Episode 17: Finding and Being a Mentor, Anti-Racist Education, and What a Professor "Looks" Like with Dr. Louise Chim
Dr. Louise Chim is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology. She teaches introductory psychology, statistical methods in psychology, and cultural psychology. Broadly, she is interested in finding ways to facilitate student engagement and learning in large classes and how cultural contexts and emotions shape these processes. Louise was awarded the UVic Social Sciences Early Career Teaching Award in 2019. Currently, she is also a casual developmental psychologist continuously learning about how her own child makes sense of the world.
"I am Asian Canadian and I think I'm feeling a bit more empowered seeing other people in my community engaged in this activism."
Dr. Louise Chim
Waving, Not Drowning
Rebecca Gagan: Hi everyone! I’m Rebecca Gagan, and this is Waving, Not Drowning, a UVic Bounce podcast. Today’s episode is being recorded on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Wsáneć and Lekwungen peoples.
In today’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talk with Dr. Louise Chim, an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Chim teaches introductory psychology, statistical methods in psychology, and cultural psychology. She is interested in finding ways to facilitate student engagement and learning in large classes and how cultural contexts and emotions shape these processes. Louise was awarded the UVic Social Sciences Early Career Teaching Award in 2019. Currently, she’s also a casual developmental psychologist, continuously learning about how her own child makes sense of the world. In our conversation, Louise shares with me some of her experience of being a Chinese Canadian undergraduate student at Harvard University, where she had been recruited to play women’s ice hockey.
Louise talks about how in her very earliest experience of psychology at Harvard, she realized that so much of the research and studies that had been conducted in that field were really on majority populations and that there were many populations that were not represented in that research. And this realization really motivated Louise to want to enter into the field of psychology and to really work and advocate for changes. Louise also talks about issues of representation and identity at the university, more specifically in what is really one of the most powerful moments in this episode. Louise talks about how, as an undergraduate student, she had certain ideas about what a professor looked like and who was entitled to holding knowledge and that some of these ideas have really stayed with her, even now as she is a professor. We talk about anti-racist education, and Louise shares how in her own classes, she really embraces and teaches with an anti-racist pedagogy. But importantly, Louise also reminds us and acknowledges that there is still so much work to do and that students and professors alike need to relentlessly investigate, interrogate and examine our own assumptions, our own stereotypes that we hold, and that this work must be ongoing and rigorous in order to really engage in anti-racist pedagogy. I’m Rebecca Gagan here today with Dr. Louise Chim. And this is Waving, Not Drowning. Hi Louise, it’s really so wonderful to be able to talk with you today. How are you doing?
Louise Chim: Hi Rebecca. Yeah. I’m just really excited to be on this podcast. I’ve heard really great things about it. Yeah, I’m happy to share my story here. Things are good, for the most part. There seems to be this hope in sight. I am hoping that we’ll all be soon vaccinated with our first dose soon, but I think things are also hard– we’re in the middle of essentially a lockdown, and I recognize that I have a lot of privilege through this whole pandemic. I have a stable occupation; I have a son who’s three years old. He’s still in daycare; he was in daycare throughout the entire pandemic, so there was not a time where I was teaching online and having to care for a toddler, but it’s also hard. I moved to Victoria from California, and I was really excited to get a job at UVic because I have a lot of extended family in Vancouver, and I thought, wow, that’s so close.
We can see each other all the time, and we had for a while, but this lockdown is– really made me feel like we do live on an island and that it’s really hard to be able to see people, even if they’re just a ferry ride away. So, I think that’s been hard for me– not to see my extended family. It’s been hard for my family. My kid is the first grandkid of the family, and you know, kids just grow up so quickly and develop so quickly at those younger ages, and I think they really are sad that they’re missing out on that, so I think that’s been really hard. I think more recently, thinking about how to be an anti-racist, how do I contribute and perpetuate the racism that exists, and reflecting on what I can do, especially as an educator, to be anti-racist. The pandemic– there’s been an increase in anti-Asian racism as well, so that’s been really interesting to see the sort of increase in awareness and anti-Asian racism, and for me, I know you can’t see me on a podcast, but I am Asian Canadian, and I think I’m feeling a bit more empowered seeing other people in my community engage in this activism, so that’s been neat to reflect on.
