Annie Xie | Haley Welch | Alex Shadeed | Sara Sauer | Caroline Mei | Sadaf Farookhi | Nicole Kim | Lara Schwarz | Sabina Sloman | Eva Graham | Joy Tseng | Clark Bray
Interview conducted by Hannah Reardon, Winter 2017 outreach intern
So, tell us a little bit about yourself. What led you to this internship?
So, my name’s Clark, I’m in my last year at McGill. I’m an English major minoring in Sociology. I came to this last year having decided that a career path that appeals to me is public health. It came about after having to withdraw from school due to some medical issues back in 2015. I was cured, but emotionally, I sort of suffered from the whole process. This made me realise how many issues there are with the medical system: how important social determinants of health are, and how simultaneously they are so widely neglected. Especially, mental health factors and consequences are often ignored and since this is something that affected me personally, it’s also something that I would like to see change. I’d like to see the development of support networks, especially for teenagers or young people who suffer from serious illnesses and need to reintegrate after their recovery. So I sought out the IHSP to sort of explore transitioning into this health realm. I think public health, social work, these are the kind of areas I can see myself working in the future.
You’re a bit unusual, Clark, in our cohort, in the sense that you come from a unique literature and humanities background. So, I’d like to know, what advantages do you feel that your background brings to bear on your work here with the IHSP, and what advice would you give to someone trying to reach across the disciplinary aisle to apply skills from one discipline to a totally new area of study?
Well, it might be kind of obvious, but I’d say that the number one skill that I bring is my writing abilities. I don’t think it will come as any surprise to say that a lot of social science researchers do write using rather dense and technical language. Now, of course, this is often necessary and a reflection of their expertise, but I think there is something to be said for the ability to take complex findings and concepts and translate them into accessible language for a lay audience, especially when it comes to health studies. Also, I think that coming from a literature background has benefitted me in terms of my communication skills and developing a sense of empathy to better understand the situations that people come from. This is something I consider to be very important if we are to reform the health system to better target the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds.
As far as reaching across the disciplinary aisle and transitioning into a field your unfamiliar with, I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills through my internship with Dr. Elgar. I’m working a lot with statistics which is really interesting. I’ve taken a few classes over the course of my degree and they’ve really benefitted me a lot in expanding my skill set beyond what people would normally assume is the purview of an English major. So, I guess that the main advice I would offer to anyone in a similar situation to me is: don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed. Coming from one background and one set of skills in no way limits you from developing others in a totally new field. And, at the same time, I would say respect and own the skills that are closest to you. Don’t doubt your background or your knowledge because interdisciplinary work is the way of the future and all skill sets have value, and can always be expanded and built upon.
Clark Bray | Winter 2017 Intern | U4 student in English
Interview conducted by Hannah Reardon, Winter 2017 outreach intern
After a typical Friday intern meeting, Joy sticks around for a little while to chat with me about the IHSP, her research interests and her future career goals.
How did you come across the IHSP and the internship program?
Actually, I came across this internship program by accident. It all started when I saw an IHSP poster outside class and thought it looked interesting: the idea of engaging research with social policy. Last year I was lucky enough to get an internship through the McGill Global Health Programs working with Dr. Baumgartner and her Master’s student Sierra Clark, on the environmental and health impacts of improved cook stoves in China. Through that internship I was able to collect data on usage and feedback of traditional and improved stoves in the Tibetan Plateau. This was really a turning point for me in my life. I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Baumgartner; she inspires me to embrace and sink my teeth into the research project, to care deeply about environmental pollution and its impacts on human health. Last semester, I had the good fortune to continue working in her lab as research assistant to participate in the analysis of the data I helped collect last summer and in the writing up of a research paper. This is where my internship with the IHSP this semester comes in: Dr. Baumgartner encouraged me to further engage with research, to be a real researcher and make a difference by better understanding the process of translating research into social policy and the process of validating effectiveness of social policy through research.
What is the value of an IHSP internship for you?
