Interviewee: Amané Halicki-Asakawa, B.A. | Authors/Editors: Negin Nia & Arrthy Thayaparan (Blog Co-coordinators)
Published: March 25th, 2022
Editor’s Note: This blog post discusses eating disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling, call 1-866-NEDIC-20 or visit NEDIC.
In this week’s blog series, Behind the Science, we speak to Amané Halicki-Asakawa, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO). Amané is working in the women’s health field with the aim of helping folks with eating disorders. Read more to better understand how her project is helping to create tangible change, and her advice for IBPOC in the field wishing to pursue research.
Can you please tell us about your research?
I'm primarily interested in service transformation. So, how to create a tangible change for people in the community, particularly those who live in the Okanagan.
My research is focused on eating disorders and increasing accessibility to eating disorder services, particularly using things like technology and mobile apps. My research is through the Psychopathology Lifespan and Neuropsychology (PLAN) Laboratory at UBCO. Our lab’s primary focus is on neuropsychology and clinical psychology. The research is really broad, it covers things like stroke research, hemispatial neglect, and also a lot of body image and eating disorder research.
What are you currently working on?
My master's thesis is focused on adapting a self-help mobile phone app for use within an eating disorder context. The goal is to provide people with eating disorders who are waitlisted for treatment an interim service while they're waiting. The pandemic has increased waitlist lengths dramatically, which were already really long prior to COVID, and so eating disorder treatments are very, very inaccessible for a lot of people right now. The aim of that project is to try to make sure that people have some sort of support, so that they aren't being forgotten in the system.
What got you interested in this research?
As a woman and being subjected to a lot of cultural issues surrounding thin idealization, I was drawn naturally to eating disorders. They appear a lot in popular culture, and once you dig under the surface a little bit, you realize that there's so much more going on that drives these disorders. There is a lot of really serious underlying stuff related to emotion, regulation, identity, all sorts of stuff. So, I think learning about the severity, complexity, and the existing treatment gaps made me realize how important they are to study.
What impact do you hope your research will have in the women's health field and beyond?
I really want my research to have a tangible outcome. I think that when participants are involved in your research, you're asking them for something. They are providing their time and sharing upsetting, really intense things that they're going through – especially in mental health research. I just want to make sure that the participants in my studies are able to get something back. Also, we're in a transforming world, and technology is becoming so much more accessible and mainstream. My hope with projects like this is to show that there can be ways to access and deliver services that aren't being used right now. I want people to know that these things can actually fill in the gaps and create a bridge so that people can access the treatments that they need.
As a IBPOC in the science field, what advice do you have for future IBPOC academics wanting to pursue a similar path?
It's really important to find mentorship in people who look like you and who've shared your experiences. I think it can be really helpful to seek out mentors, even colleagues and peers. They don't have to be the highest members of academia, they can even be grad students who are a little bit older than you are, or research assistants at labs doing research that you are interested in. Being a racialized person in academia can be very isolating, especially as most institutions lack diversity. Finding those supports and people who can empathize with your experiences and your specific struggles is incredibly helpful. I've sought out many mentors in the past who have helped me and continue to help me, and without their support it would have been a lot harder than it needed to be.
What is the best way for people to learn more about your work?
Feel free to connect with me through Twitter (@amanekha), and check out our lab website to keep up to date with our research.