And the second thing is get trained for statistics such as performing multiple regression analyses and ANOVAs. Other research training that was provided in MiNDS like learning how to do a systematic review, a scoping review, just going through a lot of data, collaborating with community partners, other researchers at St. Joseph's Hospital as well, where most of my research was done. All these things I think are transferable skills that really helped me get where I am.

While you were doing your master's degree, did you already know what you wanted to do next? How did you decide what your next steps would be?

I was dead set on going into neuro-psych and just combining neuroscience and psychology because a lot of my undergraduate training was in that. But by being totally practical and frank and just talking to people within hospital-based settings, I found out that there's not a huge need for neuropsychologists. You need like one per hospital or one for every few hospitals. So, I tried my hand at these internship positions, I would kind of job shadow neuroscientists, I did some research, some clinical work. I was sort of set on neuro-psych, and then it kind of went more onto the psychology side of things. Initially, I thought I was just going to be a neuroscience researcher for the rest of my life. And then I just sort of let the path guide me as my interests were changing. I started talking to people, other mentors, and then that just led me to where I am now. So no, I did not know what I was doing at that point, and I didn't know where I was going to end up being.

Does your current work relate to what you did in the MiNDS program? If not, how did you become interested in your current field of study?

No, it is not related directly to what I'm doing. There are things that still pop up, like two semesters ago, I was directing a course at university, which is called brain and behavior. So that's where all the MiNDS stuff came back, I had to go back to all my neuroscience notes and get really good with everything brain related. So, in terms of the technical knowledge of the brain, and how the brain works, structure, anatomy, all that stuff in terms of teaching, it's really been helpful. But in terms of my current role other than the teaching aspect, my research and my community work, is a lot more mental health focused and more on the psychology side, not so much on the neuroscience side. I just ended up here because of wanting to be able to integrate a lot of my different interests. MiNDS I think was a great place to start, and I've realized what I am interested in, which was the brain. And then I kind of wanted to pull at mental health, spirituality, religiosity, community, and just kind of make a nice little package. And I think all the different interests got me to where I am right now.

Do you have any advice for students in the program who are still figuring out what they want to do?

I think the biggest thing which I've benefited from is just getting out of the university atmosphere, getting out of academia. So just to get your brain and your head out of books and academia and research papers, and just get out there. And by out there I just mean communities, either your own community, you can define it by culture, by religion, by ethnicity, or just your local community. It could be a volunteer thing; it could just be maybe developing educational curriculums for schools. It could just be anything, it could be volunteering at a soup kitchen, just getting out there talking to other people who are not in academia. And sometimes when people talk to you and you’re a master's student, they give you opportunities that you hadn't thought of by just being in your lab the whole day or being at the library, or just going from class to class. So, I think talking to other people outside of academia and outside of your program, that's the biggest advice I would give.

What was your favorite thing about the program?

It was the first year the MiNDS program was created, so we were the first class. I think my favorite part was just being the first graduating class to get through the program. And that it was a very small cohort, seven or eight people. It was really nice to get to know everyone, and we were just really close. We knew what everybody else was doing. We had just like one or two classes, it was very new and it was very flexible as well, I think at that time because we were kind of deciding what we wanted, what courses we wanted, we had a lot of say in designing the program and what types of colloquia we wanted or departmental talks. So, in the end I would say the flexibility and also the closeness of the cohort.
Thank you so much to Kashmala for chatting with us!