And finally, the biggest thing I think of the pandemic, for me, is teaching and learning as we’ve all adapted, both students and instructors on how do we teach and learn in an online environment, and as much as it’s been such a challenge, I think it’s really pushed me as an instructor. I’ve grown thinking about how do I make learning more inclusive? How can we leverage the technology to make it more inclusive? For example, now being able to do things like caption our recordings, or caption even our live sessions for students. This notion of not just lecturing when we know that Zoom fatigue is a real thing and lecturing is– listening to a lecture online can be quite challenging. So, providing different ways of learning the material that’s not lecture-based. So even though it’s been a really hard year of teaching and learning, I think we can take a lot from this, and we can grow as instructors, and we can grow as students that hopefully, we’ll bring forward in the ways that we teach and learn. A lot of people said, “oh, I can’t wait until we go back to face-to-face. It can be normal again.” And someone I follow on Twitter, her name’s VG Sathi, she said, “I hope we don’t go back to normal because online we’ve learned other ways to be more inclusive,” so I hope that we take these lessons into our teaching, into our learning when we go back to face-to-face, so I certainly hope that’s the case.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think– and I also find myself now when I start to use that phrase of going back to quote-unquote normal, I catch myself now and don’t say that because I think while we certainly want to go back to a time where we didn’t have to live in certain ways because of COVID, what you shared, and certainly, I agree with this, is that the pandemic has provided us with. This kind of portal, right? Through which to change structures and systems that aren’t working, and that when you’ve shared Louise about how you– a big hurdle, of course, is learning how to teach online, but as you’re doing that, you’re also opening up learning so that it can be more inclusive. And you’re thinking about questions of accessibility, and these are questions that I think, as educators, we’ve not thought about nearly as much as we should have, and that the pandemic has brought all of that to light for us, and you’ve also shared Louise that at the same time, as we’ve been moving through the pandemic, you’ve been reflecting on and having a chance to really think deeply about how to make your own classroom spaces, you know, inclusive in terms of how to be– have those be anti-racist spaces, and so I think sometimes we– I don’t think that any of us forget that, at the same time, as we’re moving through the pandemic, we are also living through and learning from the George Floyd trial, discussions around anti-Asian racism, so it sounds to me as if all of these things were happening at once, and while those events would be challenging, you’ve shared Louise that they were opportunities for you for learning and for growth, and that you see that those are opportunities for your students as well. Would that be accurate?
Louise Chim: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in thinking about this pandemic as opportunities, I think we all have this natural reaction to try to think, “oh, what can we draw from the sort of difficult situation?” “What are the benefits, and what have we learned?” And I think that’s what I’ve been reflecting on, now that it’s been over a year of the pandemic, like “what can we learn from this? And what sort of positive outcomes can we draw?” I do think I still have a long way to go into making my classroom inclusive and being more anti-racist, right, like I think a lot of us want to claim that we’re not racist, but if you’re not being anti-racist, then you’re perpetuating that problem.
And trying to do a better job in my classroom in incorporating ways to be an anti-racist, and I think that’s something natural we can do easily in a classroom that teaches about psychology, that teaches about cultural psychology; these are the classes I teach at the university, but I need to do a better job at that, and I hope through this, and I hope through thinking about my classes and– I think I need to do a better job and I think having it on my mind constantly as we’re working through developing our courses, and revitalizing our courses, and improving our courses, is an important thing for all of us.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that the piece around not going backwards, right? So not going back to whatever normal that was, that we reject that. And that no, we’re trying to grow here and learn, and still learning– I totally agree with you that one thing that this pandemic has taught me is how much– and it’s not just the pandemic, it’s everything that’s happened in this past year– that I have still so much to learn as a teacher, as a human and I don’t want to go back to whatever state that was in terms of how I thought about myself in relation to others, and that we just go forward, and keep learning and keep growing. And I don’t think that’s the same thing as– I’ve always been nervous about I don’t want to have this kind of Pollyannish attitude about the pandemic. I think this is very different. This is a kind of critical hope or critical sort of optimism around thinking that we can improve. We can make things better. We can be more fully anti-racist right. There are things that we can do. And there are lessons that this year has taught us that we must not lose track of.
