As an international student from China, Spencer Chen recognized the barriers that international students face navigating academia. She also witnessed mental health stigma in the Asian community and barriers to access treatment in Canada. This prompted her desire to study and understand psychopathology, social justice, and systemic issues in mental health.
“I chose to major in psychology because I was interested in understanding extreme psychological suffering,” says Chen. “I care deeply about and feel strong compassion towards individuals who experience intense emotional pain, such as people who are suicidal.”
Chen is receiving Simon Fraser University (SFU)’s most prestigious undergraduate medal, the Gordon M. Shrum Gold Medal. This medal is bestowed on the graduating student whose high scholastic standing and extracurricular activities demonstrate outstanding qualities of character and unselfish devotion to the university. Chen will be receiving this award on Tuesday, June 7th during SFU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Convocation (Ceremony B).
Chen began her academic journey at SFU in 2018, the first step towards her dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. During her undergraduate career, Chen was involved in several research labs spanning a range of psychological disciplines. These include the Intergroup Relations and Social Justice Lab, led by Dr. Stephen Wright, the Close Relationship Lab with Dr. Rebecca Cobb, and the Mental Health, Law, and Policy Institute with Dr. Ronald Roesch. Her honours project, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Wright, suggests that suicide attempt survivors can be dehumanized by mental health service providers and provides insight into the psychological mechanisms of dehumanization. She received the Canadian Psychological Association Certificate of Academic Excellence for her Honours thesis, later presenting her research at several international and national conferences.
Outside of SFU, Chen has been involved in projects related to emotions (Emotion and Self Lab at UBC), mental health stigma (with Dr. Andrew Szeto, Director of Campus Mental Health Strategies at University of Calgary), and neuropsychology (Disorders of Consciousness Treatment Center at Beijing Tiantan Hospital in China).
Her extensive community engagement also includes managing the SFU Undergraduate Journal of Psychology, tutoring Indigenous students and student athletes, supporting people in distress as a crisis responder, and providing services to children with autism and their families.
After graduation, Chen will be joining SFU’s Clinical Psychology graduate program to conduct research on borderline personality disorder, suicide, and emotion regulation with Dr. Alexander Chapman.
“I am immensely grateful for the support from my mentors and peers and countless opportunities at SFU,” she adds. “I look forward to serving our SFU community as a graduate student and in the future, I want to help suicidal individuals to build lives experienced as worth living and to reduce structural barriers to evidence-based mental health treatment.”
This story was originally published on the Department of Psychology website on June 6, 2022.