Sunny Days

Photograph of Bonnie Le
Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:13pm
Carla DeMarco
Making the move to Canada last year from the sunnier climes of California and Florida does not seem to have put a damper on the successful academic trajectory for Bonnie Le.

Bonnie Le, a first year PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the U of T Mississauga, is a recipient of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).  After just having started her program at U of T in September, Le was thrilled to find out she received this distinction in May.

The Vanier CGS, which provide support to promising young researchers in the amount of $50,000 annually for three years, are awarded each year to doctoral students who demonstrate a high level of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and health. There are 167 Vanier CGS awarded annually by the three federal granting agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) in order to attract and retain outstanding doctoral students in Canada.

Working under the supervision of Professor Emily Impett at U of T Mississauga and Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould at U of T Scarborough, Le focuses on understanding why people act prosocially – or for the good of others – in different kinds of relationships. “Prosociality is generally behavior that benefits another person,” explains Le. “I am interested in a lot of different relationships, like parent-child relationships, romantic relationships and cross-race interactions.”

In her research, Le investigates areas such as caregiving in the parent-child context and sacrifice in romantic relationships. With regards to cross-race interactions, Le is interested in fostering positive cross-race interactions. Further, she is interested in examining cooperative behaviour on a more global scale, with the intergroup dynamics distinguished by involving many people as opposed to just one-on-one relationships as it does in the parent-child or romantic contexts.

“If you identify with somebody at a human level, are you more likely to volunteer your time or donate money to help lots of different people, and not just people you are close with, such as your family and friends?” Le cites as an example.

The exhibited benevolence is proving to be mutually beneficial. Le currently has a paper under revision that demonstrates people who provide assistance based on others’ needs experience greater satisfaction in their own lives. “They report having higher self-esteem, more love and more satisfaction in their relationships, and they even report having more love for humanity as a whole,” says Le. “ We find that, on a daily basis, those inclined to care for others also experience benefits to the self.”

And Le must be intimately aware of those benefits since she has her own firsthand experience with service and volunteerism, and has left traces of her giving spirit in her wake. She has raised money for charity, tutored students, and she worked at “College Track,” a non-profit organization in California that helps empower high school students from underserved communities to attend college. She also founded an undergraduate journal at the University of California, Berkeley, where she completed her undergraduate degree in psychology and biology, and helped to establish a second undergraduate journal at the University of Florida, where she obtained her master’s degree in Psychology. Le wanted to provide undergraduate students with an outlet in which to share their research findings, and both journals continue to flourish at her alma maters.

Another significant touchstone of the Vanier award is based on a doctoral student’s strong leadership skills. According to Professor Impett, Le is a definite standout with a rich history of contributing to her community and helping fellow students pursue or enrich their academic goals. “Bonnie is a natural-born leader. Within moments of arriving at UTM, she was already mentoring several undergraduate students in the lab,” says Impett. “And Bonnie’s leadership is a perfect reflection of her research interest in prosociality – she helps others because she genuinely cares and wants them to succeed and thrive.”