Alumni profile: Allison Brennan is bridging the gap between academia, industry, and community

UBC psychology alumna Allison Brennan is using her own research background to help facilitate partnerships between academic researchers, companies, and community organizations. Brennan is a Director of Business Development at Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that connects research to industry and community organizations throughout Canada. Working with 60 universities, 4,000 companies, and both federal and provincial governments, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.

“Connecting university research to the non-academic world is important to people both inside and outside the ivory tower. Companies and community organizations gain access to new methods, tools, insights, and talent through collaborating with universities. Academic researchers on the other hand, ensure that the knowledge they generate is informed by and has direct applications to the world outside their field.”

Brennan completed her MA in 2010 and PhD in 2014 in Psychology and with a specialization in Cognitive Science. Her graduate school supervisor was Dr. James Enns, a professor in the department of psychology at UBC, who she credits as an inspiration in her academic research career and in life.

In a Q&A, Brennan offers advice to students and shares how a psychology degree translates into the real world.

What is your current career?

Working with Mitacs since 2016, I support graduate students and faculty members to develop and grow their research partnerships. This happens in lots of different ways including working with companies and community organizations to identify potential collaborators at universities, supporting faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to connect with potential research partners, and helping all parties take advantage of Mitacs research funding opportunities. Fortunately I’m one member of the larger Mitacs team – we all work together to support research partnerships between academia, industry, and the world – to create a more innovative Canada.

Why did you choose to study psychology at UBC?

After completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Virginia, I was keen to come home to Canada. I grew up in Halifax and wanted to give life in the big city a try, so I applied for Research Assistant positions in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. I came to Vancouver and UBC Psychology on a 1-year contract in 2008 and haven’t been able to pull myself away – I love this city!

Was there anything or anyone who inspired you?

I’ve had the most incredible mentors. Todd Hallett, my high school rowing coach and a former Canadian Olympic Rower, encouraged me to pursue rowing in the USA during my undergraduate degree, which I completed as an NCAA Division I full-scholarship student athlete. Denny Proffitt’s Introduction to Perception course at the University of Virginia inspired me to switch majors from business to psychology and Denny’s phenomenal support of my undergraduate thesis was important to my love of research. Jim Enns, my graduate school supervisor at UBC Psychology, has been an inspiration to me in my academic research career and in life. Despite being a distinguished scholar, Jim is approachable and humble. He’s an inspirational mentor and friend.

What advice would you give to students considering studying psychology?

I would like to caution students not to solely select their major or graduate program based on what they find interesting. It’s also important for these choices to lead to a fulfilling career.

In your experience, how does the value of a psychology degree translate into the real world?

I think the skillsets learned during a psychology degree—such as systematic inquiry, research methods, communication and interpersonal skills—are incredibly valuable. However, I find that the world outside of universities often doesn’t associate these competencies with psychology degrees. Because of this, an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree in psychology often serves as a stepping stone to additional training. Subsequent specializations are incredibly diverse, I’ve seen all sorts of career paths including human resources, cardiovascular perfusion, medicine, law, and user experience research.

In your own words, how has UBC shaped your career?

This is a difficult one for me to answer because I can’t isolate the influence of UBC vs. Vancouver vs. PhD supervisor vs. graduate school cohort etc. on my current career! That said, I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t be working with Mitacs if it weren’t for UBC –Mitacs’s head office is located at UBC Vancouver.