When did you graduate from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health?
Fall 2013, PhD Social and Behavioural Health Sciences
What additional degrees or training do you have?
Mustard Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Institute for Work & Health, Toronto, ON, Canada
Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Center for Disability Research, Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Hopkinton, MA, USA
MSc, Institute for Social Psychology, London School of Economics & Political Science, London, UK
How did you become interested in your field?
As public health researchers and practitioners, we all know that work is a critical social determinant of health. Work income is associated with access to safe housing, education, food security, social services and medical care—which in turn provide pathways to better health. We also know that exclusion from the labour market or employment in low-quality or unsafe jobs can contribute to worse health outcomes.
Despite its importance, the role of work in promoting health among the population at large does not get as much attention as it deserves. There also remains limited acknowledgement of how working conditions can have an impact on the social and health inequities experienced by different groups of Canadians.
As an applied scientist, my interest in the field of work and health is driven by these research, policy and practice challenges.
In the early stages of my career, my research has focused on vulnerable groups: people living with disabilities and young workers, who represent a sizable portion of the Canadian labour market.
During my undergraduate degree, I supported a large applied health promotion study of people living with physical disabilities. I consistently found that many of the study participants experienced difficulties finding and sustaining paid work. This experience motivated my desire to uncover innovative solutions that can promote the sustained employment of vulnerable groups.
I have also made it my goal to produce evidence to enable societal change. I constantly think about how findings from my research can be used by policymakers, employers and a variety of other stakeholders to design and develop workplace interventions and labour market policies that promote the health of the working population.
In my research program, I engage with theory and methodological approaches from diverse fields. The multidisciplinary nature of my research has been an exciting element of my work. It has enabled me to pursue new research directions, apply creative analytical approaches and produce results that have the potential for greater impact.
Tell us about any interesting projects you are working on.
As an early career researcher, I have been fortunate to obtain grant funding for several national studies where I unpack the nexus between the changing nature of work and health.
The increasing adoption of digital technologies, coupled with ecological, demographic and sociopolitical changes, is drastically changing the nature of work for all Canadians. It is unclear how changing the nature of work will impact population health outcomes.
Currently, I am conducting a broad examination of how current and future labour market trends will shape the employment of people with disabilities. The goal of this research will be to inform policies and programs that can be implemented now to address the shocks and stresses faced by people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the future of work.
Another study I am leading follows a large cohort of young people living with rheumatic conditions. For young people, challenges faced at the early career phase can shape work and health outcomes across the life course. Having a disabling health condition can heighten these challenges. In this study, my goal is to examine the early work experiences of this cohort and identify the workplace practices that can support their sustained work participation.
I am particularly excited by these two studies, as they have the potential to produce concrete organizational and policy-level recommendations for the sustained employment of young people with disabilities and other vulnerable labour market subgroups. From a public health lens, these studies also have the potential to address health inequities that could emerge for other vulnerable groups in the future of work.
What do you enjoy most about your current career position?
There are several aspects of my current scientific position that I really value.
First and foremost, I really enjoy collaborating with a multidisciplinary research team at the Institute for Work & Health. My colleagues are knowledge leaders in the fields of occupational health and safety, disability studies, economics, epidemiology and organizational, social and health psychology. I have also had opportunities to build close ties to clinical and public health organizations across Canada and globally. Working in a multidisciplinary team has brought a level of richness to my research that is beneficial to tackling complex public health research topics.
Being able to translate knowledge into practice is another part of my job that I appreciate. The Institute for Work & Health has a really strong knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) team, one that uses a two-way integrated KTE process. The process emphasizes the inclusion of diverse stakeholders in the production and sharing of knowledge with the aim of encouraging the uptake and use of evidence. Through the framework of our Institute’s integrated KTE approach, I have collaborated with policy leaders, health charities, patient organizations, consumers and workplaces in my research. Each stakeholder group helps ground my research in the lived experience and ensures that the tools and resources that I produce have the greatest level of applicability.
Through my status faculty appointment at DLSPH, I have had the opportunity to teach in two different courses: tools and approaches to public health policy analysis and introduction to public health. In both courses, I enjoy integrating my scientific experiences into my lectures. The trainees in my class have brought new perspectives to complex public health topics that I instruct on and I find myself learning a lot from them.
In what ways has your experience at the School had an impact on your career and who you are today?
An asset of DLSPH is its incredible and diverse faculty. During my PhD, I was mentored by Drs. Monique Gignac and Elizabeth Badley, who have pioneered research on the employment of people with disabilities using a biopsychosocial approach. While preparing for my doctoral comprehensive exam, I engaged with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, a framework for measuring health and disability. A quick dive into the research revealed that Dr. Badley had made significant contributions to the development of the framework.
It was amazing to receive training from leading scholars.
The mentorship I received at DLSPH has made a lasting impression on my program of research and continues to compel me to consider the complex system of factors that could determine work and health outcomes across diverse labour market groups.
I also benefited tremendously from training programs led by faculty at DLSPH. While working on my doctoral thesis, I took part in the CIHR Strategic Training Program in Public Health Policy (Dr. Robert Schwartz) and Comparative Program in Health and Society (Dr. Lisa Foreman). Both training programs encouraged me to consider the broader applicability of my research and seek opportunities for policy development and agenda setting. I continue to apply the skills I have gained in both programs to my scientific activities.
What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students who aspire to follow a similar career path?
For most, jobs in academia do not come with a straightforward career path. To navigate the twists and turns, there are several points of advice that I would share with those at the early stages of their academic career.
Find the right mentors. At every step of my career, I have been fortunate to receive mentorship from established researchers who have provided a roadmap for rigorous research. My mentors have been champions for my career development and have modeled work-life balance.
Try your hardest to find a collaborative work environment. At the Institute for Work & Health, I am supported by really strong research, administrative and operations teams that work side-by-side at all phases of the research process. Having brilliant and wonderful colleagues has kept me excited about coming into the office.
Take care of your mental health. At times, research can be isolating. I have found that physical activity, mindfulness and volunteerism are necessary to foster well-being and manage the stresses of an academic career. I also find that spending time doing non-research related tasks provides me with a fresh perspective that can be beneficial to my productivity.
Above all, make sure you are pursuing a research area that you find most engaging. Being passionate about my work has enabled me to pursue innovative and creative research questions and identify opportunities to pivot my scholarship in order to meet new emerging issues.