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Staff and Faculty Interviews

Weinstock | Baumgartner | Mendoza | Nandi | Villota

Interview with Professor Daniel Weinstock

March 2014

Q: What are your research interests?

A: I am interested in a lot of different things. The thing that probably unifies all of my research pursuits has to do with ways in which philosophical ideas can translate into policy. Whether I’m working on issues of multiculturalism, health policy, philosophy of urban planning, and education, working out the complex connections between ideas and policy is a unifying theme of my research.

Q: How does your research affect an average person?

A: Academic researchers tend to spend a lot of time publishing for journals that aren’t necessarily read by the average person. I made a point throughout my career to seek out opportunities to make my research available in ways that will affect the average person more. First of all, I am quite present in media. Second of all, I try to find media through which to make my research public. For example I have been part of government committees that produce reports for policy makers.

Q: When did you know you would be choosing this academic career path?

A: As often it happens in these situations, it was personal rather than fully thought out reasons that led me to England for my PhD. I guess it was when I got to Oxford that I realized that this was the world I wanted to be a part of. I have over time moved from being a philosophy professor to being very interdisciplinary in the work I do. Now I’m also a professor in the Faculty of Law and the director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy.

 Q: What has been the most exciting moment of your career?

A: When I was teaching at the University of Montreal, I was once asked to design a new course for the medical faculty, a required course for all incoming first year medical students on ethics and health policy. It was very successful. Other health departments, such as nursing and biomedical science, asked for similar courses because it was so successful, and on the basis of that, I was given a teaching award. It was a great honour, really early on in my career. Although now a lot of my career has to do with research and organizing a research institute, I still consider teaching to be the part of my job that I enjoy the most. I love interacting with students, so that was an exciting moment.

Q: What would you like to accomplish in 10 years?

A: At McGill, there are many excellent people working in the various aspects of health policy whose work would really gain from being federated or articulated with one another. So my goal is to develop the Institute for Health and Social Policy to allow it to integrate a lot of the research being done at McGill in health policy. In terms of more personal accomplishments, I would like to write a book on philosophy and public policy that brings together a lot of the work I have done so far.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.

Q: How do you spend your spare time?

A: Music.


Interview with Professor Jill Baumgartner

March 2014

Q: How does your research affect an average person?

A: Half of the world’s population cook with solid fuel. They burn these fuels at home, typically in developing countries, with simple technologies and stoves, so they create a lot of pollution. My research is focused on interventions to reduce their exposure to these pollutants. It affects the average person because we come with a set of interventions that are effective, can reduce exposure, and can improve health. We also provide numbers along with those programs. We are able to say this is the exposure reduction in harmful pollutants and that these are the health benefits that are provided with the intervention, with the idea that this makes a case to policy makers and governments as to why they might want to invest in the energy technologies and subsidies.

Q: When did you know you would be choosing this academic career path?

A: I guess it was fairly organic. I had gone back to get a masters degree, and that was my first exposure to research. I had an amazing mentor – Majid Ezzati – whose excitement about research was catchy. I learned about the power of research in advocacy and policy, and loved thinking creatively to design studies and methods to answer questions that are important to improving health and the environment. I also liked the idea of mentoring students to conduct their own research and become leaders in environmental health. I saw it as a different way than I had been contributing to improving health in an NGO previously. Research enabled me to answer questions that I thought might be helpful to governments, other researchers, and the average person. So I decided to start a PhD program, and here I am.

Q: What has been the most exciting moment of your career?

A: Getting a faculty position at McGill was fantastic! Also, my dissertation study on blood pressure and household air pollution was one of the studies used to motivate the inclusion of household air pollution as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases in the new Comparative Risk Factor Assessment (CRA) Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) project. This document can be influential as an advocacy tool, so that was exciting.

Q: What would you like to accomplish in 10 years?

A: I want to continue expanding the environmental health program here at McGill and training students who can be leaders in the field. I also hope to continue expanding my research program to different settings and topics in environmental health.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: Pulse Waves by Paolo Salvi.

Q: How do you spend your spare time?

A: I love exploring Montreal with my family. 


Interview with José Mauricio Mendoza, Data Manager, MACHEquity

March 2014

Q: How does your research affect an average person?

A: The research I am doing right now deals with understanding how social policies impact maternal and infant health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. This research has the potential of informing organizations like the United Nations on the role played by social programs in achieving international development targets. We also contribute to expand our knowledge on trends in infant mortality, maternal mortality, and vaccination rates during the last decade.

Q: How did you make the transition from working at a private firm to research?

A: I spent two years working at a private market research firm, which was very targeted to the healthcare sector. We specialized in studying how the introduction of certain products in the dental market affected the market share of other players in the industry. During my time there, I learned a lot about methodological approaches to understanding impact and causality, and I think that experience made it clear to me that I wanted a career in health impact analysis and health economics. The skills and methods I learned were very transferable into the world I am working right now: how certain social policies affect health outcomes. In retrospect, my past experience fit very naturally into what I do now. One big plus of working for a public research institution is that our social policy research is not dictated by private-sector agendas, but rather by the needs of the general public and partner organizations around the world. Another great aspect of working for the IHSP is that the national policy data we use in the MACHEquity project is produced in-house, which allows us to produce original research in our field. As a result, the research findings we produce are often very exciting.