At the end of my U3 year I found myself at a crossroads: I hesitated between finishing up my Microbiology and Immunology honours degree and taking an extra year to obtain a minor in Psychology. I must say that taking this extra year has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I definitely encourage other students to do likewise because often we’re not aware of all the amazing opportunities that McGill has to offer to undergraduate students by ways of internships, research opportunities and field experiences. So taking the time to explore these opportunities and putting my academic knowledge to practical use have been life-changing for me. The internship has really allowed me to see the value of inter-disciplinary work and actively participate in incorporating the human aspect into academic research. I really enjoy every Friday afternoon when we have our IHSP sessions. I get to interact with students from diverse faculties and disciplines, who I probably wouldn’t have the chance to meet otherwise. Going forward, in terms of career goals, I’d like to pursue work as a medical health professional and take part in evidence-based health care reform. I know that my internship experience with Dr. Baumgartner and the IHSP will benefit me enormously as I try to bridge the gap between the public and the research world by transforming research findings into real solutions and improved care for patients.
Joy Tseng | Winter 2017 Intern | U4 student in Microbiology and Immunology
I am working with Dr. Frank Elgar on a research project concerning socioeconomic inequalities in health outcomes and health behaviours in Canadian children and adolescents. More knowledge of these inequalities can not only inform how society should approach health programming, but also help us better understand the depth and reach of socioeconomic inequality. I have always been passionate about health and well-being and through this internship, I hope to learn more about the social determinants of health and well-being of both individuals and communities. This internship at the IHSP is very exciting for me. Beyond research, one of the main reasons I am taking part in this internship is to expand my understanding of how to translate research findings into effective policies and programs.
Annie Xie | Intern with Dr. Elgar | U2 Political Science and Economics
I hope to gain further understanding about conducting academic research, the policy-making process and the interplay between policy and research. I believe that research is important for expanding our understanding of the world, but that research is useless without putting this knowledge into practice through effective policies. During the internship, I will be working as part of an interdisciplinary research project studying the transnational migration of physicians and I will acquire the skills to translate research findings into policy recommendations. I hope that this will contribute to the on-going work of the IHSP and help to further its goals of making research more accessible to the public. Simply, the IHSP is engaging in the research-to-policy process and I want to gain a deeper understanding of that process while contributing to the work of the IHSP.
Haley Welch | Intern with David Wright |U3 student in History, International Development & Hispanic Languages
If you could suggest one thing to researchers using social media, what would it be?
It would definitely have to be to engage other users more (specifically other academics and researchers). Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are online communities… not personal billboards. The more you take an interest in lives of others by helping share their work and stimulating conversation with them, the more people will consider you a valuable member of the community and choose to follow you.
Using your account to only share your own work is the same as going to a party and only talking about yourself… people hear it, but they’re less inclined to care. In the same way you love talking about your work, publically ask questions to other academics and create a conversation that others can jump in on. Doing so it a great way to show that you’re not only one who loves to teach, but one who loves to learn as well.
Alex Shadeed | IHSP social media intern | U3 student in Political Science and a minor in International Development Studies
How does your internship relate to your career objectives?
Through my internship with the Baumgartner Research group, I am being introduced to the fascinating field of epidemiology and global environmental health, as well as gaining insight into the process of conducting fieldwork. As a Mathematics and Statistics student, I’m used to working with 'clean' data from the get go – now I have the chance to learn about the work that must go into producing a dataset ready for analysis. This relates really nicely to my future career goals, as I hope to become more involved with fieldwork after I graduate, and, down the road, contribute to global health research as a biostatistician and epidemiologist.
Sara Sauer | Intern with Jill Baumgartner | U3 student in Mathematics and Statistics
I’ve been able to see what sort of careers you can pursue in public health or public policy through my work as part of the outreach and communications team. Some of the students who used to be interns at the IHSP are now working at the UN, the EU, the WHO and federal governments around the world. In a few short months, I’ve learned so much more about the types of careers and jobs that are actually out there in the “real world”. It’s fascinating to see how far an internship can take you!
