Graduate Spotlight Q&A: Kiarah O’Kane

Kiarah O’Kane, MA Student at UBC Psychology

From 2SLGBTQIA+ sexual well-being research to developing interventions to treat pediatric concussion, MA student Kiarah O’Kane is removing barriers and improving accessibility in clinical psychology research.

Kiarah is a clinical psychology master’s student working with the Sexuality and Well-being Lab under the supervision of Dr. Samantha Dawson. Their first-author research paper, titled “Development of Therapeutic Alliance and Social Presence in a Digital Intervention for Pediatric Concussion: Qualitative Exploratory Study”, focuses on qualitatively determining factors important to adolescents’ development of therapeutic alliance and social presence with the intervention.

Kiarah’s new publication is an evaluation of a digital intervention for treating pediatric concussion, which was a Directed Studies project they worked on under the supervision of Dr. Noah Silverberg, an associate professor in UBC’s department of Psychology, and Dr. Molly Cairncross, a former UBC postdoctoral research fellow who is now an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s Department of Psychology. Kiarah’s other research interests center around identifying risk and protective factors for the sexual well-being of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and couples.

“These interests serve the goal of developing accessible interventions to bolster 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals' sexual well-being. I am interested in the development of engaging and accessible online interventions more broadly, which is an interest that began during my undergraduate studies.”
MA Student, UBC Psychology

Additionally, Kiarah recently received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (Vanier CGS) to support their PhD research project ‘A multi-method examination of links between gender euphoria and sexual well-being in gender-diverse and cisgender individuals and couples.’

In a Q&A, Kiarah shares their academic journey, the inspiration behind their research, and tips for aspiring graduate students.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your academic journey leading up to your current MA/PhD degree?

I did my undergraduate degree in Psychology at UBC. I became interested in research in the last year of my undergraduate degree, and became the lab manager at the Social Cognition and Emotion Lab run by Dr. Elizabeth Dunn. I took two gap years in between my undergraduate studies and beginning grad school. During this time, in addition to Dr. Dunn’s lab, I was fortunate to volunteer and work in different labs (Dr. Noah Silverberg’s Coping with Neurological Symptoms Lab, Dr. Paul Hewitt’s Perfectionism and Psychopathology Lab, Dr. Lori Brotto’s UBC Sexual Health Research Lab, and Dr. Samantha Dawson’s Sexuality and Well-being Lab) to gain diverse research experiences. I am so grateful to all of my research mentors for their guidance and support along the way!

What inspired you to pursue an MA/PhD in psychology at UBC?

I felt deeply inspired about research during my time volunteering and working at different labs.

“I was so excited and fascinated to learn about the many different areas of research being conducted in our department!”
MA Student, UBC Psychology

I was especially drawn to sexuality research and the work being conducted in Dr. Samantha Dawson’s Sexuality and Well-being Lab, and I decided to pursue my MA under her amazing supervision and guidance as a result.

Can you share the experience of working with other researchers and your PI?

Working on my Directed Studies project with Dr. Silverberg and Dr. Cairncross was a very special experience that introduced me to the world of online intervention development, and also to qualitative research! Their mentorship was instrumental in helping me develop new research skills, and knowledge of a new research area, and develop confidence in qualitative data analyses. The study we ran was multi-site, so it was wonderful to work with collaborators across the country and an app development team.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of such an excellent team, working on developing an intervention important for adolescents' health and well-being.”
MA Student, UBC Psychology

What advice would you give to aspiring MA/PhD students?

Take your time! My time during my gap years was incredibly valuable to helping me gain clarity on my research interests and try out diverse research experiences to discover what types of research I found myself most inspired by.