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Meet DLSPH’s New Associate Dean, Public Health Sciences

March 7/2022

By Heidi Singer

In the early 90s, Carol Strike was working as an HIV researcher for Health Canada when she met a group of epidemiologists working directly with HIV-positive people to develop research most relevant to the community’s needs. Thirty years ago, the idea of community-based research was still fairly new in public health, and Strike was deeply impressed.

The group – now-retired DLSPH professors Ted Myers, Peggy Millson and Liviana Calzavara – encouraged Strike to pursue a PhD in Community Health at U of T. And they helped her make connections with members of the harm-reduction community, so that she could create research that improved life for those who used drugs or were living with HIV.

Strike never forgot the strong mentoring she received from more senior academics. Now, in her new role as Associate Dean, Public Health Sciences, she is perhaps most excited about the opportunities to help early-career academics and those from equity-deserving groups to advance in their academic careers.

“When I was Head of the Division of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences (SBHS),  I did a lot of mentorship and I loved it,” says Strike. “I liked talking to colleagues and helping them with their careers. Part of the job will be to help them figure out how to realize their goals and grow their careers over time.”

The position is new for DLSPH. While the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) has always had a director, the equally large Public Health Sciences (PHS) has not. In recent years, the five divisions making up PHS (Biostatistics, Clinical Public Health, Epidemiology, Occupational and Environmental Health, and SBHS) have seen strong growth, and faculty members requested more support with workload management, appointments and promotions.

One of Strike’s first responsibilities will be to assemble the first-ever PHS appointments committee, which will be modeled on the existing IHPME committee. She is also planning to create a series of workshops, starting later in the Spring, for faculty members interested in applying for promotions. The sessions will be open to those on tenure and teaching streams, as well as status-only faculty.

“I’d like to help people think through whether they’re ready, and what materials they can use. And I’m hoping to match them to more senior faculty who can help them with the process,” says Strike.  “I’ve done a lot of professional development on the board of the Canadian Association of HIV Researchers, and I’ve always really enjoyed that.”

Strike intends meet with each division to learn how she can support faculty members in their growth, workload management, and career development. She will work closely with DLSPH leaders on equity, diversity and inclusion to help create a more equitable environment at the School. She’ll lead strategic planning for PHS, and will continue to teach a professional skills course for incoming doctoral students.

“Could we offer integrity workshops to deal with student plagiarism and learn how to avoid self-plagarism?” says Strike. “I’d like to help facilitate a conversation about how we value quality in an environment that promotes quantity of publications.”

Strike will also continue to mentor students in the field of harm reduction, and to lead research in this area that generates change.

“I have always been deeply inspired by dedication of harm reduction workers to their service users,” she says.  “This community of workers, who include those with lived experience, keep pushing for change despite opposition from governments, police, politicians and local citizens and now a devastating overdose crisis caused by a contaminated drug supply.  I continue to be inspired by this community and also the work of my amazing graduate students who are similarly dedicated to building an evidence base to improve the health, wellbeing and liberty of people who use drugs.”

Former PhD student Dr. Gillian Kolla praises Strike as an “incredibly generous” mentor.

“There’s a lot that any PhD program doesn’t’ teach you about academia and research, and Carol was exceptional at helping me think through these elements,” says Kolla, now a Banting Postdoctoral Resesarcher at the University of Victoria. “She was great at opening doors. And she’s down to earth, funny, and very good at work-life balance. I had two kids during my PhD and had nothing but the utmost support from Carol during that process.”

Strike began her appointment on March 1.

“This role reflects an evolution in the school and the opportunity to build strengths across all areas,” says Dean Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown. “Carol is a fantastic person to be in it. Her scholarship in the areas of HIV and harm reduction is impressive and deep, and she has been a leader in creating impact from her work.”