Kristin Horsley

Clinical PhD candidate Kristin Horsley talks to In The Spotlight about her work with Universities Canada and Cossette Health to advocate for interdisciplinary research in Canada.


PhD candidate Kristin Horsley
Recent findings from an Abacus Data survey (commissioned by Universities Canada) show that an overwhelming majority of Canadians believe that university research is essential for the growth and success of Canada’s future as a leader of innovation. These findings point to the necessity of fostering curiosity at every level within academic institutions in order to ensure that Canada is at the forefront of scientific research.

To this end, the Government of Canada launched an independent review of federal funding for scientific research in June 2016, with the advisory panel releasing its report a year later in April 2017. This report laid out a strong vision for re-investment in scientific discovery and research innovation on both basic and applied levels. And one of our own is doing her part to campaign for interdisciplinary research in this vital conversation.


Advocating for Canada’s early career researchers

Kristin Horsley (right) at a panel hosted by Universities Canada

McGill Psychology Department’s PhD candidate Kristin Horsley was one of three early career researchers chosen to speak with university presidents, parliamentarians, and senior government officials in October 2017 to offer a graduate student perspective on science funding in Canada. Spearheaded by Universities Canada, the panel is part of on-going advocacy efforts to support the recommendations from Canada’s Fundamental Science Review advisory panel on the importance of funding interdisciplinary research and increasing investment into investigator-led projects. 

As a young Canadian innovator at the beginning of her research career, Kristin was chosen to be a part of the panel due to the broad-reaching impact of her work both at home and abroad. Her and her fellow PhD panelists, University of Victoria’s Armita Dash and Université de Moncton’s Roxann Guerrette, delivered presentations on the impact of their work, and highlighted key issues facing young woman in science. All three also held a Q&A session on the importance of improving research infrastructure to foster a collaborative environment as part of tri-agency council grants.

“As researchers, it is so rare that we get an opportunity to speak directly with government representatives about the passion we have for our work,” said Kristin. “The curiosity a researcher has in a topic usually begins long before graduate school, and to be able to tell my story was such a unique experience.” 

The event provided a forum for discussion on issues of importance to academic institutions, such as ensuring greater support for early career researchers and focusing on equity and diversity within the research community, and was followed by an evening reception attended by Canada’s Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan. Kristin felt honoured to work alongside Universities Canada on this valuable initiative to showcase how Canada’s early career researchers hope to improve the lives of all Canadians.


Leading the way forward through innovative research

As part of her work with Dr. Blaine Ditto in clinical health psychology, Kristin’s own research follows a novel approach to women’s heart health by examining how depression and anxiety influence heart health during pregnancy. 

“I’ve always been fascinated by how each person’s heart responds differently to stress, primarily due to the dynamic relationship between mental and physical health,” explains Kristin. “During pregnancy, the function of a woman’s heart changes dramatically from conception to birth, and it seems intuitive that symptoms of depression or anxiety might influence how well the heart adapts to a developing baby. I hope to find out if that is indeed the case”.

Earlier last year, Kristin took part in a novel hackathon sponsored and funded by the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health Research, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, and Cossette Health, in an event aimed at promoting heart health research in Canada. Kristin and her team won second prize for their pitch on Improving Communication about Heart Health during Pregnancy through the development of a campaign designed to educate others on how a woman’s future heart health can be impacted by what happens to their cardiovascular system during pregnancy.

This innovative means of bridging together researchers, creative agencies, and industry partners presents a valuable opportunity for growth and improvement in how science can be shared to the broader Canadian public.

“Right now, it takes about 17 years to translate research into public knowledge and I think we owe it to Canadians to do better. In my opinion, we need to expand the definition of Knowledge Translation to involve both the sharing of study results at academic conferences and, when applicable, working with experts who know how to translate scientific findings into knowledge,” says Kristin. “I saw first hand what happens when you add researchers to creative teams at companies like Cossette Health to ‘hack’ a problem – it is a very exciting approach, with the potential to get your results to the public, fast.”

Through her work with both Universities Canada and Cossette Health, Kristin has forged novel collaborations to help ensure that the next generation of Canadian researchers can readily lead the way forward in scientific discovery.

Her takeaway? “I want Canadians to know that there is a generation of up and coming researchers who are passionate, excited, and creative. We are open minded and recognize the importance of interdisciplinary research to help solve the complex problems we face today. With the support of our federal government, I’m optimistic that Canada will remain a global leader in scientific research.”

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