The inaugural Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award winners are announced
Two psychology researchers at the beginning of their careers are celebrating an award win that will help give their dreams wings.
Emily Ah-Yen and Cole Dougherty are the first-ever winners of the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, designed to help neuroscientists from underrepresented backgrounds realize their academic goals.
Upon learning she was dying of ovarian cancer, Chaudhri decided to dedicate her remaining time to building a legacy in the form of the award.
The respected scholar, mother and wife, who referred to her son and husband as her “sun and moon,” amassed a large following on social media around the world. She used her platform to chronicle her cancer journey and encourage donations to the award fund.
So far, two fundraisers — an initial GoFundMe campaign and then a larger institutional campaign run by Concordia — have amassed almost $870,000.
Ah-Yen and Dougherty will receive $13,000 each, as will two new winners per year going forward.
‘A rocky childhood’
Dougherty recalls a “rocky childhood” marked by financial struggle. “Growing up, I was homeless for a little while, and that was really unfortunate,” they say.
“Getting into college was one thing but paying for it was another.”
Dougherty is quick to credit their mother for helping them overcome obstacles along the way, including a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
“I’m fortunate the people around me were very much ready and willing to learn about things they didn’t understand.”
Dougherty says one big plus that comes with this award win is the financial stability to stop waiting tables, which they had been doing throughout their studies, starting in high school.
Dougherty will begin their MSc studies in fall 2022 under the supervision of Kristen Dunfield, associate professor of psychology at the Social Cognitive Development Lab. There, they will focus on pro-social development in children.
“I’m interested in when children ask for help, and when they do, who they expect it from.”
‘It took a while to sink in’
Ah-Yen is in her second year of MA studies, under the supervision of Uri Shalev, professor of psychology. Her research in addiction issues examines the neurological aspects of heroin relapse.
“When I started off in a neuro lab as an undergrad, I found this topic really interesting. I knew nothing about it, but once I decided it was what I wanted to pursue, I was very excited to learn,” she says.
Ah-Yen adds that she’s still processing her award win. “It took a while to sink in. I really didn’t register it.”
While she never had the chance to meet Chaudhri, Ah-Yen draws personal inspiration from her example.
“It’s so important for young researchers to have role models, and Dr. Chaudhri was one of a kind. Her story has inspired me so much.”
For Dougherty, Chaudhri’s impact was evident in her community involvement.
“To be such a well-known, well-liked and well-regarded individual and have your values resonate with this larger community and put something so wonderful together is amazing.”