Biography of Sonia Lupien
Love at first sight for science
Sonia Lupien grew up with her father in Sainte-Agathe, a small town in the Laurentians, surrounded by mountains. At an early age, Sonia felt the need to leave her hometown and explore the world.
Although she had always been gifted, Sonia began CEGEP without really knowing what she wanted to do with her life. Because of her interest in biology and psychology, one of her professors, Mr. Ducharme, suggested that she read a scientific article published by two researchers who had just won the Nobel Prize for their work on divided consciousness between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Reading this remarkable research awakened a new passion within her.
Fascinated by the subject, at the age of 16, Sonia Lupien began doing research on multiple personality disorders, confirming her new calling: research scientist. Based on the advice of a CEGEP guidance counselor, Sonia took the necessary steps to pursue a career in science and a few years later, she completed her master’s degree. For her, this turning point was the perfect example of how teachers can influence their students if they take the time to listen to them and to get to know them. Through listening and encouragement, dreams can indeed come true.
Sonia Lupien obtained a doctorate in neuroscience from the Université de Montréal and completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of California in San Diego and Rockefeller University in New York. Not only does she teach psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Montréal, but she also holds a Canadian Research Chair, receiving $1.4 million dollars for her research studies. Throughout the years, Sonia has received numerous awards and her research has been published in many scientific journals.
Stress as a research theme
For more than 20 years, Sonia Lupien has studied the mechanisms of stress and their effects on performance and memory. At the beginning of her career, she was involved in many research projects, each as complex and intellectually demanding as the next. In 2000, she demonstrated through an immense study, that the transition from elementary school to high school generates an increase in stress hormones and depressive symptoms in adolescents.
Despite her success, at a certain point she recognized that research confined to the laboratory no longer suited her, realizing that human interaction and the exchange of information excited her more. People who came to her after her lectures with concrete questions and concerns helped her as much as she helped them. In search of a new challenge, during a walk with her dog (the perfect opportunity to think and find inspiration), an idea popped into her head: How to give “Madame Gendron, single mother of three, isolated, living in a basement apartment in a disadvantaged neighborhood” access to the results of her research?
A life in the service of others
The fictional character of “Madame Gendron”, who represents ordinary people, became a new source of inspiration for Sonia. Madame Gendron was at the core of all her scientific thought. For the last 10 years, Sonia Lupien’s research has focused on the needs of the public, especially the needs of the silent victims.
She pushed her discoveries to another level by creating, with her research team, the Dé-stresse et progresse program, which was tested on 504 teenagers. This program is addressed to children in transition from primary to secondary school, allowing them to learn what stress is, how to recognize it and how to adapt to it. She also created the Mon fantastique cerveau (My fantastic brain) program to teach young people aged 7 to 9 about this fascinating organ while having fun.
Even though the Dé-stresse et progresse program had proven to be effective, Sonia still wondered (during another walk with her dog) about how to take the program to another level. She came up with the idea of training the teachers. With her team, she trained 200 teachers who later became ambassadors by relaying the knowledge to their own teams. The Dé-stresse et progresse training now welcomes all types of professionals in the field of education: school counselors, nurses, psychoeducators, school psychologists, principals, etc. To date, more than 65,000 students have benefited from both programs. The stresshumain.ca website also gives the public access to information on Sonia Lupien’s scientific discoveries and the programs offered.
For a researcher, the question of funding can’t be avoided and Sonia Lupien is no exception. After some difficult years applying for one grant per project, she now follows a friend’s advice and files five projects for each grant application, increasing the likelihood of funding. In addition, Sonia Lupien began marketing her programs with the implementation of Stress & Cie in the workplace. By reinvesting all the funds generated by program sales, Sonia ensures adequate funding for her work.
From 2008 to 2015, while director of the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, Sonia Lupien received funding from Bell Canada (Cause for the Cause) to help young researchers such as Dr. Isabelle Ouellet-Morin develop +Fort, a mobile application offering support to young people who experience bullying. All the programs and applications that researchers at the centre have developed with the help of Sonia Lupien, are intended to counteract depression and suicide and are used by schools and health professionals. Her research and work have had a direct impact on society.
At the end of one of her lectures, a woman told Sonia Lupien about her distress caused by her husband’s depression, the stigma associated with the illness, and the negative impact of depression on their two children. Sonia Lupien then created the project Les victimes silencieuses to demystify the effects of stress on spouses and children of individuals suffering from major depression.
Making research results accessible
For ten years now, Sonia Lupien’s research has been inspired by the needs of the public. With her talent as a communicator, she manages to give people easy access to her knowledge through clear, precise and understandable language. She conducts media interviews and is featured on social media. Sonia Lupien helps people find solutions to reduce the stress in their lives. She has published a book entitled Par amour du stress, which educates about the harmful effects of stress. She participates weekly on Médium-Large, Catherine Perrin’s program on Radio-Canada where she speaks to the general public in accessible language about stress, in order to have a direct impact on the community and the quality of people’s lives. She also contributed to the making of a film with Alexandre Hamel aimed at destigmatizing psychiatric hospitals and making these institutions more humain and accessible.
Sonia Lupien received the “40 Most Influential Under 40” Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurs and Scientists. She has also been recognized by McLean’s Magazine as one of 10 people making a difference in Canada. Even more impressive, if it’s possible, Sonia Lupien had the opportunity to meet his Holiness the Dalai Lama and was a guest speaker at the “Mind & Life” conference that took place on March 16, 2018 in India.
A female role model in a traditionally masculine world
Fulfilled, happy and energetic, Sonia Lupien is a remarkable woman and a scientific genius. She has exceptional qualities of determination and motivation. She teaches women that science is not a world reserved only for men and inspires girls to pursue their studies in this domain. She is currently working to build international partnerships to advance her work on a global level. She is, in her own way, revolutionizing the world of science. And we are eager to see what the future holds for her.