PhD student wins $20K award for female scholars to further addictions research

- May 19, 2023

Karen Tang. (Danny Abriel photo)
Karen Tang. (Danny Abriel photo)

While Twitter may be well known these days for controversies surrounding misinformation and online trolls, underneath that toxic side exists an academic community that may fly under the radar to anyone who does not have a graduate degree or is in the process of earning one.

Graduate student Karen Tang knows this community well and considers her experiences there as key to her professional growth. 

“I’ve received countless opportunities thanks to Twitter,” says Tang, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology whose doctoral research centres on addictive behaviours, mental health, and cultural stigmas.

“I’ve presented research at conferences I otherwise would never have heard about. I’ve co-authored peer-reviewed publications with friends from Twitter, and have even been hired for consulting jobs via Twitter.”

She’s also used social media to uncover new opportunities for funding the research she is so passionate about, including one offered through the P.E.O. Sisterhood — an Iowa-based philanthropic education organization dedicated to supporting higher education for women. Valued at $20,000, P.E.O. Scholar Awards recognize academic excellence by women in doctoral programs in the United States and Canada. 

Tang was chosen from more than 800 applicants to receive one of 110 awards this spring. She admits she was “shocked” upon hearing the good news in April. 

“I was still recovering from a concussion while applying for the award, and grad school can be rife with rejection, so I wasn’t hopeful,” she says. “This goes to show that you never know until you try!”

Breaking barriers

Tang’s application process was not straightforward. To be nominated, students must be sponsored by a local chapter of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. Despite the organization having more than 6,000 local chapters throughout the United States and Canada, there are none in the Maritimes. 

Tang refused to give up, though, and instead approached P.E.O. Chapter N, Ontario-Quebec, which she says eagerly supported her application.

P.E.O. Scholar Award recipients are chosen for a high level of academic achievement and their potential for having a positive impact on society. Tang’s doctoral research explores addictive behaviours (including video gaming and gambling), mental health (including depression and anxiety), and the interplay of sociocultural factors such as stigma and culture. 

A member of Dr. Igor Yakovenko’s Transdiagnostic Addiction Lab, she is currently pursuing her long-term career goal of working as a registered clinical psychologist specializing in diverse populations. As a clinician, she aims to tailor her clinical expertise to working with people from minority or marginalized groups, including disabled and Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) populations. 

“I aim to bring my lived experience with being disabled and BIPOC to my clinical approach, while promoting an inclusive space for all,” she says.

During her time as a grad student, Tang has developed a passion for science communication and knowledge translation, skills which she says likely helped her candidacy for the award. “It is vital to ensure science is accessible to all,” she says. “Research often occurs in a vacuum and remains in one, so it’s important to translate our research to non-specialist audiences.” 

As a master’s student, Tang took part in Dal's 2020 3 Minute Thesis competition, where she presented on the factors that lead to gaming disorder, or video game addiction. She was later selected as a member of the 2021 cohort of the OpenThink initiative for PhD students interested in sharing their research beyond the Dalhousie community.

Striking a balance

Tang admits that she doesn’t use Twitter as much as she used to in the wake of changes to the platform’s leadership and wonders whether its algorithm is filling her newsfeed with the same amount of #AcademicTwitter content as it used to.

“I find I also see less of my friends’ tweets, meaning I might be missing out on important discourse or academic opportunities.”

Regardless, as she progresses toward an anticipated thesis defence date of August 2025, she still logs on daily to monitor the discourse and discover new awards and scholarships. 

Of course, landing the P.E.O. Scholar Award makes it easier to sign off when needed. “I definitely feel less pressure with it supporting my studies,” she says.

Follow Karen on Twitter @KarenTang_


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