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Little Science Talks: Season 1, Episode 1

by | Aug 6, 2021 | Little Science Talks Podcast | 0 comments

This week we launched the first season of the Little Science Co podcast, Little Science Talks – hoorah! The first season of the podcast focuses on generational influences in STEM. Little Science Co Founder, Heidi Gardner will be joined by her co-host Anna Kebke, along with a different guest for each episode.

You can listen to the episode in full using the Acast player above, the full episode’s transcript is below if you’d prefer to read along.

In our first episode we are joined by Trainee Psychologist, Sanna Rehman. We explore if and how Sanna’s South Asian background and cultural experiences played a role in her decision to study a STEM subject. She explains how her passion for breaking down the barriers that women and girls from South Asian backgrounds can face stems from her own experiences of struggling to meet expectations, pressures and demands throughout her childhood. Sanna has worked hard to fight against these stereotypes to pursue her own goals, and in this episode she shares her experiences of studying psychology, and why being one brown face in a sea of not so brown faces that work in mental health is something seemingly small that can contribute to chipping away at.

Heidi 
Hello, and welcome to Little Science Talks. This is our first episode of season one and today we are joined by Sanna Rehman. Sanna, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sanna 
Hi, my name is Sanna. I’m from Glasgow currently, living in Edinburgh and I work as a Trainee Clinical Associate in Applied Psychology. So very much in the psychology field, I guess for some context, I’m 24, so I still feel like a baby in my career. Yeah, that’s a quick intro into me.

Heidi 
I think we all feel like babies in our careers! I’m 29. And I’m still like, yeah, no, not doing it. I had a conversation with my Mum this morning, and she was like, “Are you still going to uni?” And I was like… “I work there now”, it’s not quite the same, Mum.

Anna 
Yeah, I think Heidi and I were talking about me even having a baby and still feeling like a baby!

Heidi 
We’re all just winging it, like all of us all the time, just winging it. And the older you get; you just realise more people around you are winging it too.

Sanna  
And what’s scary is like, whenever someone talks about when you graduated, and that was like, seven years ago, 10 years ago. That’s pretty terrifying.

Heidi 
Yeah, that’s getting me right in the ‘Oh God, what’s happening?’ My partner just turned 30 as well. And that was just enough of like, oh, God.

Anna 
Although, the past year hasn’t really counted. You know, we can just take away 12 months.

Heidi 
I like that!

Anna 
Yeah, we get a year back.

Heidi 
Yeah, sure. So I’m actually just gonna be 28 now and you can just be 23, and so on. So we’re good. Amazing. Excellent.

So, I guess in this episode, we wanted to talk a little bit about your experiences getting into STEM. I know that you’re based in the psychology field, which is an area that I don’t know a huge amount about. I’m looking forward to learning a bit from you from that. Can you just give us a bit of an overview of your career? So where have you been? And how have you got to where you are now?

Sanna 
Definitely. So, I guess it all kind of starts with you know, psychology is your base. I did psychology as my undergrad, and it was accredited by the BPS or British Psychological Society. And that’s quite important if you ever want to move on to doing anything where you’re qualified if you’re treating clients, things like that. So that was my undergrad. And then I didn’t really do much during uni in terms of you know, extracurriculars or jobs that were relevant to my degree, I think I was quite focused on surviving. And that’s definitely what happened during undergrad. And then after undergrad, I kinda came away from psychology, thinking I wasn’t going to pursue it. And this is the kind of problem I foresee with the area is that there’s kind of lots of negativity. That’s because it’s quite a long road to actually achieving, like a clinical psychologist role or something where you’ve got a doctor, the beginning of that title. And it’s not often talked about until you’re kind of in the first year or you’re applying for your psychology degree. So on the surface, yeah, you’ve just graduated, you’ve done four years of psychology, you’ve got all this knowledge and research behind you. But actually, you’re not qualified to do anything other than have a sort of BPS accreditation to say, you can do something if you want to. So off the back of that, you probably will want to do a Masters just to help stand out from the crowd. And if you want to pursue something psychology wise, you’re looking at doing a doctorate at some point, but then to go on to that doctorate, you need lived experience, you need professional experience. So I had decided that, nope, that was far too much of a long road for me, I’m not going down that road, I’m not doing four years of undergrad, a year saving for my master’s, a master’s, and then, you know, three, four years working in jobs. And then a three-year doctoral training programme, it felt like a lot. And I guess I was quite focused on enjoying my 20s and trying to make money in my 20s or not want to really sort of in low paying jobs for a really long time.

So I stepped out of it after undergrad and decided I was gonna do something else and actually ended up being a project coordinator and eventually a project manager for an IT company, which is totally random. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can make anything sound transferable. And that’s kind of what I did when I decided to come back to psychology. So I suppose the long road short is that I spent a year doing not health, not science, not psychology, and missed it so much. I ended up taking volunteering experience with the Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh and then coming back to do my masters. It was basically Health Science at Aberdeen and then naturally fell back into doing mental health research, psychology research, and that’s why I’m doing the current training programme that’s also masters currently, so had a range of experiences I’ve worked with health in Edinburgh remotely. I’ve worked for a journal, Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters for a little while as an intern, which is amazing. So what kind of range of experiences but definitely a looping background to the first step.

