Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Rayyan: My name’s Rayyan, I’m in my 5th year now majoring in psychology, with a minor in interpersonal development in education. I was born in Pakistan and I lived there for a bit before moving to Singapore, and I finished highschool in Singapore – so I’m an international student. I moved to Vancouver in 2019 to study at UBC, and I’ve been here ever since. I love Psychology, I always knew I wanted to study that since highschool, and I was lucky enough to come into first year knowing that’s what I wanted to do. But, outside of Psychology, I’m a big sports fan, grew up playing basketball, I still play basketball. I love hanging around the beach, and all the stuff that Vancouver has to offer. I haven’t done a lot of the stuff that Vancouver has to offer… I like to point that out. People talk about Vancouver being super nice and outdoorsy… I’ve gone on one hike. No, I’ve gone on two, I did the Grouse Grind.

Interviewer: Ok, better than me then! What about Psychology in particular interests you? Maybe your research interests or otherwise.

Rayyan: Ya. This is a tough question, because I feel like I have quite a few varied interests within Psychology; but, the thing that I love the most is just, I love people. I love being around people, people anger me, upset me, but people also make me super happy, people bring a lot of joy, and that’s not just me, that’s everybody. Everybody feels that, and, I think understanding people, understanding why we do the things we do, is so cool and fosters so much awareness – and that’s sort of what started this whole thing. I really wanted to better understand people in my family, I really wanted to better understand my friends, and I thought that studying what makes us human, and sort of what makes us, us and our behaviour and thoughts, and all the things that affect a person into becoming who they are, I find that super fascinating just to know about. At the moment, in the last couple of years, I’ve kind of found an area within Psychology that I love a lot more than others. That’s kind of hard to do for me, because I love Psychology so much and all it’s everything; but Social Psychology, and specifically, human relationships – that’s something that has been a focus of mine in the last couple of years. Human relationship Psychology, we’ll get into this in the interview, but love, for example, the Psychology of romantic love, Psychology of friendship – I love that sort of stuff. I love understanding the dynamics of when people connect with each other and how people connect with each other, and all the factors that go into that. At the moment, I’m quite interested in that.

Interviewer: That’s really cool! Can you give us an overview of your student directed seminar and what inspired you to do it?

Rayyan: Basically the overview of the student directed seminar is the Psychology of romantic love. We basically, each week kind of corresponded, for each module kind of corresponded with a stage you would find yourself in when you’re in the love. So I kind of conceptualised it as like, someone going through the stages of falling in love. Like attraction – well first off, we talked about how to define love, because that’s also a really hard thing to do. It is way harder than we think. Defining love and how psychologists and other researchers have defined it in the past. We talked about cross-cultural perspectives of love, because that’s also important, because there’s evidence that love is something universal, but the way it is conceptualized across cultures is and can be very different. We started off with that, and then we sort of went into… imagine somebody going through the motions of falling in love. So, start off with the science of attraction. We talked about the Psychology of attraction. Then we talked about when you know you’re falling in love with someone, in the first couple of weeks/months – we talked about the physiology of it, the neuroanatomy of it, like what’s going on in your brain when that happens and what is producing the biological feelings of love. Then, we went into relationship development, sort of, so what happens, how do people initiate relationships, what makes people initiate relationships with one person or the other, what are qualities and things people look for in a partner. We talked about relationship maintenance, so sort of, you’re going out with someone, you’re feeling all the feelings – now how does one maintain a relationship successfully? And what are some behaviours people do that make relationships disintegrate. So, we talked about – we looked at a lot of studies on couples who have been together for 30-50 years, and we analyzed their communication patterns, sort of what made them stand out, what sort of keeps love going, what keeps a relationship going. Then, we went through the
natural progression of relationship development, maintenance, then we had a week on breakups, and psychology of breakups, which is also super interesting and super huge. There’s a lot of psychology behind it that people don’t know about, and people sort of say ‘oh you’re going through a breakup, ya whatever’… it’s actually really real and powerful. Then we went into– oh I forgot to mention sex in the middle, because that’s something that often happens in a relationship – and we talked about some of the psychology of sex, we had a guest lecturer come in and talk about it (shoutout to Prof. Dawson, she talked about her sex class in our seminar). And then, in the last couple of weeks we talked about technology and love, so online dating and what that’s like, what do people have to say about that, and what do psychologists have to say about that. We talked about the future of love; we sort of touched upon monogamy and non-monogamous relationships, polyamorous relationships, and then we also had a week on – so at the end of the seminar we had space, so let the class choose what they want to focus on. So, we talked about infidelity and cheating and the psychology behind that. So that’s the
overview – we went on a journey. I’d like to think we went on a journey of love.