Q: What do you want to accomplish in the next 10 years?

A: One thing I do want to do is to participate directly in the conception and implementation of international development projects targeting health outcomes. I have spent 3 years studying how social polices may impact health, so it would be a good natural next step to contribute concretely to the design and management of social programs aimed at improving population health.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

Q: What do you do in spare time?

A: There are two activities I am really into: swimming and running. I also like to spend a lot of time with my friends. One thing I have discovered through time is that spending quality leisure time with those that are important in your life is perhaps the single most important factor in leading a happy life. If you want to put it in economic terms, it’s all about growing your social capital! 


Interview with Professor Arijit Nandi

April 2014

Q: How does your research affect an average person?

A: My primary research interest is to look at the health effect of social policies. I primarily see my role as a knowledge producer. I’m also keen to work with non-academic organizations for the purposes of knowledge translation. For both the Healthier Societies Initiative and MACHEquity that I manage here at the IHSP we have a pretty well-defined knowledge translation strategy, which is how I see my work having a potential effect on the lives of public.

Q: When did you know you would be choosing this academic career path?

A: During my PhD program, I realized that the things I enjoyed doing were mostly around research. I enjoy conceptualizing research questions that I think are important, designing studies, doing analysis, and sharing findings. So it seemed a good fit for what I enjoy doing.

Q: What has been the most exciting moment of your career?

A: Just thinking back to a recent one, it was meeting with people who work on influencing health policies in Montreal to talk about a research question we were developing and finding that they were really interested in the answer. I think that’s one of the reasons why I came to the IHSP, rather than fully being in the Department of Epidemiology. Interacting with policy-makers and designing questions and studies that are relevant to what’s happening on the ground is a part of the culture here.

Q: What would you like to accomplish in 10 years?

A: In the shorter term I am going to be focusing on the MACHEquity project. I feel like we have made a really good progress so far, and I want to see it finish strong. Right now, we have put together a ton of data and articulated several research questions. I think the next phase is the most important: conducting rigorous analysis, writing papers, and working with policy-makers and NGOs that are interested in our questions and having that knowledge translated into the real world. In the longer-term I’m interested in getting more involved with impact evaluation using experimental techniques.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: Public Policy in an Uncertain World by Charles Manski. He’s actually coming to the institute in May to give a talk, so some of the faculty members here have formed a reading club!

Q: How do you spend your spare time?

A: One of the nicer things about being an academic is being able to travel for meetings and conferences and having the opportunity to spend a little extra time exploring new areas. That said, I’m really looking forward to the summer in Montreal. I also try to stay active by playing badminton and tennis and by rock-climbing. 


Interview with Adriana Villota, Data Manager, Healthier Societies Initiative

May 2014

Q: How does your research affect an average person?

A: The Healthier Societies Initiative (HSI)’s current focus is the health of Canadians. We do research on health care system characteristicsand how these impact the health outcomes of Canadians. Given that health care is a provincial responsibility, we have to be aware of the heterogeneity across provinces, so we try to make sense of how health care system characteristics vary across provinces, differences on provincial implementation of health policies, and how all these factors combined affect the health of Canadians. Our current research focuses on the incidence, prevalence, and management of Type-2 diabetes in the health care industry and whether having access to a regular doctor has a differential health effect. We keep asking ourselves: is there a problem with the health care system itself or are people not actively seeking help? How could we make the system more accessible? Our goal is to inform the general public about national and provincial health care challenges and generate policy recommendations.

Q: Did you know that you would be studying health and social policy during your undergraduate years?

A: Not at all. I found my academic passion in Economics when I realized I enjoy the types of analysis that are done in the field. I always thought, even during my Masters, that I would work on international development. I took a couple of courses on health and development economics, and they were very stimulating. I always believed health was one of the key aspects of development, but I never imagined I would specialize on the topic. Then this opportunity at the IHSP came up, and I love it.  It was a steep learning curve given that I had little background in health policy. I am happy to be working on health research because ultimately it serves the same goal of development - to improve people’s quality of life.

Q: What do you want to accomplish in 10 years?

A: I see myself continuing to work in the policy world, be it health policy, economic policy, or international development policy. I’d say I can see myself working in a research-based institution like the IHSP for a while, but I also want to acquire more experience on the policy implementation side of the spectrum. I think to be a good policy-thinker and maker you need to experience both sides – coming up with policy ideas but also being on the ground to see how feasible and realistic a policy is. I think staying only on the policy side is similar to being in a bubble.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: Game of Thrones, which by the way is totally policy-related.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: I love biking in Montreal and going to cafes to read books. I also do some indoor climbing and yoga!


More interviews coming soon!