Heidi 
Yeah, I was gonna pick up on that as well because when you turned over your information and stuff before we started talking, and I think you already had a Masters so then you were doing this other one I was like, “How is she doing this?

Anna 
Superwoman!

Heidi 
Yeah, but how did you find the process of doing your first Masters? So I guess when you said to like your family, I’m going to go back to uni and do this Masters. What were they thinking? Like, what was their reaction?

Sanna 
I think I’m super fortunate in that the Masters I’m currently doing is… I call it a Masters because that’s what you get when you finish, but it’s also a paid programme. So, it’s really unique. It’s run by both Stirling and Dundee and NHS Education for Scotland, and I’m employed by NHS Lothian. So lots of recruitment, different areas. Even though it’s a second Masters, I guess I’m not shelling out 10 grand this time, and I’m being paid, which is amazing, especially in psychology, where there’s just so much association with sort of low paid lower roles, and you know, to get to where you want to get to making those sacrifices. So, actually, I think it was kind of met with joy that there was actually going to be in a full-time job for more than a year.

Heidi 
It’s a big thing, particularly when you’ve had to save up for the first time and then you’re like, oh God, now I need to do the second goal. How am I going to sustain myself? How am I going to eat? The uniqueness of that programme is really important as well, that must be a really good way to get various groups as well into that sort of area, because if you’re getting paid, obviously, you’ve not got that battle. Is it like quite a diverse cohort that you’re in? Is it a small group? Tell me a bit about it.

Sanna 
I suppose it’s …I think it’s diverse. And I say think because I’ve never met any other trainees other than seeing them on Microsoft Teams, and Zoom and stuff and our WhatsApp group, I think we’re fairly diverse. And there are lots of people from different countries, which is really, really great, that’s really nice to see. And I suppose in particular, in terms of access, there are 40 of us this year. And I think that we had 350 applications. Last year, I think there was only 30, it’s actually been running for 15 years, but I think they’re slowly trying to increase the number of trainees year on year to get more people into the workforce to have more CBT therapists to treat more people, ideally. So yeah, we’re increasing in number, which is really nice. I remember the biggest year we’ve had so far. And I think we might actually get to meet each other at some point in the year with some face-to-face teaching. We do a week of teaching every month, and then we’re just sort of on placement and studying the rest of the time.

Heidi 
When you first started that first Masters had anybody else in your family? Did they have experience in STEM? Like what was your sort of background and upbringing?

Sanna 
That’s a really good point. So I suppose I was, no one else had a Masters, and no one else had an undergrad and my family. I was the first person in my little family to have gone to university and was the first person on my Dad’s side of the family to have gone to university as well. Actually, when I think a bit more about my parents sort of attainment, I think my Dad barely finished high school, and my Mum sort of started college but dropped out. So they had never been, which is perhaps why it was more of a push for me to go to University. I suppose the disclaimer is, I was really fortunate to have gone to private school. But that also maybe comes with a bit of difficulty in that there was lots and lots of pressure to do well, there was never any conversation about not going to University, that was not an option. And kind of related to that, I suppose that there was perhaps more pressure to study something that was STEM, something that was either STEM business, or you know, law because I came from a South Asian background and your education is generally important because your job is incredibly important. It’s important to be financially stable to look after your family to possibly look after your parents when you’re older. Or at least that was the experience of the community and culture they came from. There was never any conversation about, you know, pursuing drama, or art or anything like that, so I never actually considered anything with those kinds of subject areas. I think I briefly considered, you know, perhaps social work or speech and language therapy, but came to where I am now very much with the cultural background that I’m from as well. And that pressure to go to uni, to do well, and you need to do well in school to get to uni as well.

Heidi 
Yeah, I think there’s quite a big, not necessarily a stigma, but I think you phrase it as a push and I do think that’s right, my Mum didn’t go to Uni, and there was never a question that I wasn’t going to uni, because there was just this, normalisation of that’s what you do. The people in your school are going to uni, so you’re going to uni. It’s never ‘are you going to go?’, it was always a, w’here are you going to go?’ ‘what are you going to study?’ sort of thing. I do think that is kind of maybe, it’s like a subconscious thing in parents minds when they haven’t gone they’re like, right, we’ll give you a little nudge and maybe help you along that way.

Sanna 
Perhaps parents think about the opportunities they might have had if they had gone to university and you know, they want the best for us really, naturally and that’s perhaps why they’re so keen for us to not be restricted in the way that they feel like they might have been restricted and, you know, for us to have an amazing future and no glass ceiling. What better way to ensure that? That was perhaps the mindset at that point when, you know, you didn’t need a degree to get certain jobs?

Heidi 
Yeah, definitely.

I wanted to talk a little bit as well because you mentioned your South Asian heritage. And I think when we’ve spoken earlier, you’ve mentioned your gender as well as being quite a sort of forceful, you know, women in STEM and, and thinking about representation that way, rather than it just being like a heritage thing. Are you able to unpick that a little bit about, you know, how your parents and your family might have reacted to things? Was it? Because you’re a girl? Was it because you’re from a South Asian background? Are you able to unpick it I guess?

