Kristina Kasparian graduated with a PhD from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD) in the Faculty of Medicine. She is currently a business-owner, writer, and health advocate.
Q: What made you interested in doing a PhD in your field?
My field of research is at the crossroads of psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and education. After completing a BSc in Psychology at McGill, I went on to pursue an interdisciplinary European MSc that introduced me to research on the multilingual brain. Although I suspected from the start of my BSc that I wasn’t extremely interested in a tenure-track position, I was motivated to do a PhD in my field because I was so passionate about my research topic and its implications.
Q: What kind of support did you receive during your PhD program?
I was fortunate to have a supportive supervisor who provided rigorous scientific training as well as guidance on important soft skills like presentations, academic writing, networking, funding applications, job searching, etc.
In terms of financial support, I was grateful to have funding during my PhD. I applied for awards and research funding before and during the program. Both the Tomlinson fellowship (McGill) and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CIHR) allowed me to be fully funded for most of my PhD. I conducted part of my PhD research in Italy and traveled to at least 2 scientific conferences a year with the help of additional travel grants. My supervisor provided funding during the final few months of my PhD.
I received moral support from my family and friends during my PhD, although their enthusiasm dwindled as the PhD went on! My PhD research took around 6 years to complete, and it was often difficult to explain to my non-academic circle that it was more like work than still being in school!
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in finishing your PhD?
The biggest challenges I encountered during my PhD were mostly related to the ambitious nature of my project, and the time it took to design my experiments, collect data in two countries, and analyze / interpret all the results. In my final year, it was challenging to finalize the manuscripts quickly with input from my supervisor when several projects in the lab needed his attention. The cyclical process of waiting for feedback was a source of stress for me because I sometimes felt that I was not in control of my own PhD timeline and goals.
A life challenge was that I had to learn to cope with a serious health condition (endometriosis) that caused debilitating pain and required multiple forms of treatment and surgeries at different points during my PhD. I was extremely committed to my PhD research and my extracurricular involvement at McGill, so it was very challenging for me (physically, mentally, and emotionally) to try to balance my well-being with my ambitions. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I realized at the end of my PhD that I needed to prioritize several lifestyle choices if I was going to survive the illness and thrive. This led me to be “picky” with my post-graduation choices.
Q: Are there any experiences you had in graduate school that have been valuable to you post-graduation?
My graduate school experience was enriching because I deliberately sought out diverse activities based on my interests and strengths. I created and led a weekly Academic Writing Group for my peers where we exchanged constructive feedback on texts we were working on, while discussing important principles of scientific writing. The success of this group led the McGill Writing Center to hire me to develop resources for the university. I trained research assistants, both at McGill and during my research stay in Italy. I co-organized a big international conference with my supervisor and volunteered on several committees during my PhD to peer-review abstracts and manuscripts. I co-organized an annual event in our department for PhD students to share resources with their peers. I volunteered as a discussion leader at events organized for graduate students by Skillsets (Teaching & Learning Services). Finally, I was an official blogger for the university’s graduate student blog, where I shared my experiences, tips, and resources with students and Faculty members. As I had many ideas for the blog’s growth, I was hired by Teaching & Learning Services to help refresh the blog and expand it to other forms of social media.
During graduate school, I also started my own business, creating home decor accessories out of my travel photography. I took business and marketing courses in my downtime (what downtime?!) and unexpectedly fell in love with entrepreneurship which, in many ways, is similar to conducting research.
All of these interests and experiences have been essential for my career post-graduation, as I found a way to merge my passions for writing, scientific research, entrepreneurship, organizing events and helping others in the work that I do
Q: What is your current position?
I now own and run two businesses. The first, Veni Etiam Photography, is a brand of home decor accessories derived from my travel photography. The second, Momentum Emporium, offers a slew of consulting services (copywriting, translation, editing, marketing and branding, etc.) for entrepreneurs, academics, and scientists. Whether I help business owners who are just starting out or huge international companies, seasoned researchers or undergraduate students, my mission is to help them communicate their message effectively and to feel less overwhelmed by the process. It is extremely gratifying to offer these services and to work on a diverse range of contracts. I feel like my brain continues to grow and learn every day, both within and outside my comfort zone.
I am also one of the leaders of the Collectif Créatif Etsy Montreal, a regional team that organizes craft markets and exhibitions in partnership with Etsy. We host 5-6 markets a year that attract over 150 local brands and thousands of visitors.
I am also an active advocate for health conditions like endometriosis and infertility. Having struggled in silence with my own health for over a decade, I finally summoned up the courage to talk about it more publicly and became an advocate for those who have not yet found their voice or the right medical treatment. There are many serious obstacles in the medical system and society that prevent endometriosis sufferers from receiving a diagnosis and adequate care. In partnership with two non-profit organizations, we have been working to integrate awareness of pelvic health into school curricula to decrease diagnosis times. I have been working with interdisciplinary healthcare professionals to shift the medical field toward more inclusive and effective treatment approaches. I also finished writing a non-fiction book about my journey and hope that its publication will help others rebuild their life and thrive despite having to cope with an illness like endometriosis.
I have always known that I was unconventional in my interests and my working style, but it took time for me to accept this and to carve out a path that builds on all the skills I’ve collected along the way, while also respecting the lifestyle changes I needed to make for my personal wellness. It was not an easy journey because I was met with judgment—both from others and from myself. Initially, I attempted to stay on the expected path (applying for funding for a post-doc), but when I was unsuccessful at getting funding for two years because of bureaucratic quotas and unwilling to move from Montreal, I found a way to create new opportunities for myself.
Q: If you could go back and tell yourself something about your PhD or post-graduation journey, what would it be?
Don’t judge the path. I think I already knew this, deep inside, but maybe I would have needed to hear it back then. Don’t judge the path by where it should lead or should have led you. Everything you experience is useful for what comes next, whatever that is. It’s okay if the path twists and winds, and if you can’t see what’s next, or if you want to change your course. Although many well-intentioned people may have ideas and opinions about where your path should lead and why, ultimately, you are the one who is doing the walking.
Many thanks to Kristina for sharing her PhD narrative! You can discover her work at:
Or follow her on Instagram @veni.etiam.photography
This interview took place in May 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.