Louise Chim: Absolutely. And I recognize the role that students play in this, which is great because I think students in our classroom, a lot of times they’re teaching us about these things and then calling us out when maybe we make mistakes. And that is fantastic, too. And that’s how we learn, so–
Rebecca Gagan: That is absolutely how we learn. And so, Louise, you provided a very nice segue here because I want to talk to you– just bringing us back to thinking about students. And of course, you know that UVic Bounce is faculty-led, but it’s student centred, so it’s about how to, you know, support students by sharing faculty stories of their own experiences as students, and I have wanted to talk to you for so long, in order to just hear more about your experience as a student, maybe some of the difficulties and challenges you had, and I’m hopeful that you might be willing to share some of that with us today.
Louise Chim: Yeah, absolutely. And funny enough, when we were trying to plan to set this up between the two of us, we had set on a date, and this is a story of knowing when you have too much on your plate. I had to email you, Rebecca, and say, “I thought I would be done with the end of term by now, but I’m not, and I’m completely overwhelmed.” And I felt bad about it, but I wanted to make sure I took the time to prepare myself for this podcast. And your reply was great: “don’t even worry about it. I completely understand we can schedule this, reschedule this for another time.” And it’s a constant reminder to ourselves, like hey, sometimes we have too much on our plates, and it’s okay to say no, or it’s okay to push something off.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s such an important piece. I wish that I had learned that when– or understood that– when I was an undergrad student, that like, it’s okay to set those boundaries or put something off and people will understand, you just have to communicate that to your profs, and I think there’s a lot of compassion and kindness that’s available to students if it’s just communicated and then also, yeah, you can set those boundaries, too. So yeah.
Louise Chim: Absolutely. I think that is something else we’ve learned from the pandemic with the whole stipulation of not requiring medical notes or documentation, you know, makeup exams or extensions. I think instructors have begun to realize, you know, sometimes people do need those deadlines extended, or sometimes there needs to be other opportunities for students to submit their work.
Rebecca Gagan: And that, you know, again, we are starting to, as a community, as a campus, start to make those important changes around not needing those kinds of things and that we can– there can be extensions there without medical notes and things like that, that we can make room and make space for people. Louise, did you do your undergrad in the states?
Louise Chim: Yeah. You know, I’ll talk a little bit about my experiences with students, and I’ll preface it by just giving a little background of who I am. So, I’m Chinese Canadian. My parents immigrated here in the 1970s, so before I was born, to Manitoba, and then they started moving further towards BC– so then they moved to Alberta, and that’s where I was born–I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and then I grew up in Richmond, British Columbia, which I know some of my students also going up there– we’ve sometimes connected about which high school did you go to in Richmond, or these days I have friends who are now teachers in high schools and in British Columbia, in the lower mainland. And they’ll say, “oh, you were here– you were at the same high school as my whatever teacher,” so that’s been really interesting. So, I grew up in British Columbia; I grew up in Richmond and did fairly well in school. And I was lucky enough to go to school in the US and have those opportunities for learning in a different cultural context. I went to school at Harvard college, which people have sort of connotations of the types of people who go to very prestigious universities like Harvard. You might have some assumptions about me now thinking, “oh wow, Dr. Chim or Louise went to Harvard University. And I think particularly as an Asian immigrant, there are certain connotations of the model minority myth that people who go to Harvard, “wow, you must have had parents that made you study like 24 hours a day and you must have only had straight A’s, and if you’ve got a B, people were upset” and I wanna acknowledge that at least in my experience, in my family, that wasn’t the typical sort of quote-unquote stereotype of the Asian Canadian students. I did well in school, but my parents and my brother really supported me in whatever I wanted to do. I did well in school fairly well, but I went to a public school. I did play the violin. I think that’s also a stereotype of Asian Canadians and Americans that you play some kind of musical instrument, particularly violin or piano. I will also say I played the baritone saxophone though in high school, which is a sort of different there, and I also played ice hockey growing up. And so, it just happened to be these combination of things that I did in high school led me to apply to Harvard, in particular, that I played ice hockey, and actually, my brother was one of my coaches for ice hockey. He’s seven years older than me, and so he really supported that piece, and I managed to get recruited to go to Harvard, to not only go to school but also play on the ice hockey team.
Rebecca Gagan: Okay, so I had no idea that Harvard had like a women’s ice hockey team?