Sanna 
So, I suppose, kind of yeah. I think I was always really encouraged to pursue science or a degree of sort of that kind of stability in a profession that would really give me a stable future and you know, stable finances and a good home life and something that was perhaps good to be done part-time when I became a mother. That was definitely the type of conversations being had at the time. I remember kind of been steered away from perhaps certain subjects, that would have been seen as more masculine at the time.

So, something perhaps closer to engineering, that maybe would have been too demanding on what would have been Mum life or something that would have taken up too much time, wouldn’t have left me enough time to, you know, cook dinner or something like that, I’m kind of breaking it down to, you know, the real basics of what kind of things would be going through their heads. But that was, that was quite evident, I think, and the ways in which I was encouraged to pursue some things, and not others.

But it was actually what was not said, that kind of pushed me towards psychology. So going way back, I think the original reason for pursuing psychology was actually because my little brother, who is now around, I guess, 13, now 12 to 13. Around 10 years ago, we adopted him into our family. So I ended up getting lots of exposure to social workers, and what it was like to be in contact for looked after child and then eventually speech and language therapy because he had some difficulties.

I started to look into, I’ve never heard of these health professionals before, because they just didn’t come into my world is that something I could have a look at, look at social work looked at speech and language, and language quite related to developmental psychology, one of the branches, so pursued psychology sort of off the back of that. But I think what brought me back after spending a year out psychology back into it was the cultural side. I suppose it’s what’s not said, that brought me back. And there’s just not really conversation about your mental health, in my experience when you’re from certain communities. I’m British Pakistani, I’m from a South Asian community, and I suppose I will tend to talk a lot about South Asia instead of British Pakistani, I’ve never actually had the pleasure of going to Pakistan. So a lot of my sort of influences turned to tend to mix it a little bit with different areas, India, different regions, things like that. And growing up, you just didn’t ever hear the words anxiety or depression. No one ever spoke about your emotions or your feelings. And that was just my experience of it. And so I think that over time, I started to realise that I actually didn’t want that to be the case or not to continue to be the case for, you know, like future individuals that were actually having difficulty with these areas, and would therefore really benefit from input from professionals from, whether that’s research scientists looking at how to do you know how to better treat individuals that were from diverse backgrounds, for actually just getting help from an individual that’s maybe from a diverse background themselves.

I kind of realised I wasn’t hearing any I hadn’t heard any of those words, haven’t seen anyone that looks like me, that worked in this field. I think the first time I ever did was when I’d already decided to pursue psychology. And I met a family friend who was a trainee on the clinical, sort of, doctoral programme, which was really great to start to speak to someone about what that involves. I think for me, it kind of comes back to wanting to add my coin to the big sort of foundation of representation because I just don’t think that it’s there. And there’s a sense of comfort and seeing or being with what’s familiar, we like the familiar as human beings, it helps us feel safe, it helps us to feel secure. And so I would really like to start to contribute to that to be one brown face and a sea of not so brown faces that work in mental health and work in psychology and work in primary care. I think that that’s the thing that kind of keeps driving me to keep going with coming back to psychology with trying to pursue and get to where I want to go, and it’s to improve that. And I guess that kind of touches on the work that I did with the journal sexual reproductive health matters. Half of that was a great experience, but half of it was just to have my name associated with the words sexual reproductive, because those are not things that are comfortably typically spoken about, in perhaps a South Asian home. And it’s not even to be it’s just not really acceptable to be on so part of it is, you know, I want to get experience working for an academic journal, wouldn’t that be amazing, and maybe I could do some work and it could get, you know, shared somewhere or published somehow. But it’s also to just start to be someone that can start to have conversations with other people from where I’m from, about your sexual health, about the fact that you have rights. And if you have these difficulties, no, there are actually people you can talk to, you don’t kind of need to suffer in silence, or you shouldn’t ever have to. So I think it’s the lack of communication from perhaps my cultural experiences that keep bringing me to want to pursue this line of work.

Anna 
I just had a question pop up about the whole sexual health, like stigma, I suppose, in the, in the community, because, I imagine, you’d have some reactions from people around you just like talking about it, because, like, I come from a Russian background, and it’s kind of the same there that, you know, depression and anxiety, and burning out doesn’t really exist. And, you know, it’s kind of seen as, you know, weak at times, if you do, and there’s a little bit of a stigma as well of sexual health and, and all of that. So just really curious to hear. How the reactions were?

Sanna 
Yeah, I think I’m still in the early days yet. So I haven’t really, perhaps had the chance because I actually did start to work for the journal during the pandemic. I think it’s been quite limited in terms of really starting to go, like deeper into those conversations. And I think that it’s still quite difficult, because still to this day, to start to try and have that kind of conversation, you’re going to come up against a barrier. And I think it’s, it’s really hard and difficult, I just don’t think we’re there to have variable conversations. But I think even just starting to contribute to like literature, and articles and research to have all of that out there, to have things like online support groups to have different websites have different charities popping up. But hopefully, with the increased presence of doing things like talking really openly about your sexual reproductive health, about your mental health, related to culture, and start to challenge some of those barriers, some of those stigmas as well, that will hopefully start to normalise what’s going on for a lot of people so that ideally, over time, you start questioning it less, or at least the individuals that would question the appropriateness of speaking about any of us can have the conversation, any of these topics that will hopefully naturally take a bit of a decline. I think it very feels like baby steps, and to even have, I guess, worked for them at this stage or have entered them with them for a small amount of time, it’s almost quite a lot to even just put, like, put on my LinkedIn, the fact that, you know, I interned with them for four months, and quite proud of that. I mean, I didn’t do anything groundbreaking with them by any means. It was very much sort of critiquing research and giving them reports and things like that, but just to start to be associated with the organisation with their name, it feels really great. And, you know, to be able to meet younger individuals that are from different backgrounds and cultures and start to talk to them about what I did one summer, what I did in my masters and what I learned and get their take on it is really nice. But I think it’s hard because you’re always going to come up against a bit of a barrier, particularly with older generations, where it might just remain difficult to have those for a little while. But we can still work in other areas to continue to improve it.

