Fall 2021 Convocation: Meet Social Sciences valedictorian Allison Leanage

A photo of Allison Leanage smiling at the camera. She is photographed from the chest up and wearing a white shirt and black cardigan. She is positioned directly in front of some vines and greenery.

Allison Leanage is graduating with her PhD in sociology and is the valedictorian for the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Allison Leanage is the Fall 2021 valedictorian for the Faculty of Social Sciences. We asked her a few questions to get to know her. Here is what the scholar, sociologist and self-described foodie had to say. 


Allison Leanage


I was born in Hamilton and grew up in Dundas, Ontario.

What is the degree and subject you pursued?

A PhD in sociology where I explored children and youths’ mental health across immigrant generations in family, education and community context in Canada.

Why did you choose to attend McMaster?

McMaster’s notable reputation for excellent research and innovation was the reason I chose to attend this school. I saw there were many great professors in their field that aligned with my research interests, and that I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to work with them and pick their brains.

What do you plan to do/see yourself doing in the future?

I am currently working for the Government of Canada as a policy analyst and will be starting a Mitacs Postdoctoral Fellowship at McMaster’s Digital Society Lab and industry sponsor Vox Pop Labs. In the future, I would like to continue conducting research and eventually teach research methodology courses and social psychology courses on mental health.

Any advice to your first-year self?

Don’t underestimate yourself or let anyone’s perception of you affect your goals and dreams. Have the confidence in yourself and make every opportunity count. Explore new things that make you uncomfortable because sometimes those things can become new skills and things that you might end up loving to do.

Any advice for current or future students?

Don’t be afraid to talk to people. I was a very shy student, and it took me a while to meet my classmates and wished I met them sooner. I also was not confident in myself, and it took a while to build that confidence.

Actively look for resources and opportunities that McMaster has to offer such as the Student Partners Program, McMaster Research Shop, Data Analysis Support Hub (DASH) program, and Student Educational Developers Program. I only found out these opportunities towards the end of my graduate studies and encourage those to seek opportunities earlier on because those skills and experience will help in the long run for job opportunities.

Network, network, network. When I found the resources and opportunities that McMaster has to offer, I was able to network and find other job opportunities.

Give back to others. Encourage and help the people around you – especially those who are striving within systems and structures that aren’t set up to support them. It is how we help each other that we achieve better society.

How has McMaster shaped the person you are today?

McMaster has had a significant impact on me. I have grown in terms of being more confident in myself, exploring new opportunities, coming out of my shell and meeting new people. When I was in undergrad, I was very afraid to speak up, but graduate school made me connect with people and be able to express my thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment.

What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster or in Hamilton?

There were many events that I enjoyed in both McMaster and in Hamilton. The Light up the Night event was so much fun – even waiting for that long line to get on the ferris wheel. Also, Dundas Cactus Festival and Supercrawl were great to see performers and try out local restaurants (as I am a big foodie).

What is your definition of success?

Success doesn’t come easy. I believe that to be successful one has many obstacles to face and I realized that no one tells you how many times you must fail or encounter these obstacles to become successful. Thereby, I would have to define success as a series of obstacles that one has to overcome and achieve before reaching their goals.

How has McMaster helped you to create a brighter world?

McMaster’s global reputation for world-renowned research coupled with putting the needs of people first made me passionate about social statistics and mental health research, and how it can inform policy decision making and improve quality of life for individuals.

What motivates you to work hard?

That is a very big question, and I believe that Babe Ruth’s quote, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up” is very fitting for this question. I believe hard work is the path to success; however, this path will be a series of ups and downs. It is through this series of ups and downs that one goes through and not giving up on their goals and passion is what motivates me to work hard.

Who is your favourite professor?

Many professors that I had were incredible in their knowledge, guidance and support. A professor that inspired me is Dr. John Fox. He was the first professor that introduced me to the world of statistics and the way he explained the material was engaging and simplistic. It was through taking his statistics courses that I grew to love and solidify my passion in social statistics. Till this very day Dr. Fox has been supportive throughout my graduate studies and my career.

If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be and why?

I would love to live in Cyprus. To experience the culture, history, architecture, landscapes and cuisine would be an experience of a lifetime. I heard that large bodies of water, landscapes with mountain peaks and open views into the ocean that are endless generators of positive energy and lead to expansive ideas and thoughts.

What have you been doing for self-care during the pandemic?

If I had to be honest, self-care during the beginning of the pandemic was very hard for me as my whole routine (as I am sure for many others) was disrupted. However, what is important is that my friends and I kept in contact. We did virtual workouts together, had virtual games nights, and when we were able to, went for hikes. I believe that being active is important for one’s mental health along with overall health.

I also like to turn off my cell phone for a day from time to time and just read a book, go for a walk, or work on puzzle. Just have some me time and be reflective.

While at Mac, did you receive donor-funded financial assistance (e.g., a scholarship, award, bursary)? Any thoughts on the importance of giving back to your alma mater to support future generations?

I was very fortunate to receive the Ontario Graduate Scholarship and Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship in Science and Technology.


  • The Spark: a centre for social research innovation (formerly known as Centre for Empirical Social Sciences (CRESS)) Fellowship
  • The American Sociological Association/ICPSR Clifford Clogg Scholarship from University of Michigan
  • The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship
  • The Emerging Scholars Grant from the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN)

My hope is to give back to future students so they can develop their own research and innovative ideas that can have both a local and global impact on the world.

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