2019 Vanier Scholar: Elena Bilevicius
Bilevicius will be conducting her research in the Faculty of Arts Department of Psychology
Meet Elena Bilevicius, one of six 2019 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients from the University of Manitoba – a record setting year for the university.
These awards, considered the Canadian equivalent of the United Kingdom’s Rhodes Scholarships, help recruit and keep in Canada top doctoral students from across the country and around the world. Each recipient will receive $150,000 over three years toward their research.
Bilevicius will be conducting her research in the Faculty of Arts Department of Psychology. UM Today caught up with Bilevicius to chat about how the Vanier Scholarship will help her thesis Understanding how social factors explain the link between negative mood and problem drinking in emerging adults.
Tell us about your PhD thesis.
My dissertation is looking at better understanding the mechanisms that put people, emerging adults ages 18 to 25, at risk of alcohol problems. Specifically, I’ve been looking at the social influences of addiction. So how shame, a social emotion, and drinking context (drinking by yourself or in solitary) maybe will better explain why emerging adults with depression experience alcohol problems. The goal is to better understand the order of what comes first. Is it depression or shame, or drinking context? What’s influencing what.
How did you choose this topic?
It was a nice bridge between my two supervisors interest as well as one of my biggest passions: helping other people. I know that sounds simplistic, but I just like helping people. We can better target, create targeted intervention programs, or psycho-education to let people know that when you drink by yourself that’s actually really harmful. We all experience shame and know how damaging that can be. Maybe we can change that in the future.
What sparked your love for helping others? Is there a certain experience that comes to mind?
When I was thinking about the Vanier I asked myself that question. It goes back all the way to when I was very young. I remember in grade six I led the tsunami fundraiser at my school so I initiated a Red Cross fundraiser. I would volunteer at the Winnipeg Harvest foodbank every month with my mom, and I went on a mission trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help Habitat for Humanity. I’ve always wanted to help people better their lives to the best that they can.
What does it mean to receive this scholarship? How will it help your research?
Receiving the scholarship reminded me that other people see the importance of this research, not just a small group of people at the U of M. It’s a very well recognized platform that might help the research be broadcasted, hopefully increasing collaboration or getting other people to reach out to us.
At the end of the day, getting financial support is really great. It takes that type of stress off being a graduate student and not knowing how you’re going to get through financially. Now I can just solely focus on helping other people, doing my research, and doing my practicum.
Do you have any tips for anyone applying for the Vanier Scholarship?
Start early and ask questions. I went to the Vanier workshop. No one else was asking questions, but I was just reading off a huge list. I never felt ashamed or afraid asking questions and seeking support. I started early enough that I could ask questions, which helped me get it right. It also gave enough time to people who I asked to write reference letters.