Caroline Mei | Outreach Intern | U3 student in Biology, Political Science, & Middle East Studies
If I were to pin down a single experience it would be training and working as a dentist in Pakistan. I worked at a private dental hospital that bordered a poorer neighbourhood in the city of Karachi. Being a private hospital all patients were required to pay the cost of services out of pocket. One of the first, and hardest, lessons one learnt was turning away patients in pain because they couldn’t afford the treatment they needed. Each day was a reminder of how broken the system was. Public healthcare was limited to a handful of overcrowded and underfunded hospitals serving a population of almost 20 million, private clinics and hospitals flourished with little or no regulation. As a citizen of the developing world and a clinician who’s worked in the field I understand how important it is to not just create knowledge but also convert it in to effective policy. I hope to be able to use this understanding to help the IHSP bridge that gap.
Sadaf Farookhi |Outreach Intern | Graduate student in Dentistry
Information technology has and continues to be the driving force behind global interactions. The Internet has afforded us transnational networks that communicate certain realities to otherwise ignorant societies that are then able to mobilize into units that push for change. In my opinion, social media platforms have been the most successful at facilitating this rapid exchange of information and imagery across borders; and it is for this reason that I see 'social media' as a catalyst for culture itself as well as a source of education. Regardless of intent, every Facebook post or Twitter retweet carries with it a certain message attached to a certain agenda that seeks to teach something to the world. If you really think about it, it’s a tremendously useful tool. Social media allows for the potential that the very words “health and social policy” may one day be almost as interesting as a “Which Mindy Project Character are You" Buzzfeed quiz or a hilariously awkward cat gif. And that’s pretty inspiring stuff.
Nicole Kim | Social Media and Outreach Intern for MACHEquity | U1 student in International Development Studies with a minor in Communications
The greatest surprise has been how approachable and welcoming everyone at the institute is. Professors, fellows, and students are all supportive and willing to give guidance and advice, and share their experiences in reaching where they are now. There are so many bright-minded and successful people working here, yet the institute maintains a comfortable and personal feel. I have had the opportunity to connect with researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds and expand my knowledge of different possible paths and careers in health and social policy. The program enables interns to take advantage of the resources and expertise that the institute has to offer.
Lara Schwarz | MHERC Intern | U4 student in Environment
Working on my internship project, which looks at alternatives for self-identifying Canadian Aboriginals to the mainstream correctional system, I’m becoming aware of the extent to which public (and often private) institutions have the potential to marginalize particular minority cultures. Striking a balance between cultural sensitivity and comprehensiveness in an institution responsible for such an expansive and diverse population is an overwhelming dilemma. Despite this, there has been gradual yet encouraging progress made through negotiations between Canadian and First Nations governments. Such discussions are often informed by other countries’ experiences negotiating with their respective indigenous populations. Similarly, I’m hopeful that our national experience will be used to promote indigenous interests on a global scale.
Sabina Sloman | MHERC Intern | U4 student in Economics
This internship had provided me with an excellent opportunity to apply my skills in epidemiology and statistics to the fields of health and social policy. My Master’s thesis focuses on diabetes and mental health and I have been able to explore these topics from a social and population health perspective at the IHSP. This internship also compliments my studies by providing opportunities to present to and interact with diverse, interdisciplinary academics and researchers.
Eva Graham | Intern with Frank Elgar | Masters student in Epidemiology
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a second year Master’s in Bioethics student through the Faculty of Medicine working under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Hunt. My research thesis focuses on ethical transparency of disaster research. Prior to coming to McGill, I did my degree in Health Science (focusing on Health Policy) at Western University where I developed an interest in bioethics and policy.
One of the benefits of doing a thesis-based master’s program is that it allows you to focus on one very specific subject area of your interest. However, I wanted to make sure that I also pursued other research interests during my time as a student. The McGill QES-CTC program gave me the perfect opportunity to complete a research project outside of my thesis. I find Australia’s healthcare system fascinating, as it provides some of the best health outcomes when compared to other developed nations. Having the chance to work in Australia will allow me to gain insight about how their healthcare system compares to Canada as well as other commonwealth countries.
