Sarah McIlwaine

Sarah McIlwaine, May 2019 Trainee spotlight

May 2019 Trainee spotlight

Supervisor: Jai Shah, MD

Degree: Graduate Student - Master's

Year of Study: Year 3

Program of Study: Psychiatry

Why did you choose to come to the Douglas?

I've wanted to do research in early psychosis since I had the opportunity to coordinate a drama group at the Levinschi House at the Douglas. This unique experience drove my desire to work with individuals experiencing a first episode of psychosis and explore ways in which current services can be further developed. Thus, PEPP-Montreal was a natural fit.

What did you do before coming to the Douglas? (e.g. studies, employment, travel, which university, etc.) *

I was an undergraduate student at Concordia University completing an Honours degree in Psychology. During this time, I volunteered at the Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders Laboratory, and my Honours thesis focused on the belief that contamination can spread among students with contamination fear. Following this, I worked as a research coordinator at the Stress and Developmental Psychopathology Laboratory at Concordia, and worked on a longitudinal project examining the relationship between oxytocin, emotional processing, and memory in individuals who had remitted from a major depressive episode.

Sell your research in 3 sentences (or less) 

Specialized services for young people at risk for psychosis are primarily symptom-based, and focus on preventing the onset of psychosis. However, many young people who are diagnosed as at-risk do not develop psychosis later on. As such, my Master's work aims to identify and describe the needs of youth currently receiving such specialized care and how their needs change over time, with the ultimate goal of determining ways in which our services can be further developed to meet their needs.

What excites you most about your research? 

I have the privilege of listening to the stories of young people who are help-seeking and want their voices heard. What excites me most is to bring these stories to light in order to promote the delivery of services that are more tailored to the needs of young people.

If you could go back in time and give your "younger self" advice, what would you do differently? 

Boring answer: Ask for help when you need it. There were times that I thought I could handle issues that I came across during the implementation of my research project on my own. However, I soon discovered that doing so made the experience more stressful. I learned that research is a collaborative experience (even if you’re a student working on your own project), and asking fellow students for help to read over drafts, brainstorm ideas, problem solve, or even just vent about life, is a key part to making your Master’s a good experience. I wish I had known this a little sooner. Real answer: Do not reject the wonderful comfort of a onesie pajama, you fool. Wearing a onesie while working on data and writing makes the experience exponentially better.

Please share any additional experiences or advice that you'd like to share with prospective Douglas trainees.

Your trainee experience is what you make of it. Go into it with positivity and confidence- believe people when they tell you you’re doing a good job. Go into it too knowing that you can and should make time for yourself (your research doesn’t have to be your life if you don’t want it to be). I particularly struggled with the latter coming into my last year- I felt like I had to choose between my passion (art) and my research career. It took a while for me to realize that I can do both, and that realization was quite freeing. I now do my best to integrate and make space for both, and I think that has made me a better artist and researcher. In short, you’re in control!