Department profiles

Sydney Waring 


Sydney is a recent graduate of the Clinical Psychology PhD program where she was supervised by Dr. Allison Kelly. Sydney’s research focuses on how women’s body image changes depending on whom in their life they are spending time with. While this reality may seem intuitive, researchers and clinicians have tended to conceptualize body image as an individual experience that is relatively stable. Sydney’s program of research was the first to show empirically that body image is actually quite relational and unstable. Specifically, she found that the way a woman feels about her body is quite variable across their specific relationships, and that certain perceived characteristics of others actually influence how she feels about herself and her body. For instance, Sydney’s research has found that women feel better about their bodies when they are with people whom they perceive to be accepting of their bodies and worse about their bodies when they are with people whom they perceive to be preoccupied by things like fitness, dieting, and exercise.

Interestingly, Sydney’s research has also shown that relationships impact some women’s body image more than others, with body-dissatisfied women showing the most extreme changes to their body image across their specific relationships. Given this finding, Sydney has also used qualitative methods to investigate the unique ways body-dissatisfied women perceive the influence of their different relationships on their body image. This work has shown that often relationships influence women’s bodies in idiographic and complex ways, suggesting the importance of person-centered interventions to help women improve their body image. Sydney  has published all of her dissertation studies in the journal Body Image, and her work has also garnered attention among local media outlets.

Sydney has also worked with Dr. Kelly on an intersecting research interest in disordered eating and compassion-focused intervention. This line of research has demonstrated that it is not only our relationship with others that influence our body image, but also our relationship with ourselves. In particular, Dr. Kelly and Sydney’s research has shown that learning how to approach one’s struggles with understanding, non-judgement, and compassion has been shown to improve a range of symptoms related to disordered eating. Sydney has presented her intersecting lines of research at a range of conferences held by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Academy for Eating Disorders, the Eating Disorders Research Society, and the Society for Interpersonal Theory and Research. Throughout her graduate training, Sydney has also received funding at the provincial (OGS, QEII‐GSST) and federal levels (CIHR, SSHRC).

With all of her research, Sydney has a particular interest in research-practice translation and thus making sure that findings learned in the lab are available to those who need it. Given her clinical training, she has a specific interest in clinical applications of her research findings. For instance, she has worked to help apply her lab’s research on self-compassion clinically through collaborating and consulting with a range of active Eating Disorder programs including St. Joseph’s Eating Disorder Program, Canadian Mental Health Association – Waterloo Wellington, and Nova Scotia Health to help develop brief interventions that focus on self-compassion. In addition, she has found ways to spread awareness about how relationships are a key contributor to individual body image through speaking with a range of media outlets, as well as key interest groups such as Waterloo Sororities and the UW Women’s Centre.

Next steps for Sydney include undergoing registration as a clinical psychologist, and finding ways to continue to integrate, apply, and produce research in her new applied role in the Waterloo community. Sydney credits learning to be a scientist-practitioner through her rigorous and innovative training at UWaterloo, which continuously found ways to blend research and clinical application. Sydney is most grateful for the way her graduate training in Psychology was able to provide both an intellectually challenging and interpersonally supportive environment. A balance between both these elements was key to Sydney’s success and satisfaction throughout her graduate studies at UW.

Pelin Tan

Pelin Tan
Pelin is a second year PhD candidate in the Cognitive area who is supervised by Colin MacLeod and Myra Fernandes.  Pelin's research focuses on how we selectively remember important information.

Broadly, Pelin's interests focus on the cognitive basis of controlling unwanted memories. Specifically, her research focuses on intentional forgetting which is the type of forgetting we do on purpose to select some items for commitment to long-term memory and to discard others. Furthermore, Pelin's line of research primarily focuses on intentional forgetting as an essential memory updating tool.

Sometimes, remembering is an undesired outcome. For example, we do not want to remember an old locker combination or old hotel room number; purging that information out of memory helps declutter it. Another example of intentional forgetting is when memories are emotional and/or traumatic, we do not benefit from ruminating or constantly remembering them, so we may want to forget these memories on purpose.

Most of Pelin's work has focused on the role of cognitive processes (e.g., rehearsal, inhibition, context) in forgetting unwanted information. In a recent study, Pelin and her collaborators challenged the role of memory suppression in intentional forgetting (Tan, Ensor, Hockley, Harrison, & Wilson, 2020), and emphasized rehearsal as the core process in how we discard irrelevant information from memory. Currently, she is continuing this line of work by examining the role of contextual information in intentional forgetting, divided attention, and methods to promote forgetting of unwanted memories.

In another line of research, Pelin looked at to what extent we continue to remember information we intended to forget. So more clearly, do we actually intentionally forget a memory?

Forgetting brain

Pelin's research, so far, has shown that an intention to forget weakened the details people remember about a memory (e.g., the colour of the tablecloth in a picture), but did not affect their ability to remember the “gist” of the memory (e.g., there was a tablecloth). Pelin concludes from this that perhaps intentional forgetting is a strategic method to reduce accessibility to unwanted memories, without actually discarding these memories from our mind. She hopes to continue this line of research to offer unique insights into how other memory and attention systems are influenced by intentional forgetting.

In the end, Pelin hopes that her research can build towards a clearer understanding of how we intentionally forget. That means this knowledge could be applied to clinical populations (e.g., patients with PTSD) to promote forgetting unwanted memories, and also new technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence) to prevent information overload.

Pelin recently presented her research at Psychonomics Society, Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour & Cognitive Science, and Association for Psychological Science.

Pelin currently serves as the Student Executive, Member-at-Large for the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour & Cognitive Science, where she advocates for student involvement in the Society and providing more opportunities (e.g., networking events) for students. She is also involved in the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee for this Society to further investigate these topics in an academic setting.

Pelin cites the endless amount of professional development opportunities throughout the university as her favourite thing about UW. She enjoys taking classes from different departments to learn about research and new technologies. Another graduate student opportunity is the graduate diploma in computational analytics for the social sciences and humanities. This diploma focuses on training graduate students in coding, data interpretation and visualization from a multi-disciplinary perspective. She really loves the fact that UW has these opportunities that will be extremely helpful for her future career.

Pelin appreciates how helpful everyone in the Department of Psychology is. She credits the very supportive faculty and student community who have made her experiences rewarding. Pelin appreciates having friends and colleagues who she can collaborate with and who continue to challenge her and support her every day. She will also cherish the friendships she has formed here for the rest of her life.  Pelin enjoys the "involved research environment. For example, I can just reach out to another faculty member or grad student just to discuss new developments in cognition and have a chat about research."

When asked what made her pick UW for graduate studies Pelin replied: "I love working with my supervisors, who are extremely supportive, patient, and excellent mentors. I solely came to UW to work with these supervisors who are both excellent within their fields and provide so many opportunities to me, that I could not have had at other institutions."  She is also very happy that we don't have comps!

You can read more about Pelin's research:

In support of selective rehearsal: Double-item presentation in item-method directed forgetting

Directed forgetting for categorised pictures: Recognition memory for perceptual details versus gist.

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