Louise Chim: Harvard has a women’s ice hockey team. Yeah. Ice hockey is quite big on the east coast of the US, Harvard also. This is something that made me feel intimidated when I went there– we have Olympians. We have Olympians on our team, the plate on the women’s Canadian National Team, as well as the American National Team, so it was quite a strong program.
Rebecca Gagan: Wow! I had no idea, Louise.
Louise Chim: Yeah, so that’s my secret talents that people don’t expect out of me. I was nowhere near as good as the Olympians on our team, so don’t think oh, you know, Louise could have fit in it to the Olympics; I was nowhere close to that, but I did get to play with these amazing athletes and people, so that was really interesting. So yeah– so my student experience might be a little different, but with similar challenges and struggles, for sure. So, at Harvard, I think I struggled a lot with moving to a new country. I know it feels like Canada is very similar to the US in a lot of respects, but I think moving to a new country, living in a dorm, being away from family for the first time, and I think the university culture is very different. Like high school, at least at my high school, you go to your classes, you do your work– these people who were at Harvard, that culture, they were just amazing human beings who in some cases were a lot more prepared for university, that maybe some of them even have already finished a lot of their first-year classes. They could move on to their second-year classes through their high school credits, so I think that was a big struggle, I think– struggling with being Canadian, also being Asian, and then being immersed in this entirely different culture. I remember first going there, and just like UVic, they have club days or whatever, where you go around, and you learn about the different clubs and organizations on campus you can be part of.
And someone from the Asian-American club on campus was like, “oh, do you want to join the Asian American club on campus?” And I was “like, I’m not Asian American, I’m Asian Canadian.” What a jerk I must’ve sounded like. It’s all about that Asian, American, Canadian identity, and I think the part problem was I didn’t identify with being American. And so, that sort of pushed me off of that group, but yeah, as a student in my first year, I didn’t know really what I wanted to do. In undergrad, I wanted to be pre-med, whatever that meant. I didn’t really know what that meant. I think I just thought, “well, I did well in my science classes, so pre-med sorta makes sense.” So, I did take a bunch of the pre-med classes and my first year, but I was lucky in the second semester of my first year, I took an intro to psychology course, and I’d never taken psychology before. And it just… it just opened my eyes. Taking intro psych with a very passionate and engaged professor really shaped my interests and got me excited about psychology. And so, some of you might know, and some of you probably have had me as your instructor for psych 100 because psych 100 is a very large class, and I teach a lot of it. I feel a great sense of responsibility teaching that course because that was the course that got me really excited about psychology. And I hope at least some students share that excitement and interest, and passion after taking intro psych with us.
Rebecca Gagan: So, you feel a lot of pressure, Louise, to give that– to give them what you had. Yeah.
Louise Chim: And you know, my intro psych instructor, Dr. Daniel Gilbert, who has written even pop psychology books, you can see, he has a Ted talk that has been listened to, I don’t know, probably millions of times. He’s a really engaging instructor. And so, yeah, it’s interesting to be on that other end as a professor, but it shaped my interest and got me really excited about psychology. After taking that in the spring, I was like, oh, I want to be a research assistant. How do I get involved in psychology research? So, I was lucky enough. I went back to Vancouver for the summer and volunteered in a lab out at UBC and then started volunteering in labs in my second year at Harvard. We’re lucky enough to have these–, and I think we do too, we have– you can get course credit for working in a lab.
And so, we do have that here at UVic as well. I think they are psych 390 and 490, which are independent studies in psychology, and so that gets you a bit more experience in what psychology research is like, as opposed to just learning it in your classroom, but I think reflecting back on that experience of why I was really excited about psychology. I also thought I could make an impact because I listened to the different phenomena we talked about, particularly in social psychology, and I felt like I was hearing about studies and research that didn’t represent my own experiences. And I know an anecdote is not data; that you do have to collect those data and think about, okay what does what does this actually represent, but I think it was starting to plant the seeds of recognizing that a lot of the psychology research that we do is on samples that are not necessarily representative of the population.
