Jenny Larkin
Jenny Larkin, CPHA Student Editor,
MPH Candidate,
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC

Hello CPHA Student Members and Early Career Professionals,

My name is Jenny Larkin, and I am the new Student Editor for CPHA’s Student Corner. I am replacing Stephanie Laryea, who worked throughout her term to promote student contributions to CPHA’s Health Digest. I am excited to work with students and early career professionals involved in the many areas related to public health!

I am currently completing a Master of Public Health degree at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and have a strong interest in health communication and food security. As CPHA’s Student Editor, I will also draw upon my experiences as a policy analyst with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

CPHA’s Student Corner is a great way for students and early career professionals to share their public health experiences, and I believe that in sharing our individual experiences we can help to strengthen public health collectively throughout Canada and the world.

To see previous examples of Student Corner articles, visit the CPHA Student Corner website.

CPHA’s Student Corner is always looking for new ideas and contributions. If you are passionate about public health and writing, I would strongly encourage you to either join CPHA’s Student Editorial Committee or submit a short piece of writing detailing your experiences in public health. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at jlarkin@sfu.ca.

I look forward to hearing your ideas, and wish you all the best in your studies!

Sincerely,
Jenny Larkin

2013 Conference: Student Mentor Luncheon

Conferences: A life course perspective from aspiring public and population health researchers

- Tarun Katapally, Janette Leroux, Atif Kukaswadia

Tarun Katapally
Tarun Katapally, PhD Candidate, Community & Population Health Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK
Janette Leroux
Janette Leroux, PhD Candidate, School of Kinesiology & Health Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON
Atif Kukaswadia
Atif Kukaswadia, PhD Candidate, Department of Public Health Science, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

As doctoral candidates in public and population health research programs, our exposure to a life course perspective on health outcomes at a nascent stage in our research careers has had a profound impact on how we perceive events in our own lives. In light of this, it is difficult to consider the value of a PhD program to our research careers without viewing this opportunity through a life course lens.

A key extrapolation from this perspective is our belief that the years spent as a PhD student constitute a critical period in the career of an independent researcher. The events that occur, as well as the stimuli that we are exposed to during this period, continually help us to refine our interests, expand our horizons, and determine the course of action we wish to take in pursuit of success. In keeping with the true nature of a critical period, we argue that the impact of this period on our careers is “wholly or partially irreversible.”

Within this critical period, some exposures are easy to comprehend, such as the role of our supervisors in mentoring and guiding us in our unique directions. We have been fortunate to work with supervisors who have not only supported us in completing essential academic milestones (e.g., course work, comprehensive exams, dissertation research guidance, etc.) in the quest for a doctoral degree, but have also encouraged us to pursue professional and career development through innovative means.

Though attending conferences is not particularly innovative, exposure to highly relevant conferences can lead to a chain of events that could be formative in nature. For instance, each conference has unique attributes which may influence or alter our perceptions and set us upon a certain pathway that could be reinforced with similar subsequent events. Moreover, to be successful, we are aware of the importance of building connections, and that each personal relationship we develop at a conference is a small step in generating a professional network that could enrich our endeavours.

The opportunity to experience these positive cumulative effects brings us to conferences such as the CPHA’s 2013 Annual Conference. We believe that this year’s conference has set us upon new paths, as evident from our desire to collaborate and deliver this spontaneous perspective.


CPHA 2013 Annual Conference: The events that cumulatively challenged my thought process

- Tarun Katapally

Prior to attending CPHA’s 2013 Annual Conference as a first-time delegate, I did not know what to expect. As highlighted by my colleagues and I in the article “Conferences: A life course perspective from aspiring public and population health researchers,” one of the big questions that we had was whether a conference could have a cumulative effect in terms of establishing new connections and challenging existing thought processes. The fact that a trio of students from universities across Canada came together to collaborate during the conference and contribute to CPHA’s Health Digest confirms that new connections were not only established, but also utilized productively.

