Jennifer Lavoie

Photo by Elizabeth Medeiros

Professor Jennifer Lavoie is a great example of why it’s important to be open to new opportunities.

With her initial dream to become a police officer, she gained an Honours degree in Psychology from Carleton University. She joined the Navy in her second year and as a model student, she was either doing schoolwork or training in the Navy.  Near the end of her career and after meeting her first mentor, she was immersed in researching; which eventually became her passion.

“I just got bite by the research bug and walked away from the military … [I] changed my mind about becoming a police officer and wanted to do forensic psychology,” said Lavoie.

Though her abilities to detect deception from juries and eyewitness testimonies may not be like its portrayal in shows like Lie to Me, it still remains impressive.

“Our language changes when we talk about events we do all the time,” explained Lavoie as she described her research about deception in children. It is the focus of one of eight projects for which she is currently involved in.

Letting new opportunities shape her direction, Lavoie has held different positions in the field of psychology. As she studied her Masters at Simon Fraser University, she worked for B.C. Mental Health and Addiction services in their forensic institution. There, she was exposed to people who were not criminally responsible by reasons of mental disorders and who were pronounced unfit to stand trial.  Next, she transitioned to a civil psychiatric facility where she worked for many years.

“You have to have hands on experience; you can’t sit in an ivory tower and pontificate about people. If you’re going to do research on people, you should be among them,” said Lavoie.

As her path was verging on research, she never thought she would become a professor and teach.

“We wind up in places we don’t think we’re actually going to be, after 14 years of being in university I thought, okay, I’m going to be a researcher … I moved to Brantford and an opportunity came up to teach here … I thought, let’s try something new,” said Lavoie.

Her teaching approach reflects her flamboyant personality as she strives to be compassionate and accessible to her students.  Though it can be tough, she tries to remain enthusiastic when teaching hard courses such as Addiction and Psychology of Crime. Even with courses commonly thought of as boring like statistics, she enthusiastically described how passionate she was about them.

“I cannot deliver all of the information in a three hour window, but I hope at least I’m lighting a fire… it’s great to have a plan … but be open to these unexpected opportunities that come knocking,” advises Lavoie.