First, that a lot of the studies are done on psychology, undergraduate students, but they’re doing it as part of a research bonus participation or class credit, things like that, where that’s the population that we study different phenomena. And so, how are they represented there, maybe more educated than other than the general population? We do know also predominantly these samples are white participants, so I think taking these classes in undergrad and being a psychology major in undergrad really sparked my interest in making sure that our psychology is maybe more representative of larger populations, of more diverse populations.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. And this, Louise, I could be wrong, but it sounds there’s this connection here between that moment of being on campus at clubs day and someone saying, “oh, do you want to join the Asian-American club?” and you feeling in that moment that you were invisible in certain ways, that your own identity was not seen, and how could you communicate that, that you were Chinese -Canadian and that, you know, this to me sounds like it’s also connected into your motivation and your interest in psychology. And like in terms of how to make that more representative, so that people can feel seen, in the sense that their experiences are represented in those studies. And so, to me, it seems that it’s all of a piece in a way.
Louise Chim: Yeah, no, absolutely. That’s a really, really interesting insight about that experience of being labelled as Asian American and wanting that piece of my identity to reflect that Asian Canadian experience. And I think, yeah, my interest in psychology really grew out of wanting to find– wanting to gain a better understanding of my own psychology, and I think that’s why a lot of students are interested in psych 100. We’re humans. We want to understand how humans work, particularly our own experiences–
Rebecca Gagan: How to understand our experiences. I think students take– we’re all gonna say this about our own disciplines– I think students take literature because likewise, it’s I want to try to better understand the human experience and my own experience, but it sounds like that’s what you were attracted to. And, as you say, this very inspiring instructor who really grabbed your interest. And so, you carried on and did an undergrad then in psychology?
Louise Chim: Yep. Yeah. So, I came out. I did my undergrad in psychology. I ended up doing an honours thesis, and then I didn’t go straight into graduate school. I sort of knew I wanted to go into graduate school, but I wanted to get more experience in what cultural psychology was about. And I didn’t do my honours thesis in cultural psychology. There weren’t really cultural psychologists at Harvard at the time, and so I took that time to work in a lab. I went back to Vancouver, and I worked as a research assistant and a lab manager out at UBC in a psychology department. So, I think that is one of the things– when students come to me thinking, “I need to go straight from undergrad to graduate school.” I say, take that time to think about what you want to do in graduate school. I think I was fortunate enough to find a paid position. I know those aren’t always available to us as a lab manager between undergrad and graduate school, and honestly, that was probably the reason why I got into graduate school– was because I took those two years off.
I got to know the professors and the labs I worked in, I got to refine what my research interests were, and that made me a much stronger candidate for pursuing my master’s and PhD. I also think taking that time to just work and then not be a student helped reignite the interest in being a student again– that sometimes you can burn out a little bit from being a student, and taking that time off was really helpful. So honestly, people who are interested in grad school, I do recommend taking that time to see, “okay, am I really interested in this?” And be gaining those experiences that will help you be a better candidate in a competitive environment, like graduate school.
Rebecca Gagan: Because being a student is its own identity and so there can be a way in which you inhabit that identity for four, five, six years of an undergrad, and that’s what you know, and it can be so helpful, as you say, to take a step out of that, in a way, and do something else and be able to reflect and decide if that’s the path that you want to follow because I think there can be a way in which that role of being a student, it gets a certain momentum and it feels well, this is what I know. And this is what I do. I know how to be a student now, right? By the end of your undergraduate, you probably have a pretty good sense of how to be a student and how to habit that role. And I think that it can be a difficult step to pull back from it in order to get some perspective on it and decide if that’s what you really want or if that’s what you know how to do now, and so, you just want to keep going with that, so I think, like you, I always encourage students to take just a bit of time, to think about what they want to do and try on some other roles before stepping, stepping back into it. And Louise, did you find that you in that time, or I guess maybe when you went to grad school, did you find mentors that really also helped to push you to, to support you going through?
Louise Chim: Yeah. So absolutely. I don’t come from a family that really knows academia. Like I think that’s– I went to a talk maybe last week or the week before showcasing how a lot of academics, a lot of professors come from families who are also professors. And so, while my mom is a teacher, she’s an elementary school music teacher– so I do have that sort of emphasis on education place on me– didn’t really know much about what it would mean to pursue graduate school in psychology. And so, my experiences in undergrad I think it was really interesting. I took a lot of courses in undergrad in psychology, even most of my electives; I chose to take psychology courses as well– really immersed myself in that. And most of my professors, almost all my psychology professors that I took courses from, were white men. And I don’t know, part of it– I think about this– you know, obviously part of it might be just the lack of representation in academia at the time, and I know it is getting better, but also, I wonder if part of it is me having this notion of who has the knowledge that I can absorb.