Heidi 
Yeah, I think it’s important as you said, even just to be there, just to be seen in research, because, I say this as a bit of context, I guess my like day job in my adult grown-up life. I work in research on a lot of the stuff I’m doing at the moment is on inclusivity in clinical trials and trying to get a more representative population. So a patient population and a trial should just look like every member of society. But it doesn’t, it never does. It always looks like a group of white, middle class, usually approaching retirement age people. And that I think is all really down to the fact that we don’t have representation and research because every time I’m trying to write a grant application for something like that, I’m thinking, I don’t want the whole research team to be white. And then you kind of go on this awful journey, like, oh, who can I think of to work with? You might have this experience and then you don’t want to be, you know, going to people because they’re Brown, because that’s not where you want to go. You just want everyone to be available and happy and able to work in an area where they want to work. I think yeah, as you said, just being that representative face is so important because you then other people looking at LinkedIn might be thinking, oh, maybe I could intern with that journal, maybe I could intern with another journal. I think it’s just it’s super important and absolutely good on you! I know that if I was even thinking of interning with the Sexual Health Journal, I know that I would blush telling people. Good for you!

Anna 
Giggle and blush!

Sanna 
I think that what you said is so interesting about how your samples often are older white males, particularly like, what are the reasons for that? Is it because they generally have more time do they retire earlier? Do they have higher-paying jobs where they have more time to spend on these things? I think that that relates a lot to why clinical psychology is not diverse enough, and we’ve got a lot more to do in that area. It’s why I like talking about how the road for psychology is so long, and it’s so off-putting because you also have no guarantee that all of these, you know, hours and years that you’re paying into all of these different jobs will actually guarantee you a place on seeing the clinical doctorate to then be a clinical psychologist. And part of that problem is that there are lots of roles that have been made that are voluntary roles, but they often come close to what a paid part-time role would be. So quite a popular one is the Assistant psychologist role, it’s kind of hailed as the gold standard to almost guarantee you a golden ticket to get into the doctorate. And a lot of organisations for universities have created an honorary assistant psychologist role. But to be able to take that role, you need to be wealthy enough to give up half a day or a day of your time. Sometimes it’s more, it’s two days. So you start to get what is a very different picture in your workplace in your psychology field of individuals who are from a wealthier background, who can afford to take time off, who can afford to only work three days a week and due to volunteering to then get into the doctorate one day. And what ends up happening is your workforce becomes middle class, and generally quite white. And I suppose that it’s generally a bit of an off-putting influence in terms of even trying to crack into your future as a clinical psychologist, which means you’ve got even less diversity because you’re stopping before you’ve even claimed the first rung on the ladder, because you’re like, what’s the point?

Heidi 
Yeah, totally understand that, I guess that then plays into the taboos and the lack of sort of openness and transparency around mental health. Because if there’s not somebody that looks like you in that clinic when you go get help, suddenly you might feel oh God, I’m just the only one in my community that is suffering, or that is experiencing this and so I’m not going to talk about it, because it’s embarrassing, or it’s stigmatised, and it’s just not something that I want to share with people. It’s almost like a vicious cycle of, there isn’t enough diversity, there aren’t enough diverse faces in the workforce. Therefore, the patients are not diverse enough, the whole design of the service then fails, essentially in it. That’s exactly what I’m finding in researchers. All of the trials are essentially built, designed, conducted, run by white middle-class people, and then we get shocked why they’re full of white middle-class people. I’ll tell you why. That’s why.