For the second question, what inspired it? I’ve always liked human relationships. I thought it was really interesting to personally think about why I am attracted to so and so, but not to others. Or what makes me fall for this person, or why did I like this person so much? The honest answer, which is what I do share with people, is that I went through my first breakup two summers ago, and it was my first relationship, first time I’ve ever gotten broken up with, and that sucked! It sucked so bad. I was like woah, woah I need to understand this. Why did I feel so bad? Why did I feel so sad? And that sort of prompted a conversation with my roommates, and they were like:
you’re reading all these books about love, why don’t you run a course about it? And I was like, ok – I’ll do that! That’s honestly what happened – me going through my own breakup and sort of trying to be like ‘I’m so sad right now… I’m gonna hit the books, and I’m gonna learn about the psychology of it to cope. Then that’s how this idea came about, and that’s the true story.

Interviewer: Yeah, let me intellectualize my feelings, you know?

Rayyan: Yeah, totally! I mean this is the prime example of how to do that and come out with a course.

Interviewer: Nice. So, is there any memorable feedback that the students who took the seminargave you?

Rayyan: At the end of the seminar, well, my students were awesome! Everyone who participated was so engaged and had so much to say, and that was one of the biggest things – this is a topic I like, I don’t know if anybody else would like it. Turns out a lot of people want to learn about the psychology of love! It is quite a popular thing to learn about. We had a lot of responses for people interested in our course; but, I remember in some of the feedback forms we had, it was like someone had learned about attachment theory for the first time. Actually, a couple people learned about attachment theory for the first time, and they said it changed their life. They said ‘I understand myself so much better now, and I understand my partners in the past so much better now’. A lot of them left with the feeling – someone said this was the best class they have ever taken at UBC, and I was like wow! This is my first time doing this, but I’m really glad they got to have a fun time learning, because a lot of times, or maybe sometimes in class, the fun is taken out of the learning; but, here, it was discussion based, everyone could bring in their own stories and then throw in the science with it. So I think a lot of people left, including myself, with a very good holistic understanding of what love is, and what it looks like. It’s not just this area or concept, we actually went and thought about it, and looked at all the psychological mechanisms behind it. That was really rewarding – just to have people leave that class with a sense of ‘this is love, this is what it means, and this how you can now go and have better relationships with other people’ which is honestly the biggest learning from it is just how you can have better relationships with people and how do you understand yourself, and love better.

Interviewer: Ya, that’s really important. Is there a significant insight that emerged from the seminar?


Rayyan: Tough question! Well the one thing I tell people whenever they ask me what was my coolest thing I learned, was that there was this study published, and she’s quite a famous researcher in this sphere, Helen Fisher. Dr Helen Fisher and Dr Arthur Aaron published this paper in 2012 or 2014, comparing the brain scans of people who are in love, and then also people who were broken up with, and feeling symptoms of withdrawal. They compared to it brain scans of people on cocaine, and previously addicted people who are going through withdrawal symptoms – and it’s the same brain chemistry, it’s the same areas of your brain that are lighting up when you are in love. Like, the honeymoon phase – it’s like you’re on drugs. Physiologically, in your brain, it’s the same thing, or almost the same thing, because it’s lighting up your dopamine circuit, it’s getting you motivated to still want to be with this person. So, they have conceptualized love as a positive addiction. I’m not saying the whole thing – love changes as you go across a relationship. But, the first – I call it the honeymoon phase – the first couple months or weeks of being with a person, it’s like you’re high. And that’s cool, that’s fine. They classify it as a positive addiction, because it’s that addiction that gets the relationship going, and gets you motivated to want to be with your partner. Then you have all these rose-stained glasses going on, but to me, the craziest thing about that, is that it shows that love is powerful! Love is powerful, love is real, and it’s something you really do feel in your brain and in your heart, and it can have consequences. So like, when you have a breakup, it’s hard and it’s tough! It’s not like your crazy, it is in your brain going through withdrawal symptoms. That was one of the biggest things I found, for me personally. I was like ok, i’m not crazy – this is happening in my brain, and it’s just like going off a drug. Researchers classified it as people who are going through hard breakups might actually want to take some tips from addiction therapy and recovery there, because it’s kind of hitting the same pathways in your brain. To me, that just showed how powerful of a concept and a feeling of love is. It is comparable to the actions of a drug – an artificial thing that is being put in your brain – that just shows that love is real, love is powerful, love is this amazing thing. I was like that’s pretty cool – and it also made me feel less crazy.

Interviewer: So, the seminar – how are you hoping to see it play out in your future? Or impacted?