And it’s these white men in psychology who know everything about that, and I do want to recognize that bias that I might have, and other people might have, of what professors should look like. And I do feel that as I’m teaching now, I wonder if students think that I have– I’m able to get them to learn or can they learn from me given that I’m a woman and I am Chinese, and I was young at the time when I first started in my position at UVic, a little older now, but hopefully still young-looking.
Rebecca Gagan: Definitely.
Louise Chim: But whether students feel that., but so most those weren’t the people that I got mentorship from. The professors felt inaccessible and not necessarily that they were inaccessible– it’s just that perception you have as a student, as an undergraduate student thinking. “You know, the professor won’t remember me, or the professor or doesn’t have time for me.” Now obviously, being on the other end, I welcome students to come to my office hours, and I do want to get to know my students, especially since it’s hard to do that in a class of 300 in intro psych. And so, the students that I do get to know aren’t everyone in my class, unfortunately, but are the students who come talk to me during office hours or after class to ask some questions. So, where I sought mentorship was from graduate students, actually, at the university because those were, as I mentioned, I worked in a lot of labs. I volunteered in labs in my undergrad career. I did my honours thesis, and I got to know graduate students and the graduate students who are BIPOC or women and learning a little bit about what it meant to be a graduate student from them.
I remember being– in my honours thesis year, in our lab, we had something like five or six of us doing honours thesis, so it was a lot of us. So, they actually had a weekly seminar for us to talk a little bit about honours thesis, and it was led by graduate students. And I remember the moment when someone told me, “Hey, if you want to go to graduate school, people will actually pay you to go to graduate school.” And it’s like my like mind blown. I was like, “what? I could get paid to be a graduate student in psychology?” And now we recognize not all universities are have the funding to do this, but I was fortunate enough to apply to many graduate schools who they give you a stipend. You don’t have to pay– you don’t have to pay tuition. They cover that tuition. And that’s, I think, something specific to the US, so I will note that here, but I think Canadian graduate students do still have to pay tuition, but at the same time, tuition in the US is a lot more expensive. They do pay for your tuition there, and they provide you a stipend, so I wouldn’t have known that if I was just going about my day and thinking, “oh, okay, you know, I majored in psychology in undergrad. I should go to graduate school and apply.” I wouldn’t have known that there are these opportunities to actually support of graduate students in pursuing their master’s and PhD, so having those mentors there to tell me these things or to think about, okay, well, graduate school is competitive. If you’re thinking of working with one professor, they might be taking one student that year out of however many applications. How do you make yourself competitive for that?
And doing things like– this is where I got that advice to– Hey, maybe take some time off and work in a lab. See what you’re interested in, so having those graduate students as mentors, I think, was really good for me, who maybe came from similar backgrounds or had similar experiences. So even though maybe I didn’t get that support, or I didn’t seek out that support from professors, it was really nice to be able to seek it out from someone– some people I felt that were more accessible to me, which were graduate students.
Rebecca Gagan: And also, Louise, I think just, backtracking a little bit, to what you’ve been saying around representation and thinking about your own role as a professor and how when you were a graduate and undergraduate student, you saw that, okay, here are these white male psychology profs who are represented as the holders of knowledge, right? They are the ones who know and who teach. And I think when we go– and certainly, it is starting to change now, but the representations, as you’ve said of what a professor looks like, so a student going through, undergrad and not seeing themselves represented in the faculty in that way, in the discipline that they want to go through, it’s not surprising to me that even now you wonder and worry a bit about what kinds of ideas students might have about those who share knowledge, those who teach those who researched that what are their ideas of what a professor looks like?