IMPACT is a Canadian-Australian collaboration which brings together leading researchers in primary care to improve access to health services, particularly for vulnerable and under-served populations. I’ll be working at the Bureau of Health Information in Sydney doing a multidimensional analytic approach that draws on several related but discrete Commonwealth Fund survey responses to various key performance questions in Australia, Canada, and nine other countries.
While my master’s thesis gives me insight on health research in developing nations and low-to-middle income countries, the QES-CTC program will give me the opportunity to learn about health research in developed nations. Specializing in bioethics has taught me about moral decision-making in healthcare and the policy-related research I’ll be conducting in Australia will teach me how decisions informed by ethics translate into normative action.
The QES-CTC program gives me the chance to develop a network and gain research skills in a country that I wouldn’t have otherwise had a chance to work in during my time as a master’s student. The new skills I’ll develop, as well as the network I’ll build (not only in Australia but with QE scholars worldwide) will be a great asset as I progress in my academic career.
I am a second-year Master of Urban Planning student, specializing in urban design and active transportation. I am currently working as a Research Fellow in Urban Planning at the UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi as part of the QES Program. Previously, I completed a B.A. in International Development Studies and Political Science at McGill University, a Certificate in International Cooperation at the Université de Montréal, and I also studied architecture, community development and intercultural relations. I am from Montreal, a city that I adore for its multiculturalism, architecture, cycling culture, green and public spaces, cultural life and friendly people. Being an avid cyclist and what I would describe as an “outdoor” person, I try to be outside as much as possible and I use my bike every day despite the winter climate that I sometimes despise! I am passionate about travelling, and past internships and work experiences in international development brought me to live in Ecuador, Mexico, Vietnam, Ukraine and Spain. I am also very fond of languages, and besides my mother tongue, French, I also speak English, Spanish and Portuguese.
I remember learning about this new program last year during finals. The general idea of promoting student exchanges between Commonwealth countries seemed very interesting and appealing to me from the start. I looked at the different components of the program as well as the different partners, and I saw that there was an opportunity to work in urban planning at UN-Habitat. I had always been interested in applying for an internship at UN-Habitat but refrained from doing so since internships there are unpaid. The QES program, besides allowing me to discover a new city, country and culture, was offering an opportunity to combine both my undergraduate studies in international development and my current studies in urban planning while providing me with a stipend to cover my living and travel expenses. As you may imagine, I jumped at the chance!
I work for the Urban Basic Services Branch on projects related to urban mobility and water and sanitation. I am looking at projects related to road improvements, water and sanitation infrastructure in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, waste management programs, cycling and bike-sharing infrastructure, public transportation systems, as well as parklets and other pedestrian-friendly environments. Most projects and programs are located in Kenya, while a few take place in other developing countries. When I am not in the field, I work in the fantastic compound of the United Nations Offices in Nairobi, one of the most beautiful work environments I have seen in my whole life! I feel very privileged to do something that I like in such great surroundings.
This program allows me to combine both my previous and current studies while giving me an opportunity to gain experience in a field I am more than interested to work in in the future. It brings a practical side that is of great importance in the urban planning realm. Furthermore, this opportunity allows me to discover another region of the world with its own urban challenges, lifestyles and cultures. I believe that it is extremely valuable for urban planners to get to know how cities and societies function around the world. Not only does it provide them with new perspectives, knowledge and skills, but it also allows them to compare, question and analyze their own cities from different angles.
This internship is directly linked to what I would like to do in the future, which is working on transportation and urban planning projects, mostly in developing countries. I am also learning a lot about the whole UN system as well as UN-Habitat’s different branches, programs and projects. Moreover, through this opportunity I get to meet a lot of people from different firms and agencies, which might be very useful when I will graduate next year. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that was given to me through the QES program and I am sure that this experience will have a great impact over the upcoming years of my career as an urban planner.
LINDSAY WRIGHT BA (McGill, 2010), JD (UBC, 2013)
Industrial Relations Specialist, Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC) IHSP Internships: 2008-2009; 2009-2010
Tell us about yourself.
