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Concordia student Eloïse Fairbank receives a Canada Graduate Scholarship to Honour Nelson Mandela

The PhD in psychology candidate researches social support and child well-being
October 4, 2021
Smiling young woman with long hair, tied back, and a blue shirt with a white jacket.
Eloïse Fairbank: “My research explores a multidimensional approach of social support as a predictor of child health and well-being.”

According to Eloïse Fairbank, “The healthier our children are, the healthier our society will become.”

It’s a belief that drives the PhD student’s research on social support as it relates to childhood health. Fairbank (BA 18, MA 20), who is pursuing her doctoral studies in clinical psychology, is the latest Concordian to receive the Canada Graduate Scholarship to Honour Nelson Mandela.

The scholarship was created in 2013 to celebrate Mandela’s legacy and support graduate students conducting research in one or more of five areas the South African leader championed during his lifetime: national unity; democracy, freedom and human rights; leadership; children’s participation in society; and children’s health.

Fairbank, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarship doctoral recipient, won this additional honour for her research proposal, “An International Comparison of ‘Social Hygge’ as a Predictor of Child Well-Being: Societal Differences in ‘Social Coziness.’”

Hygge is a Danish word that translates into “cosiness.” By exploring the links between social inequality, social hygge and child well-being in different countries, Fairbanks is creating a novel approach beyond the traditional measurements of social support related to family, peers and teachers.

‘For children, psychological well-being can impact so many outcomes in the long-term’

Tell us about the research that led to you being selected for this scholarship.

Eloïse Fairbank: My doctoral research studies the measurement of social support in youth and its relation to child health. Social support is the perception or feeling that one is valued and cared for by others; greater social support has been linked to greater health and well-being. In children, most research about social support focuses on the sources of support in a child’s network, such as their parents, peers or teachers.

But there is also a need for a broader approach to assessing social support: does it matter who children are getting support from as long as they get it from someone? Are the benefits of social support cumulative? How does this association vary across different countries, and is it related to issues of income inequality?

My research will try to answer these questions by exploring a multidimensional approach of social support as a predictor of child health and well-being. Importantly, these findings could inform potential interventions to boost social support and health in youth at a societal level.

What attracted you to these issues?

EF: Throughout high school and college, I worked as a kids’ gymnastics coach and became interested in working with children — understanding how they think and why they are the way they are.

This led to my interest in child psychology and my studies that followed. My specific interest in social support and child health emerged when I was volunteering at the Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab (PPHP). There, I learned about the ongoing EPOCH (Elucidating Pathways of Child Health Inequalities) project and became more familiar with research about social determinants of health, such as social status and income inequality.

Especially for children, psychological well-being can impact so many outcomes in the long-term. It is important to be aware of the obstacles certain children may face in receiving care and support. We must continue to view mental-health care, for children and adults alike, as a priority. The healthier our children are, the healthier our society will become.

Why did you choose Concordia and how has your experience at the university been?

EF: I started my bachelor’s in 2014 with a double major in honours psychology and child studies, two programs that were directly related to my interest in child psychology. During my undergraduate degree, I began volunteering and later worked at the PPHP Lab with Jennifer McGrath (PPHP director and professor of psychology).

The lab studies the relation between psychological and physical health in youth, as well as social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status.

I completely fell in love with the research and dynamic of the PPHP lab, and I decided to stay there for my master’s and PhD. Dr. McGrath is an innovative researcher and a truly superb mentor. The Clinical Psychology program offers excellent and diverse research and training opportunities that have allowed me to grow as a student and individual throughout my studies.

What else will you be working on in the coming months and years?

EF: As a student in the Clinical Psychology program, I complete training in psychotherapy and assessment in addition to my research. This fall, I am very excited to be starting an internship at the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres in Montreal, working with children and adolescents. I plan to graduate in a few years and practice as a child psychologist within the community.

Separately from my research and clinical work, I founded the Mentorship Among Psychology Students (MAPS) Committee. It’s a student-run organization within the Association of Graduate Students in Psychology that aims to bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate students in the department.

Do you have any advice for fellow graduate students on preparing successful funding applications?

EF: Write a funding proposal about something you’re genuinely interested in! This will make it much more enjoyable to write and will likely lead to a better application overall.

Try to have a well-rounded application across areas of research, leadership, academics and training assessed by the funding agencies. What you’re lacking in one area, you can make up in another.

Before submitting your application, ask your supervisor and peers for feedback, for example, have a peer-review evening with students from your lab or cohort.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get funding the first time you apply. As graduate students, we often get denied more awards than we receive.

Find out more about Concordia’s
School of Graduate Studies and Department of Psychology.



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