Rebecca Horne, a University of Toronto Mississauga Ph.D. student in the department of psychology, has recently won the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. In the aftermath of such a major accomplishment, Horne speaks with The Medium to reflect on the emotional significance of achieving the goal that has driven her for years.

The Vanier Scholarship, a program initiated by the Government of Canada, showcases Canada’s achievements in research and innovation, with the hopes of earning recognition on a global scale. The program acknowledges the remarkable work of Canadian doctoral students, who have demonstrated excellent leadership skills, and an appreciation for higher learning. With a value of $50,000 per year for three years of doctoral studies, the program awards only 166 scholarships across the entire nation.

Horne recalls the moment, back in April, when she discovered she would be one of the lucky few recipients.

“My first reaction was bursting into tears,” she says. “I was shaking!”

She first heard of the scholarship in her second year of undergraduate studies in family sciences at the University of Alberta. Learning about the award as an undergrad, Horne initially doubted her ability to earn the Vanier Scholarship. Looking back, Horne remembers thinking, “Oh! Well that seems really cool, but I don’t see myself ever really being able to do something like that.”

During that same year, Horne stumbled across the beginnings of her own research career. She gives credit to a mandatory course within her program that exposed her to the world of research: a course on intimate romantic relationships.

“I just fell in love with it,” she says. “I enjoyed reading the textbook. I didn’t even realize you could do research on couples, or how it could be done, or that it was such a diverse field.” With a new interest, Horne decided to pursue a master’s degree in the same field at the University of Alberta, before moving to Toronto to complete her Ph.D. in psychology.

Horne’s most current research project continues to explore romantic relationships, with a particular focus on “really big relationship sacrifices.” She explains that these sacrifices include times when “we’re giving up or modifying our own goals and desires for our partner.” Of all the possible sacrifices, Horne believes one of the biggest is the sacrifice of “relocating” to a new city or country if a partner is called for work or school.

The pilot study for this project launched only a few weeks ago, but Horne is optimistic about the valuable research she may be able to conduct. The project aims to track the progress of 200 couples as they “relocate” due to some big life transition.

“Overall, we really want to see what are the changing needs of partners throughout the relocation,” explains Horne. “Especially if they’re the one who initiated the relocation (we call them the ‘relocators’), or if they’re the partner who trails their partner, the ‘trailers’.” Her biggest concern is finding couples to participate in the study, yet she remains hopeful due to the study’s importance.

“There isn’t a lot of research out there on how this process affects couples, surprisingly,” Horne notes. “There’s a lot about the job stressors of relocating and personal stressors, but very little research about how a couple deals with that stress.”

With an agenda for the future and a renowned accomplishment under her belt, Horne seems to have accomplished the goal that her younger self never believed would happen. Today, she receives messages of congratulations all around her, a constant reminder of the prestigious award she received.

Horne reflects on what this scholarship means to her and believes the scholarship has impacted her professionally and personally.

“Professionally it means everything, because it is something that I’ve been inspired to do since the early years of my undergrad,” she says. “But even personally, I’m a person who likes to pride myself on having a strong work ethic and being really motivated in school and interested in what I do. So, winning the scholarship is kind of like a reaffirmation of that. It is weird hearing congratulations from everyone when they realize it’s a big deal, a big scholarship. It feels kind of overwhelming sometimes.”

“I guess I thought in the past that if I do achieve something like that, then that’s not my stopping-point, but I can rest and relax now. I’ve achieved something big, it should be fine. But now I just feel even more driven to keep going with it. It hasn’t really slowed me down. I just want to do more now,” Horne continues.

To anyone who struggles with self-doubt, Horne sends an important message: “A lot of us are wondering if we’re good enough, if we can achieve anything. I think it’s important for people to just work hard for the things they want. I still have imposter syndrome, where I don’t understand how I achieved this award. Is it a mistake or something? Hopefully we grow out of it one day. Just keep pursuing your goals. Thinking back to when I was an undergrad, I never thought that this would be possible. And now here I am, six years later.”