I am a lawyer who practices labour and employment law. At McGill I completed the Faculty Program in Industrial Relations as well as a major in International Development Studies. While attending law school at UBC, I also worked for a year and a half in UBC’s Employee Relations department as their Legal Research Assistant. I started out my legal career in private practice, articling at a management-side labour and employment boutique. Following my call to the bar, I worked at Simon Fraser University as their Labour and Employee Relations Advisor. Currently I am an Industrial Relations Specialist at HEABC, where I act as counsel at arbitrations and mediations, negotiate with union representatives to resolve grievances, assist employers in achieving strategic business objectives, and advise on health sector collective agreements and labour and employment legislation.
What was the focus of your internship/ Fellowship?
I participated in two internships at the IHSP, in my third and fourth years at McGill, both of which dealt with areas of interest in my studies.During my first internship, I researched contextual factors affecting the drafting of constitutions in the 192 member states of the United Nations. Such factors included the time period; presence of conflict; World Bank Governance Indicators (voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence/terrorism, rule of law); existence of a state of emergency; and military regime. As a result of this research, I contributed to a global database for the World Rights Legal Data Centre.
During my second internship, I conducted an extensive global literature review on adult and child labour policies, with an emphasis on the costs, benefits, and potential impact on children’s life chances. I analyzed domestic and international legislation with respect to child labour, as well as a number of workplace policies (parental leave, leave to care for children’s health needs, and breastfeeding breaks at work).
How had your degree prepared you for this position? Conversely, was there anything you had to learn "on the job"?
My programs in Industrial Relations and International Development provided me with important research experience and knowledge in key areas related to my work. I developed an understanding of economics, international development, labour policy, international labour legislation, global history, and politics, among other things. At the IHSP, I developed my ability to effectively conduct exhaustive and efficient research, analyze and critique source material, and draft comprehensive research documents that would assist Institute researchers and policy makers. The global scope of my research projects was certainly a challenge, and learning how to conduct research in the most efficient and comprehensive way involved a certain amount of trial and error.
Had this position changed your outlook in your field of research, or in other areas?
I was particularly interested in labour policy and legislation, and the two internships I completed provided me with knowledge in these areas, on an international scale. It also opened my eyes to the complexities inherent in developing labour policy and legislation, and the importance of considering economic, political, and social factors.
Has this experience influenced your career plans, or your research plans? Has it helped you get to where you are now?
My Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Relations and my law degree are directly related to my work in labour and employment law and labour relations. My major in International Development also allowed me to gain a global perspective on labour issues, and the impact and importance of legislation and legal systems on such issues. My internships at the IHSP combined my interests in labour relations and international development, and further developed my interest in learning more about law and policy. These internships gave me a lot of insight into world issues and the relationship between research and policy. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of research and writing, as well as the more practical focus on developing policy, taking into consideration the challenges that come with putting that policy into practice.
Was there anything particularly satisfying about the training you received at the IHSP?
Being able to effectively present my findings to my colleagues at the Institute was a great experience. After receiving training in a number of areas, completing the necessary research, and going through numerous drafts of the final projects, it was satisfying to be able to communicate my conclusions and recommendations. The ability to conduct research is important, but being able to synthesize and communicate that research in an effective manner is essential.
Looking back, is there anything you would change about your internship experience?
Overall, both my internships were great experiences. If I could go back and change something, perhaps I would have consulted more with my colleagues and supervisors. There are so many great people at the IHSP with varied knowledge and experience. I find collaboration and sharing of knowledge is extremely valuable, especially when your colleagues come from so many diverse backgrounds.
Intern Alumni Megan Gerecke | McBurney Alumni Eugene Negrii
Megan Gerecke, Summer 2007 Intern
I currently work at the WHO as a Technical Officer with the Social Determinants of Health unit. There, I work on developing indicators to monitor the social determinants of health and health coverage.
2. How did you get to this point in your career?
Through a combination of luck and effort. I came to Geneva in 2008 for an internship with the ILO, thinking I would return to Canada 3 months later. Instead I was offered a short-term position at the end of my internship and have been working for UN organizations ever since. My interest in labour and social policy and its impact on inequality complemented the work of the SDH unit nicely and allowed me to join their team.
