Convocation ‘20: Radha Saikia

Psychology for a Brighter Future

Brooke MacCallum - 09 June 2020

Graduating with an Honors BA in Psychology, Radha Saikia is passionate about how different psychological approaches and frameworks can change how humans work together.

As an international student from India who constantly strives to learn more, she has earned multiple certificates, including: International Learning; Applied Social Sciences Research; and Psychology Research, as well as Certificate in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies through the Peter Lougheed Leadership College.

Her volunteer and work experience background is also impressive. Radha completed an Arts Work Experience term with the Government of Alberta as a Program and Policy Development Support Intern. She also spent two summers working with the Office of Advancement as an Alumni Events Assistant and Annual Fund Intern. For two years, Radha was the President of, UAlberta Chapter, a national network of students working to change the way we think about mental health, and served as the VP Events and Collaborations. Her on-campus volunteer work included her role as a Senior Peer with University of Alberta International, an Orientation Leader with the Week of Welcome, and a member of the Centre for Autism Services Students’ Association. Radha was also VP Events and Logistics with Mindful Arts Corners, a branch of Arts for YoungSTARS that raises awareness on mental health through art.

She credits the Faculty of Arts’ student internship program and other employment opportunities, as well as mental health services and the International Student Services for their support and guidance. With these support systems in place at the university, Radha was able to complete her degree, and aims to give back to the community as much as possible, including local organizations in her home country.

What drew you to this area of study?

Psychology is infinitely interesting in its endeavour to understand human thinking and behaviour. At first, I saw it as a way to learn more about myself and other people in order to be more empathetic. As I learned more about the different schools of Psychology, I understood that there is no singular "truth" or law about how humans think and behave, but only different frameworks through which we view them.

Once I realized this, it was easy to see the potential that the field of Psychology would have on the world. Frameworks for understanding human behaviour may be adapted and applied in human systems, and a good example of this is the field of Organizational Psychology which applies psychological understandings to the modern workplace. Because the world we live in has been created by humans who think and behave, the potential of Psychology in many industries around the world currently remain untapped, but I see a future where this slowly changes as we begin to take more interdisciplinary approaches to solve world problems.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

One of the most remarkable things I learnt while I was a student was the difference between chaotic and randomness. I studied Chaos Theory because of a science elective and it provided me with frameworks of understanding the world - including the idea of 'chaos' - that I would never have had if I only studied the social sciences. The most remarkable thing I realized while I was a student was that our professors are each a treasure trove of knowledge and information, much of which cannot be simply Googled, and that we as students have easy access to them as long as we are on campus. Being able to approach our professors and ask for their time is an unparalleled academic privilege.

Finally, the most remarkable thing I learnt about life while I was a student was the importance of critical thinking. We come across hordes of information every day in this age, which makes it all the more important to view that information critically instead of passively absorbing it. Critical thinking fosters growth, learning, and innovation, and the Faculty of Arts does an incredible job of teaching those skills to its students.

Did you face any significant challenges during your program?

I faced significant financial challenges for all of my time in university because of multiple reasons, one of them being that my father had passed away around the time I started university. This was an even greater challenge given that I was an international student, so my tution was high and I did not qualify for loans and many scholarships/awards. I owe a lot of my successes to the university and especially International Student Services, because without their financial support I would not have been able to complete my degree.

I also have had only pleasant interactions with the Faculty of Arts, and their support for students seeking employment played a large part in my early internships and employment. Like many other university students, I also struggled with my mental health for a long time before seeking help. It was my volunteer commitments that showed me that there were things that I cared enough about to push myself even on days when I felt there couldn't possibly be a thing that could motivate me, and it was the wonderful people at our mental health services on campus that guided me through understanding myself and the challenges I faced better.

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

I had been fortunate enough to have access to a laptop and an internet connection at home, so I faced fewer challenges than many with regards to remote learning. However, I worry that the University's decision to change the grading system to CR/NCR hurt my eligibility for competitive grad programs because I am graduating with a lower GPA that I would have had if I received credit for all my courses this semester. Despite the University's actions, each of my professors have been incredibly accommodating and have done all they can to give me information that would help with my applications. My professors were a large part of what mitigated the many challenges that came with student life under COVID-10 restrictions.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

Teach yourself to be financially literate as soon as possible. Use the momentum and excitement at the beginning of your degree to learn how to do taxes, invest your money, and make a proper budget - this will save you both time and money that you can't get back. Go to exam reviews! They teach you how the professor or TA mark and view an exam, which can be valuable information for the next one. Also, if you are unhappy with your grade, you could always contest it (although I do not recommend this unless there is a good reason you believe you deserve a better grade).

What is next for you?

I am currently working for a tech start-up called SAM Inc. as a Social Intelligence Analyst. I had been working part-time for this company for 2 years and I was fortunate enough to join their team full-time after completing my degree. I also just moved into a bright, cozy apartment in downtown Edmonton and I enjoy a beautiful view of the sunset every evening.

While I truly appreciate these new aspects of my life, I also recognize the privilege that comes with being employed and having a comfortable place to live in during this global crisis. One thing that is in the works for me is a way for me to give back to the communities that are hit the hardest around the world, one of them being the migrant daily wage workers in India who have resorted to travelling hundreds of kilometers on foot in order to get home. While I can't share any more information at the moment, I can say that I am working hard to learn more from local organizations in India to ensure I am able to make the most impact I can with what I have.

The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.