And it’s also then not surprising to me that you turned– that you found support and mentorship in those around you, your fellow students who probably were in a similar position to you of looking at the profs or whatever and realizing like, I don’t know that’s going to be the mentor that I need. Like, I need to have my experience validated, but also, I need to have my experience sort of encouraged by those who are also in a position to understand. And I just think what you’ve shared, Louise, around that concern that is still with you because I imagine there are students listening to this who are thinking about being a particular kind of doctor, or you know, going into research, going into all kinds of professions, and wondering if there is a place for them there because there aren’t those kinds of models, necessarily. I mean, I think things are, as I say, changing, but we know as we’ve just talked about, there’s still so much work to be done in that. And so, you know, there’s a kind of– there’s a post that I see on Instagram that’s put out by a group like women in science, and they’re– oh, they have a poster, that’s this is what a scientist looks like. And it’s a picture of a woman, and sometimes a woman of colour, but it’s a kind of reminder of what ideas do we carry? And you talked, too Louise, about like stereotypes, like even going way back to thinking about, oh, there was a stereotype of what a Chinese Canadian student like myself would be like, in terms of getting into Harvard, playing the violin, you know, all of those things– that are those ideas, these representations that need to be challenged. And it sounds like the way that you dealt with that at the time was to reach out to those in your cohort.
Louise Chim: Yeah, absolutely. And I think sometimes it can be hard to know where to reach out what opportunities are available because I think, I happened to be– these weren’t things I was explicitly thinking of doing in undergrad, that having these sort of graduate student mentors, it just naturally happened, but what if you’re a student now? “Okay, how do I get these mentors? Where do I look to?” And you know, one opportunity that I did was getting to get involved in research labs and get to know people through those means.
And you know, reach out to– in psychology– or your teaching assistants are all graduate students in psychology, so reach out to them and go to their office hours. Sometimes they’re not very well attended, and they would love to have someone chat with them, especially, we talked about this year, all our office hours are on Zoom, so sometimes just sitting there and on Zoom like “oh, will I see anyone else today? Somebody come and visit me. I’ve been home all day by myself on the computer.”
So, our TAs and your professors want to see you, but yeah, if you feel like I can’t go see my professor, cause I certainly felt like that as an undergrad. I will say it’s okay to come and see your professors, but if it feels a bit more comfortable to maybe go in to see your TA, I encourage that as well. I also make a shoutout in psychology; there’s a few different student organizations, student-led organizations, which I think could be in other places where you can reach out to other students who might have more experience in your major; I know across all disciplines, this is the case, so in psychology we have we have a few different clubs, but I wanted to highlight a fairly new club, we have called unpacking psychology. It’s a student-led, both graduate and undergraduate students, but I think they have a– I think it’s fairly monthly. They have something called DiversiTEA– T spelled T E A, wherein face-to-face times you’d get together, you could have some tea, and you would get to talk to a professor or graduate student interested in equity diversity inclusion-related issues. And since then, obviously, they’ve moved it to online. I’m sure you could still bring your own tea with you, but they have these opportunities where you can connect with people who might serve as your mentors. So, seeking out those sorts of informal opportunities might be other ways to do that.
Rebecca Gagan: And as we were talking, Louise, before we started recording our session, today, our episode– we were just talking about how those mentorship opportunities are really starting to grow at the university, ones that are really focused on diverse experiences and encouraging, you know, inclusivity, so I think we’ll just start to see more and more of those kinds of mentorship opportunities coming to a campus near you. And I hadn’t heard about this one, so I’ll put that also in the show notes, just some links so that the students can also access that after the episode. So, Louise, just, thinking not necessarily about final words, but pretty close to final words, what do– you know, what would you want to leave students with, in terms of thinking about just, you know– I know we’re all learning and so we’re still learning, and everyone I’ve talked to is very hesitant to say, “ah, okay, I’m not giving advice because I’m still learning too.” But if you were to offer some words of support, just based on your own experience or some guidance, what might you say to students, whether they’re an undergrad or graduate students who are, you know, going through their academic journey now?