Sanna 
I find that through doing the current programme, I’ve naturally found myself paying a lot more attention to, you know, culture and diversity matters, when we’re delivering therapy, we should treat everyone as equals we should, you know, go into clean slate every single time is that practitioners psychologist or is that their therapist? And so why would you want to bring culture, diversity, or religion or sexuality into the room. And there’s an individual, I think that they’re American, and they have the surname Hayes, and they have a book on sort of approaching cognitive behavioural therapy with a culturally diverse approach. And they give us really nice case study where they have this psychologist in America who the therapist, and they’re treating a South, or let’s say, an East Asian client, and these Asian clients quite depressed, and they come in with lots of difficulties, which seems to be fueled by lots of arguing at home with their parents. And a therapist is like, you know, be independent, you should really challenge the arguments happening with your Mum and your Dad, you know, really try, maybe move out, like and tries to really encourage them to do things that are related to, you know, being really independent, being really individualist. But perhaps the client actually feels that’s really disruptive, or that really is that sort of mismatch with their own ideals, their own beliefs, and that would cause a lot of pain at home, and then they start to lose trust or faith in that therapist, and then they don’t actually have a good treatment outcome. And I suppose if you had a more culturally sensitive approach to that, you would have assessed what their, what their diverse needs are, what their beliefs are, what their religion and culture is, and realise that actually, more collectivist community families are really important, staying together in the family home is really important, you know, having a sort of letting go attitude instead of a confrontational one. That’s also really important. So the culturally diverse therapist would come in and actually maybe suggest some techniques to help them release anger, or aggression, or some conflict resolution strategies. Instead of doing things like saying, you should move, you should do that. Let’s look at how to help you and only you and they kind of dismiss the wider picture. So I think that over this year, I’ve started to really understand the importance that diversity plays, even when we should be taking a bit about blank slates to our therapy, and that, you know, and as individuals, we’re just too complex to treat, based on our expectations, or even what we think someone will present as a difficulty into the room.

Heidi 
I guess as well, the people that are often saying, let’s treat with a blank slate approach. To me, they’re usually white, because they assume that the blank slate is white. And so they’re like, Well, you know, this is the baseline, this is the majority. And instead of then, reframing their view of the majority is not everyone, it’s just a majority. Like, there’s still loads of other people. That I think is, it’s just telling of the way that medicine and psychology and research and the whole, every area of STEM really, particularly that the health areas and aspects of it. Riddled with privilege, aren’t they? It’s just, yeah, okay, the baseline is white. Let’s, work from there and it just doesn’t work for everyone.

Anna 
Yeah. And it’s hard to go against, your upbringing and your culture and the whole thing, like, you can’t go and confront your parents if that’s not what you’ve grown up with. But then if you’re told, go confront them, go tell them you’re moving out, you’re leaving them, you know, it’s not going to work. So it’s actually really opened my eyes to this.

Heidi 
It must be a very difficult situation to be in when you are that, that client, when you’ve got somebody, a psychologist on one side, because then you’re almost between a rock and a hard place, because neither of them are giving you the good treatment outcome that you need to then make sure that your family life is settled, and therefore you’re settled.

Sanna 
It’s so hard because there’s been some research as well, which I can’t cite, because it’s just sort of generally being taught to us, you know, on slides with bullet points without any citations on as to where that’s come from. And it talks about why we might not be, you know, taking a diverse or cultural approach to assessing and treating our clients. And despite the fact that it wasn’t referenced or anything, it was actually so refreshing to see on paper, what is the truth, and it’s that we’re so scared of offending our clients and our patients, we don’t ever want to cause them further distress by seeing the wrong thing. At any point. We don’t know enough necessarily about their culture or, or their beliefs to feel like we can confidently navigate the field, we’re perhaps too blinded by our own biases to even consider the fact that this is something we should be doing. And it’s just quite sad, quite refreshing to see, someone actually say that it makes us really uncomfortable to talk or ask someone about their culture when we don’t really have much of an understanding of it. But then even if you do have an understanding of it, each individual’s experience can be completely different. So you do need to explore each time. It’s just quite nice seeing that, you’re not the only one who’s uncomfortable navigating these awkward conversations at times, but it does need to happen.

Heidi 
They are, they are awkward conversations and as well, I think, again, as part of the research that I’m doing, I keep doing this, I’m sorry, but it is relevant, I swear. So I’m writing a paper at the moment about why we should report ethnicity and trials because at the moment, there’s no UK standard for it. There’s no like government push or mandate or anything like there is in the US, but they do it terribly, so I just don’t want us to replicate the crap that they’re doing. I think for us, the things that I’m talking about all the time of people are like, yes, but you can have that conversation, we can be open, you tell people about your culture, and they might tell you about that and if they’re not comfortable, that’s okay. But just plant the seed, you know, make that relationship, or sort of build that relationship, I guess, and I guess with psychology, it’s even more important because it’s, it’s such a personal connection with your therapist, as to whether that treatment outcome is successful or not. And I just, I can’t even imagine not understanding about the person in front of you, I guess. Like, do you when you’re doing like a consultation? Obviously, you haven’t done things yourself at the moment because you’re still in training. But how does that initial consultation process go? Are you supposed to, just find out about them? Or is it their culture and their background and stuff too?

