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2020 Vanier Scholar-Belal Zia

2020 Vanier Scholar, Belal Zia

Meet Belal Zia, one of five of UM’s 2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients

June 22, 2020 — 

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.

Belal Zia will be conducting his research in the Faculty of Arts, Department of Psychology, under the supervision of Dr. Corey Mackenzie. His award is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. UM Today caught up with Zia to chat about how the Vanier Scholarship will support his research titled: Promoting treatment seeking among Canadian Muslims: The development, implementation and evaluation of a psychoeducational intervention utilizing the theory of planned behaviour and internalized stigma model.

Tell us about your thesis and research topic.

In my research, I am aiming to improve Canadian Muslims’ access to mental healthcare. Some of my research shows that a lot of Muslims living in Canada are struggling with psychological challenges, possibly due to difficulties following immigration, racism and Islamophobia. It’s also the case that they may not be receiving adequate treatment for their challenges. In my master’s thesis, I found that the stigma around seeking mental healthcare may be a barrier to treatment for Muslims. So, the plan for my dissertation is to develop and test a brief intervention that will improve Canadian Muslims’ perceptions of help-seeking, so they’ll be more likely to get treatment when they need it. 

What got you interested in your topic in the first place?

I’m a Muslim, born and raised in Canada. By the time I was in high school, it was already clear there were loads of negative misperceptions about Muslims. Often, those misperceptions translated to hateful comments, bullying, and in some cases, difficulties finding or keeping a job. I witnessed firsthand that myself and many of my Muslim peers felt targeted – and that can lead to feelings of isolation, anger, sadness and other complex emotions. To top it all off, sometimes people who were struggling didn’t seem to have an avenue to deal with those complex emotions. As an aspiring psychologist, I felt motivated to find ways to take down some of the existing barriers and ensure that the people who needed treatment got it.

What impact do you hope your research has?

I’m hoping my research brings good quality psychological treatment into the mainstream for Muslim Canadians. There’s a pretty sizable portion of Canadian Muslims who are struggling with emotional difficulties without support. By shedding light on the issue and demonstrating effective interventions that inspire people to seek help when they need it, I’m hoping that my research can play a part in building a healthier community.

How has writing the thesis been going (if you’re at that stage of your research)?

I’m in the early stages of writing the thesis. My dissertation research builds on the work I did for my master’s thesis and some of the additional research I’m doing as well. Right now, I’m doing a lot of reading to make sure my dissertation will be as informed by the research as possible.

How long have you been at UM?

I’ve been at the UM for just over three years now. 

What does it mean to you to receive a Vanier scholarship?

Receiving the Vanier scholarship is such an honour. There are so many competitive graduate researchers who applied and were also deserving of it, so I’m humbled that I was selected for such a prestigious award. Being a Vanier scholar takes the financial pressure off being a graduate student. I’m grateful now to be in a position where I have the freedom to focus on my research, my clinical work and on additional projects that I find exciting and meaningful.

What do you do with your time outside of your PhD work?

I really enjoy reading and writing in my free time, especially when it comes to literature and philosophy. Outside of my PhD work, I’ve been writing a book that intersects my interests in diversity, psychology and philosophy. I’m hoping that my book will play a role in shifting the narrative of race and racism by pairing anecdotes from my life and my parents’ lives with psychological research and classical philosophy. Through this book, I’m hoping to convince readers to take an effortful approach to craft their own identity.

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years from now?

I aspire to be a strong researcher and clinician in the future. I have ambitions to spend my time doing research in several mental-health related fields, including diversity in mental healthcare, suicide prevention and aging. I hope to balance my research with a hospital-based career in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of complex mental health problems.  

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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