Louise Chim: Yeah. So, in terms of support– just words of advice or support for students based off of my own lived experiences– I think one thing is to try to find mentors to support you, but also, in exchange, mentor others who could benefit from what you’ve learned as well. You know, if you’re listening to this and you’re a fourth-year undergraduate student, you have learned a lot. As Rebecca had said, you’ve learned how to be a student and how to be fairly successful at it. Thinking about how, as undergraduates, you can mentor others who may be like, you know– like I didn’t feel like my own experiences were represented in my undergraduate career– how can I help support those who might feel that same way, whether it be, you know, your race or ethnicity, rather it be, maybe that you’re a first first-generation student, maybe other people in your family haven’t gone to university, and so coming to university was a very new, interesting cultural experience for you—but finding the finding mentors, seeking out mentors– but also remembering that you, yourself, have gained experiences as well that others could learn from. And you know, in terms of seeking mentors, they don’t have to be formal mentors. Although it sounds like there’s more of this coming, which I think is important because you can’t just go to someone and say, “Hello, would you like to be my mentor?” That’s a very awkward conversation to have and very unnatural. And so, to have this infrastructure in place to have mentors for first-year students, or for fourth-year students, for graduate students, I think, is really important.
And so, in terms of that, they don’t have to be professors, but they can be graduate students. They can work, say in a lab; they can be upper-year students in an organization– in psychology, we have a few different student organizations that are very inviting to encourage people to come in– and come and talk to them and get involved. So, I think that’s the main piece I’d like to highlight. And then the other pieces to may be recognize the biases that we might have and who we view as being worthy of being in academia for ourselves, whether you’re a student that isn’t well-represented in academia, recognizing that, Hey, maybe this can change, but also recognizing that you might hold these biases yourself in your classes, of like– as we said, who is the one that– who are the people who can hold the knowledge in psychology? And that may be recognizing ourselves not necessarily that older, white male prof with– you know, who also does have a lot of knowledge, but other people can have that knowledge as well. And try to recognize that and try to perpetuate other ways in which– other ways of being– other people who can be professors as well, who can be in that — who can do research, who can be in academia.
Rebecca Gagan: And I think while you didn’t necessarily intend to come back full circle, Louise, you have in such a thoughtful way, I think, brought us back to almost where we started in terms of thinking about your own experience through the pandemic and things that it’s highlighted for you and that commitment to creating anti-racist paces in your classroom and elsewhere, but also you’ve talked about here– and I think it’s so crucial that students’ lived experience needs to be represented and it also needs to be shared. And so, when you suggest that students don’t necessarily have to look to professors as mentors, they can look to each other and that they have experience that is valuable to other students, so that they should think about themselves as mentors in some ways, that they can support their classmates. And also, just as we were saying about, you know, being able to share their experience, but then also, as a way of thinking about their own futures, and the possibilities for their own lives, being able to investigate their own assumptions or biases about what a professor looks like, who gets to have the knowledge. And I attended a workshop by Mothers against racism, and it was– I’m a parent, and it was about how to raise an anti-racist child. And I was listening. And one of the things that the facilitator shared was just how important it is to be actively anti-racist by constantly looking at your own biases and investigating those assumptions that you hold, and I have to say, Louise, that I think the piece you’ve talked about around– and that you still carry with you– about professors, even though you are one yourself. And wondering what assumptions students have, too. I think this kind of work also covers so many areas of the work that we do as students, as teachers, in terms of really trying to reflect on that.
And as you say, seek out mentors in those who are sitting in the class beside you, in the chair beside you, or– maybe not right now, hopefully soon again, and those opportunities. So, Louise, thank you so much for sharing your experience and your story with us today because I know that I’ve personally learned a lot from it, and I just have found your reflections to be so thoughtful and helpful, and I know that our listeners will surely feel the same, so thank you so much.
Louise Chim: No, thank you very much for this opportunity. It was nice to nice to chat, and, you know, I ensure some of these people who are listening now will be in my psychology classes, so feel free to say hi to me after class or in my office hours. And thank you so much, Rebecca, for this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Rebecca Gagan: Thanks, Louise. Bye for now. In next week’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talk with Dr. Sarah Hunt, an Assistant Professor and Canada research chair in Indigenous Political Ecology and Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. In our conversation. Sarah talks about her experience of being an indigenous student at UVic and some of the real struggles that she went through in terms of engaging in the classroom and in her research with difficult and traumatizing material around colonialism. And she talks about how she found ways of accessing support and also of articulating and really determining her needs. I really hope that you’ll tune in for this inspiring and thoughtful episode. You can keep listening to episodes of Waving, Not Drowning on Anchor FM, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. We’d love it if you would give us a like and a follow on Instagram at UVic Bounce. Tune in next week for another great conversation.