Sanna 
So I suppose this is actually quite helpful to note, but as a trainee on the programme, my speciality that I’m training in is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And the reason for that is that it’s what we have most research looking at, it’s with so many RCTs I’ve had a look at the efficacy of CBT for a range of different disorders. And because it’s generally shown to be the most sort of effective and fairly cost-effective, it’s quite a short-term brief. It’s you know, anything from 8 to 20 sessions, as opposed to years of psychoanalysis and Freudian stuff like that. It means that it’s a good option for the NHS, which you know, is quite relevant since we’re in Scotland. So as a trainee CBT practitioner, I’m quite lucky in that I take a lot of my sessions myself so I’m quite heavily supervised by often take a lot of my sessions on my own and the process is to have an assessment, and then your treatment, and then your discharge. So, for me, my assessment could be anything from one to three sessions. And I usually like to have my first session be about, you know, the main difficulty right now, what’s going on? What impacts it? How frequent is it? What’s going on? What kind of consequences is that having for you in your daily life, and then I go into the background for your second one. And then the third session, we usually do functional analysis, which is basically a micro analysis of all the things that happen in one particular time. So we’ll say, tell me about the last time that you had really low mood and we look at what was going on in your body in terms of physical reaction? What happened before that? What were the thoughts? What were the emotions going on? And what did you do to cope with that? And so somewhere in there, you should somehow understand more about your client, you know, culturally, which means that CBT is based on all these RCTs that have generally been done in western countries, they have not really been done as much in terms of the research we have from it coming to us back in the 80s. Until now, but that is starting to slowly change. I suppose the issue is that I don’t personally think that we’re taught enough about how to assess someone’s cultural background in psychology generally and CBT, at the moment, but there are lots of books and resources out there. So at some point, during that assessment, you should start to, ask them what are their religious beliefs? Or their cultural beliefs? try and pick up on different things, if they start talking about a family? What does family mean to you? How does that dictate your everyday living? Or is that quite important? Do you have a sort of dependence on each other? Except for last and a bit more of an open question? They were closed questions. I suppose there is an opportunity there at the assessment to start to take our cultural approach to assessing an individual and as you said, you can’t imagine not doing that, because psychology is the study of our human mind, how the human mind develops, how it works. And you know how to assess and treat it when things are difficult or not going to plan? How can you do that when someone’s culture usually informs your identity, because then you start to feel to actually be able to understand and treat your client because you’re essentially missing half of the picture. If you don’t know that a lot of their beliefs are there because of their, their cultural background, or their religious background, or their sexuality of, of their, you know, gender expression. Anything. So, yeah, I think that it’s quite difficult because I think we forget sometimes that culture has this integral role in defining who we are and psychology is how we work. So they should be like very much mesh together, but they’re just often not seen that way.

Heidi 
Yeah. And hopefully, things will start to change, I guess. I’ve been doing this for the past, like, what, 10 years, saying “hopefully, things start to change”. But really, hopefully, they will. I guess, seeing faces like yours. And you know, you doing bits of outreach and engagement like this will be hopefully a nice starting point for people that are maybe listening or, you know, seeing you in other areas to say, oh, maybe I could do that.

Sanna 
Exactly, hopefully. And if it doesn’t, I’ll just I don’t know, start marching down Princess Street screaming about sexual health and women’s rights and your mental health, if that doesn’t work in 20 to 30 years time.

Heidi 
What would your Mum do if you did that?

Sanna
God knows!

I think that there is more research being pushed out, there’s more attention, we’re hopefully trying to take on a workforce that is more diverse and reflective of the population that we’re trying to treat. And then ideally, it all gets better. But I suppose some people would argue that’s quite naive, even though it’s what we need to happen.

Anna 
You’re also just human, you can’t, even as a clinical psychologist, you can’t possibly know everything about every culture and every little nuance. It’s hard. And you can’t just spend 24 hours a day reading all these papers and books. So it’s a fine balance as well, I feel, yeah, coming from a whole different background.

Heidi 
I guess it’s all when things get better. I’m not I’m not going to say if because I’m optimistic. But when things get better, it’s not all on you. And it shouldn’t be all on you. Because like I said, you aren’t you know, we’re all human and yes, you can maybe know the South Asian experience in Glasgow particularly well, but maybe it’s slightly different in Bradford or Edinburgh or Aberdeen. No two people are going to be the same and I guess just we do our best in what we know and how we can help people that way.

Sanna 
That’s the typical view that all researchers take, and it’s just not quite generalizable to the whole population.

Heidi 
Yeah, oh God, you’ve just like life flashing before my eyes. Yeah, 100%.

Anna 
Just circling back to the Mum stuff and you know, being able to provide but then also having to have the option of working part-time, so not taking on something that’s too demanding. Did you ever have like a certain profession in mind, before you settled on psychology, or was there like other options in a way that you like role models around you that kind of juggled everything at once and successfully did all this?

Sanna 
I think that my family were really keen for me to be a pharmacist and I mean, crazy, keen.  I tried to look up some research to see if there’s like some prevalence research or like anything to back up, you know, encouragement with South Asian children pursuing pharmacy, and it just seems to be science in general. But she was really keen for me to be a pharmacist, I think it’s because we had a lot in the family and the hours are good. And it’s, you know, they’re accommodating for having children and stuff. I think at the time, it depends on the culture that you grew up in. But it can, depending on your own, and the kind of background you come from, I certainly felt very restricted in terms of expressing my own freedom and pursuing whatever the hell I wanted. So I think I was just so focused on doing the degree I had decided to do. And moving on with that, I did toy with being a sort of a teacher at one point or a primary teacher. And I guess as school went on, and as I started to learn more about what psychology was, and, you know, learned that it wasn’t someone on a sofa, and you asking them how they feel, for hours at a time. But once I, once I broke past that, that actually, this is something I really want to do. And I knew generally that psychology can be really accommodating in terms of having a life out of psychology, don’t get me wrong, it can be hard to keep boundaries, and to not spend hours into the night looking into a particular case. But a lot of individuals I know will have days where they’re actually nearer four days a week or three days a week. And it seems as though they’re able to maintain that financially, as well, which is great. So I did have in the back of my mind that it would be a career that seemed to be quite flexible and hadn’t really given too much thought over to that. I suppose that would be pleasing to my family that it was factored in somewhere.