3. What has been your most interesting or memorable career experience post-graduation?
The opportunities I’ve had to work with Member States have been the most memorable, as these clearly demonstrate the real life impact of research and policy work. For example, I had the opportunity to run a training session with officials from South Africa on labour relations in essential services (such as hospitals and police services). Here a delicate balance needs to be struck between guaranteeing workers their right to collective bargaining and ensuring the public can benefit from these essential services.
4. How did your experience at the IHSP shape your career path?
My work at the IHSP allowed me to explore social and labour policy more deeply, particularly in respect to health equity. I have been looking at equality in one form or another ever since.
5. Do you have any advice or tips you would like to share with current IHSP students?
I’ve learned that it’s not always clear which choices will be important in determining your future. I think with this in mind, it is important to pursue your dreams with enthusiasm, to cast your net wide and to be open to a full range of opportunities and, as much as possible, to set aside the fear of failure or rejection, as years from now, past disappointments will mean little and, instead, the range of experiences you have had will define your life.
Eugene Negrii is a 2015 McBurney Fellow. A graduate student in Music Education, Eugene travelled to Colombia in 2014 as a McBurney Fellow to work with Fundacion Nacional Batuta. Batuta’s various centres offer intensive musical training to at-risk youth. Eugene’s project focuses on working with both Batuta students and teachers to improve Batuta’s Orff-based early childhood music program.
The Orff approach encourages creativity and improvisation, but with a directed focus. Children transfer the concepts they learn through play into instruments (e.g. the recorder, the xylophone).
1. What was the focus of your 2014 McBurney Fellowship?
“The focus was to shift the process of early childhood education [at Batuta] from a teacher-centred focus to a student-centred one. The kids were using Orff media in teacher-centred rehearsals, but there was not a lot of interaction.”
2. What was the most rewarding experience from your first Fellowship?
“There were a few moments! One was in a town about two hours inland from the Caribbean coast, where I came in to teach a bunch of middle school students. They were apprehensive as to what I was going to do, and I was apprehensive because I was taking games meant for eight- or nine- year-olds and using them with kids who were 13 or 14. But because they hadn’t had a lot of experience with music, they just really loved it. These kids have had difficult lives; they are displaced victims of armed violence and have had to relocate because of gangs and guerilla warfare. They haven’t really had the opportunity to be kids. They had a huge smile on their face, and that was very satisfying.
The second was in Manizales, where I worked with a very young corps of teachers who actually started to use concepts that I taught them, but in their own way. They said that it felt really good “in here” (and they were pointing to their hearts). Myself and the local teachers also convinced the head of Batuta Caldas in Manizales to use this more student-centred approach and alter the curriculum. It was rewarding to build that relationship.”
3. How do you think music and music education can help the people that you work with? What do you think makes the Orff Method unique in its approach towards music education?
“When I went in to observe one of their lessons, the kids were basically sitting at their instruments alone. There was not really a lot of interaction amongst the students. Within the classes, there are kids who are part of different families that are part of different factions or groups in conflict zones, so there are conflicts and cliques in the classroom too. Using the Orff approach makes kids hold hands and dance and play clapping games. At first, a lot of the kids were super resistant to this. In these barrios (neighbourhoods outside the city centre) people and families will not cross certain boundaries; there are strict lines. Getting kids to socially interact together is a way to bring them [these families] together which no other medium can do.”
4. How is your project expanding in 2015?
“My project last year was focused on teaching kids as young as 5 years old. I want to expand my project into early childhood [3- to 4-year- olds]. Batuta has a sizeable early childhood component that I didn’t really work with last year. I hope that learning some Spanish songs and getting some of the repertoire down will help me communicate with kids that age.”
5. What do you think will be the long-term effects of your project? How do you think others will be able to expand on your project?
“Hopefully, we can get a sustained boost in numbers. I’m starting to see this happen. [It would also] be great to have teachers expand on the repertoire and resources that I gave them. It would be good to have more teachers that are certified and trained not just in the Orff methodology, but others as well. We can build on these different styles that are still kid-friendly.”