In terms of events that challenged existing ways of thinking, to me, it came down to three sessions that I attended. The “Grant Writing 101 Workshop” on the pre-conference day was the first of these sessions. During this workshop, it was refreshing to see researchers from different career stages participate and discuss their efforts in writing successful grants to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Of the many important grant-writing tips that were mentioned by the panel, an observation made by Dr. Nancy Edwards, Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Population and Public Health, made the greatest impression on me. Dr. Edwards explained that, “It is critical to not only persevere and pursue a research idea, but also to move on when you realize that the idea that initially seemed good is not a very promising one after all.”

The next event that made an impact on me was the “Student Mentor Luncheon.” I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Dr. Kim Raine, a Professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health. Gathering my thoughts from the grant-writing session, I asked Dr. Raine for her advice in obtaining top research grants. The answer to my question was swift: “Do not hesitate to approach senior researchers to get their advice in developing your ideas.”

The final session that proved important was “Developing Public–Private Partnerships for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention.” It was a great pleasure to listen to Dr. Mark Tremblay, Director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, who challenged the audience to think beyond existing notions of public–private partnerships. After the session, I followed Dr. Raine’s advice and approached Dr. Tremblay to discuss an evolving research interest of mine which could benefit from a public–private partnership. His outlook that, “even though conceptually the idea made sense, there is a need to generate concrete evidence,” is invaluable to me.

This series of events has pushed me out of my comfort zone, and has made me approach my ideas from a completely different perspective. In order to bring my research ideas to fruition, I will join forces with senior researchers – including my supervisor and mentor Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, Chair, Community Health & Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan – to develop grant proposals involving public–private partnerships, with an attitude not only of persistence, but also of pragmatism.


CPHA’s 2013 Annual Conference: “The right thing to do”

- Janette Leroux

Just over twenty-four hours have passed since I arrived home from the CPHA’s 2013 Annual Conference. I have unpacked my bags, but am still mentally unpacking the new ideas and inspiration I have gained from the plenary sessions, workshops, networking events, and wonderful people with whom I share many passions and interests.

My experience of the conference began with a CPHA session entitled “What’s Next? Career Development for Life After Graduation.” We were presented with a Job Search Framework that included four stages: reflection, preparation, action, and achieving (landing!). The importance of sincerity in this process was apparent to me as we discussed networking and seeking out opportunities; when your interests align with your committed career direction, you will naturally excel in your chosen area of work. Specifically, we undertook individual and group activities of appreciative career inquiry in order to identify potential responses to the following questions: What is of most importance to me? What makes me passionate about my work? And, what do I want to do next?

Over the subsequent three days, I attended a number of sessions on a range of topics. The content and discussions were thought-provoking and drew from richly diverse backgrounds. The session that had the most impact for me was “Bridging the Gap: Population Health Informing Health System Planning and Decision-Making” by Ms. Deborah Cohen, Dr. Robert Strang and Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull. This session was brilliantly structured to deliver the rationale for shifting resources and money from health care to address more upstream determinants of ill-health.

All three speakers convincingly conveyed the critical importance of why, as public health professionals, we need to take a leadership role in partnering and collaborating with other health sectors in order to advocate for the human rights values that are central to, and essential for, health and health care. The presentation included an overview of local examples of this population health approach, as well as a more in-depth description of Ottawa’s extremely successful Inner City Health Project.

To actually bridge the gap is undeniably an immense and daunting task, rife with political, economic, and social challenges. However, as a public health trainee, I feel far from overwhelmed or apathetic. Instead, I feel privileged to be participating in this conversation and in the work of established researchers and practitioners. Beyond any other reasons, creating healthy environments and policies to support the health of individuals and families is “the right thing to do.” This session, and the conference at large, affirmed and grounded my understanding of how the implications of my doctoral thesis research fit with the fundamental values of public health. As I settle back into my PhD work, I feel justified in my academic discipline and more confident in my future career direction.