But to be honest, I think I was just so keen to do what I wanted, regardless of the impact to family or elsewhere. Because at the end of the day, you know, you have to look after yourself. And I think it’s so hard when you come from a culture that’s so collectivist perhaps because, you know, it’s a South Asian or East Asian country where there’s no NHS, and there’s no support network for becoming elderly. And so you rely on your younger family to look after you, you know, there’s I’m not gonna pronounce this, right. But there’s some Asian concept of filial piety. And that’s why things like Tiger parenting are so intertwined, you know, really pushing our kids to achieve. So we do well, they get good jobs, they make money. And I’m the look after you, when you’re, you know, parents that are becoming children again, when you’re older. So I think had to start to learn that, you know, South Asian, but I’m British living in Scotland, in Glasgow, and eventually, you know, moving away at some point, and I guess it’s hard when you’re kind of caught between culture sometimes, but I was very much veering more towards the Scottish side of life.

Heidi 
Yeah, I think it’s the thing that kind of jumped out to me there was that it was just like an assumed thing, you would have a family? Like it wasn’t a question of, are you going to have kids? Do you want to have kids? Do you want to, you know, is that something that’s on your agenda? And I think, particularly in different cultures, that’s tricky. So I’ve been very lucky in that, like, my Mum now has a grandson. And that’s my dog. And she’s fully into that. She’s like, how is my boy doing today? And she expects photo updates as if I’ve had a baby. And there’s no pressure from her whatsoever. Like, there just never has been. But I know from friends and other cultures and with other backgrounds and stuff, like we’re approaching 30. And suddenly, it’s a bit late, right? Well, times ticking. What’s going on?

How did you manage to deal with that? Because I guess lots of people want to have families, but maybe you don’t? Maybe you do, how did you tackle that?

Sanna 
I think it’s, it’s a hard question. I suppose my situation is a bit different and I’m quite open talking about this. But when I kind of pushed back and was quite adamant about studying what I wanted to study, doing what I wanted to do, pursuing whatever career wherever, that kind of translated into other areas as well, life, so generally, being independent, doing what I want, which is not necessarily something that from my experience, a lot of South Asian girls are able to do, sometimes it can be quite restrictive, there can be a lot of parental pressure and things like that. I kind of ended up taking it on my own and moved out like at 17 and moved through to Edinburgh, and I’m generally really independent. And I managed to do that because I only rely on myself sort of financially and I very much have people in my life that you know, mean a lot to me and I’m happy to have them there in a very supportive and I suppose part of that it’s hard because there’s not really a safety net when it comes to financial matters or just, you know, some emotional support, but it means that I get to live without any pressure ever. Which for me is quite a big deal. So, I guess that kind of helps to frame things a little bit in terms of it was really tricky for me to pursue psychology because there’s never a guarantee and having kind of started to slowly move away from a life I wasn’t happy with at all that I felt was controlling or brought you back into pursuing certain things that I didn’t want to pursue. It made it that much harder, because I guess there were doubts surrounding everything about doing it on my own about pursuing things. And when I say doing on my own, I see that with a caveat, because I’ve been so privileged to have gone to an all-girls private school, to have had support from family for so many years, I think I got to a point where I weighed up that versus the emotional trauma call it if you will, or the emotional difficulty of having to balance that. And I think it helps that I’m now training as a sort of practitioner or psychologist, but you realise that there is more to life and that you cannot live a life based on what other people’s expectations are.

So I luckily have none of that pressure, and that’s really, really nice. It means I don’t even have to think about what so many people have to think about in terms of how to deal with, you know, the in-laws or Mum and Dad this week or next week, or how to put them off. And, you know, we’ve been married now for one year or two years. And everyone’s like, “where’s the baby?” I like that we’re getting to a place where it’s no longer acceptable to ask someone what their baby plans are because shouldn’t ever be. So I am very lucky. I don’t have to, and that has certain drawbacks. But yeah, I really do feel for others not in that situation.

Heidi
Yeah, it’s a really difficult life to live in and a horrible choice to make. I think, because as you said, it’s not just like, uh, you know, I’ll, I’ll be in a low paid job for a little while and then I’ll be okay. Like it’s not, it’s the emotional difficulties as well. That is, that is tough stuff. And yeah, I’m guessing a bit of, a bit of psychology probably helped with that was like, hmm okay, “other people have stuff as well”, this is how I can, techniques that I can use to help myself and that kind of thing.

Sanna
Yeah. It definitely helps you to keep grounded. It helps you. And that’s why, like, there are reasons I love social media and that’s for pursuing a career in psychology and, you know, dealing with your own personal difficulties is that. There are so many online support forums for all sorts of stuff. And I mean all kinds of stuff. And it’s just so nice to be able to connect with other people that are going through the same journey as you, or trying to get that same job as you, especially in an area that’s so murky and so grave. So yeah, when social media is good, it’s fantastic.

