From Theory to Practice: Origins of the University of Toronto Journal of Public Health

June 22/2020

by Daniel A. Harris, Rebecca A.G. Christensen and Jean-Paul R. Soucy

The University of Toronto Journal of Public Health (UTJPH) reflects a grassroots, student-led initiative that grew out of a simple question: “How can we support the next generation of public health leaders?”

This question was raised at a division-specific town hall in April 2019, and a student-run journal was proposed as the answer. Representing an academic sandbox, a student-run journal would create a space to learn and practice critical publishing skills, while also sharing scholarship with new and diverse audiences.

All over the world, public health students and graduates are translating what they learn in the classroom into real, applied insights to improve population health. Despite public health’s status as an applied discipline, there are surprisingly few venues to share these experiences of turning theory into practice – a gap that a student-run journal could fill.

(Left to right) Jean-Paul R. Soucy, Rebecca A.G. Christensen and Daniel A. Harris.

As excitement for a journal grew outward, slowly reaching other divisions, programs, and even schools within the University of Toronto, the UTJPH was born.

Research and Practice

Beginning with the earliest planning stages, we aimed to integrate practical public health experiences into our scope. The value of disseminating applied public health experiences cannot be understated and represents a critical component of effective public health implementation.

Many students at DLSPH complete a practicum experience to complement their classroom training and to prepare them for careers in public health. The UTJPH aims to create a repository of applied public health experiences that highlight valuable lessons and insights that may not be communicated in traditional, empirical research. 

Mind the Gap

A critical step in founding the UTJPH was surveying students to understand better what was missing from the existing curriculum. For most students, the academic process ends once a grade is submitted. But this leaves a substantial gap between what students learn in their coursework and what they will encounter when engaging with academic journals. Our suspicion of this gap was confirmed when the most common response to our question about submitting a cover letter was, “what’s a cover letter?”

Throughout our formal academic training in public health, the logistics of publication were rarely (if ever) included in our coursework. Restricted by limited time and resources, it’s simply infeasible for professors to replicate the peer-review process for students. It became clear to us that creating a journal of public health was essential to training the next generation of public health scholars and practitioners.

Students could learn how to compile a journal submission and respond to peer reviews, all while disseminating their work and building their CVs in the process. Student peer-reviewers could directly apply their skills in evaluating public health research in a real-world setting. Student editors could develop their leadership skills and learn how to respond to the rapidly evolving public health research and practice landscapes.

Over the course of a year, UTJPH’s interdisciplinary editorial board1 defined the journal’s aims, scope, mission, and vision. We spoke at a DLSPH Town Hall, disseminated a survey to assess student and faculty interest, created a public health-inspired logo, and assembled a faculty advisory board2 of professors across DLSPH.

On June 1, 2020 the UTJPH published its first issue, comprised of a founding editorial and nineteen abstracts from the Research and Practice Day (2019) and Pushing the Paradigm (2019) conferences. The UTJPH accepts a wide range of public health-related submissions, spanning both from the empirical (e.g., qualitative and quantitative research) to the applied (e.g., practicum experiences).

Please join us in celebrating the UTJPH by visiting our website, following us on Twitter, and submitting your public health-related work for publication. Be sure to also follow the Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health, another student-run journal hosted at the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health.

  1. The UTJPH editorial board features masters and doctoral students across DLSPH. Kuan Liu is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in biostatistics and section editor for biostatistics. A.A. Rajendran is a master’s student at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and section editor for Health Policy & Practice. David Kinitiz is a doctoral student in Social and Behavioural Health Sciences (SBHS) and section editor for SBHS. Kate St. Cyr is a doctoral student in epidemiology and co-communication editor. Shelby Sturrock is a doctoral student in epidemiology and co-communication editor.
  1. The UTJPH’s faculty advisory board is comprised of Drs. Laura Rosella, Andrew Boozary, Kevin Thorpe, Michael Chaiton, Kerry Kuluski, and Erica Di Ruggiero.