Rayyan: Yeah. So at the moment, I’m trying to – this doesn’t normally happen with student-directed seminars, unless there is a lot of interest – recorded interest. The beautiful thing was that when I first started dishing out advertisements for this, you’re always worried that no one is going to take the seminar, that’s always the issue. No one is going to care about it, no one is going to know about it. I just told my friends – we had over 100 people respond to our interest survey saying that they would take this class. You’re only allowed to take 15 people max, and I think the average of most seminars are between 5-8 students – it’s a pretty small class! It is supposed to be a pretty small seminar, ours was 18, we hit the upper limit. But the fact that 100 people wanted to take this class suggests to me that there is a need for the psych department to offer a class on human relationships. Or, at least think about offering a class on love. I think that’s such a huge concept that’s sort of missing at UBC. There is no class in the psych department that’s about human relationships or love. The closest thing is sex; and FMST has a relationship development class that I am taking – but it doesn’t go as in depth. So, what I hope to do with this seminar is to talk to some profs, and talk to the department, and see if we can make this into a full-time course offered by UBC. I just think it is such an interesting topic that so many people would love to learn about, and I think it should be offered. So I am currently trying to figure out how I can do that. I know it’s been done in the past with another student-directed seminar, in English or Russian I think – so that’s one thing I want to do in the future. Doing this seminar made me realize that a), made me realize that I really enjoy teaching, and doing this sort of teaching work – it’s kind of fun, I enjoyed it a lot. And, I also want to see if I can get into this field in the future, study it in the future – like relationship science – because I think that is one of the most fundamental things about us, human beings. The ability to form relationships with other people, and work together. That is the basis of humanity I feel, so studying this would be awesome, and it sort of sparked an interest in me, being like oh this is a cool topic, I would love to see if I can pursue this in the future.

Interviewer: Good luck to you on that!

Rayyan: Thank you! What they told me last year was that there was some Russian literature class that had 20 people who wanted to take it, and then the language department was like, oh cool, they actually want to take this course? People want to pay money to take this course? We’ll make it a real course! So, I’m hoping that could be something that the psych department is like ‘ok, we’ll think about it’ because I just want other people to be able to do the same learning that I did, because it’s awesome! I was looking at it, when you do the seminar, you have to make a pitch, and sort of tell the advisory committee why there is a need for this course. I said, well, it’s because a lot of other psych departments in North America offer courses on human relationships, but UBC doesn’t have anything on it. And that’s what I feel is a significant gap. How else are people going to have more flourishing relationships not just in love; better friendships, better peer relationships, unless you teach them about the psychology of it. That sort of helps, it sort of makes – I think if you teach people about it, it sort of makes people then
be able to have better relationships in the future.

Interviewer: Ya, I feel like that’s why most people join psych anyways… for the relationship aspect, so I think this would be really cool. For my last question for you: for psych students wanting to do their own student directed seminars – what advice or tips do you have based on your experience?

Rayyan: A) to do it! Be brave and do it. You’re always going to feel like you are not capable or like my idea is kind of silly, no one is going to want to take this class. Don’t listen to your head. Just do it! Just go in there with an idea – ok… the more serious tips I can give you is to think your idea through a little, talk to people about it, talk to your friends about it, because that’s an avenue of how you would be talking to students about it. And make sure that is it an idea that is sort of niche and not offered by the department. Talk to people, talk to profs about it – I had a bunch of profs before being like I have this idea, what do you think about this idea? All of them were like ya this is a great idea, go for it, just do it… I don’t have anything specific to say, but do it. That’s what my biggest advice is. Go on to the student-directed seminar website, read about it, see what you have to do, but if you’re passionate about an idea, it will carry you all the way. I learned about teaching, I learned about – the seminar teaches you how to run a class, and all that stuff. You don’t need to be well versed in that, because they teach you. But, what you need to have is passion about your idea. I was really passionate about this idea, and so, that sort of pushed me through everything, and out came the course. My biggest advice would be to a) be brave enough to see it through, like do it. Talk to lots of people, talk to lots of different people about your idea, and ask me! Ask people who have done the thing before to share tips. On their website, there is a whole booklet of all the student-directed seminars ever offered since 1998 – go have a read through and see what other people have done. Ya, my biggest advice is to do it because I feel like, when I talked to people about this, people were like: oh I didn’t know you could do this! I didn’t know this was a thing. So, ya, student directed seminars are a thing, and you can do them, it’s fun! It;s hard work, it’s not easy, and it’s a time commitment. But, if you have an idea that you’re passionate about, everything comes easier.

Interviewer: Ya I just found out about student directed seminars.

Rayyan: Ya, see! No one knows about them within the UBC sphere. So I just tell everyone that they can run a course if you want to! You can create your own course and get credit for it. The thing is, when you have an idea that you’re passionate about, and you run your own course, it becomes a nice course to take, because you’re putting effort into it, and it will be a fun course to take. People will enjoy it because you are putting effort into it. The goal is that. So I’m always like to do it… you should look into doing it if you’re interested.