Heidi
Social media is also excellent at showing what you bake kind of just like, bring that up for a second. So Sanna’s Instagram is closed and I was like, is this creepy? If I just try and follow her now? So I tried and it works, but, but the meringues that she was making, holy cow.

Sanna
Thanks!

Heidi
My God. I was like immediately, okay, you need to send me a recipe for this now.

Sanna
Oh my gosh, those were the first time I’d made that.

Heidi
They looked incredible!

Sanna
I am a scientist and my approach to baking, I research everything weeks of planning, all my equipment, all my materials, doing some test ones and they were going for the final.

Heidi
The final trial and the final show was freaking perfect. So yeah, the scientific approach totally worth it. Excellent. I’m going to have to maybe bring in my science to my baking because that might explain why it’s not great. So we wanted to finish up by just sort of asking you for like a top tip or a Ppearl of wisdom from you like something that you’ve learned or wish that you’ve learned that you would have learned earlier.

Sanna
My tip comes from being recently… No pre-pandemic, being on a holiday. I went on holiday for two weeks to LA in America, and I started meeting people who were late twenties, late thirties, who were doing their bachelor’s for the first time. And it kind of hit me because when they told me there was just no reaction, like that was normal and it was sort of refreshing to see people take life at a normal / their own pace. And it made me reflect on how I’ve spent so much time, like running towards the next school or the overall goal. And I don’t give myself enough time to breathe during the jobs that I had. So, you know, when I was a senior project coordinator, project manager, whatever, it sucked. And all I was doing was looking what are all of the voluntary jobs I can get? All of the experiences I can get to get to my doctorate to get into my master’s quickly. When I took the support role on I was making even less, I never took time to enjoy the fact that I was learning incredible stuff for the first time. And I would lose that first time, you know, shininess, completely once it was over. And once I’d moved on and also as you move through life, you get more responsibility. And I think it naturally becomes a little bit less enjoyable and there’s, there’s sometimes more, more stress associated with that. So what my takeaway was seeing people so happy and proud to be doing things later in life, and that there’s no reason anyone should achieve anything in their twenties.

The dream job no longer exists in your twenties. And that’s okay. So I think, take life at a slower pace, that can often help. I think the last year has kind of taught us that and just try to enjoy things in the moment work. That’s so cheesy, but it’s really what I learned.

You know, every other month or every other week where I just felt like I wasn’t going anywhere and I was never going to achieve anything in the same year. I was turned down for a post at like band 4, and I got onto this program, which is band 6. And I now have something, hopefully, once I qualify will be a career that I can sustain until I want to do my doctorate. So it just goes to show that sometimes you need perseverance and patience.

Heidi
Definitely. I think that whole going at your own pace as thing, like it just, I don’t even know how we got here as a society where it’s like you go from being at school like you choose your A levels or whatever the equivalent is in Scotland, Highers, like, when I was looking back, I was like, oh my God, how did I just assume that I could do all of those qualifications in two years and then did them and was really sad for whole time, and then went straight to uni and then straight to a PhD and like all these internships and like this fast pace of life when you’re literally like a baby. And now we’re like, yes, we’re in our twenties. It’s almost like we’re at a career stage that people 10 years older than us would look at and go, yeah, that’s cool. Good job. We’ve done it, but we’re kind of sitting here being like, oh God, we’re exhausted. How did that happen? How do we even get here? It’s like a big whirlwind. Just as a sort of plug to a book that I’m reading at the minute that might be of interest it’s by Helen Peterson, it’s called Can’t Even and it’s about Millennial burnout and it’s basically about how Boomers have ruined all our lives, it’s very US focused, but, it is still relevant about how we’re always on this big cycle of next thing. Where’s the goal? What’s the goal? What are you going to do forever rather than it just being like, okay, maybe you want to go on holiday today? Maybe you want to go exploring. Maybe you want to take a day off for the sake of just taking a day off. That is a really important thing. And that probably ties quite well with your psychology background cause I guess, you’ll see it firsthand, that burnout and the mental implications of what could happen if people don’t take it.

Sanna
That book sounds fantastic, I’m going to have to get it, because that’s literally, that was like the reflection that took me all of five years to get to, because you put it so well and yeah, you have so much pressure and expectation that we attach to everyday life.

Heidi
It’s so hard. It’s really hard. And I’m glad that you recognise it at 24 because I didn’t. So yeah. Good job on you being so young and recognizing it.

Anna
Jesus, I feel like I’ve been in a therapy session, a massive weight lifted off my shoulders, Like it’s all right, we’re fine!

Heidi
Cancel that therapy session! 
We’ve had a great time with you, it’s been so interesting and thank you so much for giving your time.

Sanna
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been really, really nice. It’s been so refreshing and lovely to have a bit of normalcy if that’s the right word during these weird as hell times, and I can’t wait to see what you guys do next.

Anna
So that was our first episode. Thank you so much to Sanna for joining us and for sharing her story. Our next episode will be released in two weeks time and as we’re recording this, we don’t really know who that will be with, but, make sure you join us then to find out.

Heidi
And remember to follow us @littlescienceco on Instagram, Twitter, and on Facebook. Let us know what you think about our first episode and the new website has just gone live about a week ago, I think as you’re hearing this and that will be www.littlescienceco.com. So have a little explore and let us know what you think and I hope you like the new branding!