Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
My background is in Environmental Engineering and Anthropology. After working for a Colombian National Health Institute project, I confirmed my passion for interdisciplinary population health research and decided to study for a Master of Public Health. I pursued my masters at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and joined the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Research (COEHR). Thereafter, I worked in two Colombian research institutions, where my passion to explore the interconnection between human health and the environment strengthened. After having worked in projects in Colombia, South Africa, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Costa Rica, I decided to learn from the Global North research approaches and how they can interact with Global South scholarships to promote social change in low and middle-income countries, especially among marginalized populations.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I consider myself someone who carefully thinks about the big picture of my life choices. My decision was based on a combination of several factors. Firstly, I wanted to study in a world-class research facility recognized in Latin America for its groundbreaking research in environmental sciences and population health. Secondly, I wanted my family to be happy and live in a place where they could also grow and stay passionate. And finally, and equally important, I wanted to live in a city that offered me the opportunity to pursue a balanced life with convenient access to outdoor activities. The University of British Columbia was one of the few that exceeded at all these variables!
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
I am part of the Global Health Research Program at the School of Population and Public Health. I was captivated by the research that they are conducting as it aims to create strong long-term collaboration with Global South institutions and communities. The program's approach is not to "translate" knowledge from north to south, but to build capacities by reflecting on the benefits of different academic traditions. I was also very impressed by the strong emphasis and support of the School, and University, to promote interdisciplinary research. At UBC, interdisciplinary research is not only a "buzzword", but it is a highly appreciated perspective, promoted through concrete and effective strategies.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
Before coming here, I was worried that I would feel isolated from other places in the world where there is a higher concentration of universities and research institutions. However, I was surprised by the strength of the connections that many researchers at UBC hold with international collaborators and the diverse number of opportunities to participate in international events. UBC is a truly international University, not only for having a large proportion of international students but because of the networks that faculty have created all over the world. In addition, there is an active collaboration with other universities and institutions in British Columbia and Canada that I was not aware of. Nonetheless, my best surprise was to find how important it is for UBC to connect with the indigenous populations and the natural territory, and use this interaction as a strategy to strengthen its research and knowledge sharing practices. Reconciliation with native populations and the territory is a complex and long process, but I feel that UBC is finding ways to embrace this big challenge.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
I love networking and starting new collaborations. My current research and PhD thesis are very important, but I think that is crucial to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with other research projects and plant seeds for future collaborations. I see my time at UBC as a preparation for a long-term journey in research and academia.
I see my time at UBC as a preparation for a long-term journey in research and academia.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
I highly value having worked before starting my masters and, again, before starting my PhD. This gave some perspective and experience that it is not easy to achieve if you go straight into your masters or PhD. I also consider important, if possible, to study in different universities as this will give you a broader perspective on your field, and regarding the potential for academia to promote social change. These help me to put my PhD studies into perspective and better face the challenges of the demanding and rigorous research environment at UBC. My path it is not, of course, the only possible alternative, and it truly depends on your field and interests, but I think that it is important to consider gaining international experience through working or studying.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I am a rock climber and I try to do it as often as I can. Coming from a tropical country, I learned to see the winter as a challenge to learn new sports that help me to stay active and motivated while waiting for the climbing season.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Be creative in finding ways to make the experience at UBC unique. It is fascinating to see the number of clubs, activities, and programs that would help you to feel passionate and balanced. Do not think about these activities as low-priority ones. UBC will demand the best from you, and you will need to stay healthy and have a strong support network to face the challenge.