Natasha Damiano

Immigrant children's embodied group singing
Suzanne Huot
SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

The idea to pursue a graduate degree relating to migration and mental health has been percolating in the back of my mind since completing my Master Degree in Anthropology in 2011. However, the negative narratives around doctoral degrees, as well as financial realities and familial obligations, meant that I held off this decision for many years. In 2018, after four years of work in the UBC department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, I finally dipped my toe in the water and took an interdisciplinary course on arts and health research. With the encouragement of the instructors from that course, and others close friends and colleagues, I submitted my application.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I am perhaps one of the few UBCer’s who is from Vancouver, and who also completed all of my degrees at this institution. As an undergraduate this was not a choice. My family couldn’t afford sending me away to school so I didn’t really consider it. I was taking first year courses at Douglas College when an academic advisor suggested my grades were strong enough to transfer to UBC. So that’s what I did, and ended up completing two degrees here, both in Anthropology. Had I continued on to a PhD at the time I would have likely applied to go elsewhere. However, I believe there is some value in having lived in this province for as long as I have. The decision to continue a PhD at UBC was partly informed by this connection I have to the place where I live, including the department I wound up working in, and the experiential knowledge I have gained in being part of this research community. Navigating the educational and health systems in this province as a parent also informs my perspective and interest in research with children.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Rehabilitation Sciences graduate program is jointly run by two departments, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy (OSOT) and Physical Therapy. I was primarily interested in the occupational science aspect of the program, which seeks to understand social, environmental, and contextual dimensions of human occupation and has resonance with my background in anthropology. While working in the department I became connected with a faculty member who had similar research interests, and through our work together became involved with the UBC Centre for Migration Studies. My training in cultural and medical anthropology made me curious about the profession of occupational therapy, including the pedagogical approaches to teaching occupation and helping students develop a critically informed professional identity. One of the benefits of the program is the opportunity to share perspectives with students and faculty engaged in clinical practices that directly impact the wellbeing of the wider community. Being part of conversations that promote positive change in these practices is important to me.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I think the best surprise about UBC is how much I continue to learn, and this shows me the value of being connected and committed to place and community. It also indicates something about the nature of knowledge and experience as connected to people and place. There has inevitably been both change and continuity in what I have witnessed over the years as a UBC student, alumnus, and staff – and now as a student once again. I continue to be amazed by the ways that members of the UBC community contribute to local initiatives and the wider world. Although changes in the ‘status quo’ of how we work together as academics and citizens may be resisted, for the most part I see a commitment to both provide, and invite, community leadership and collaboration where fundamental changes are necessary. On the other hand, I am also cognizant of living in a very privileged corner of the planet, and I often wonder what other innovative ideas are out there in the world that are not making it into our fields of academic experience.

I continue to be amazed by the ways that members of the UBC community contribute to local initiatives and the wider world.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am really looking forward to my fieldwork which will be focused on music participation at St. James Music Academy. I have always loved music and am curious about what the young music students at St. James will end up teaching me. I feel very fortunate to be able to conduct research in such a fun and vibrant context, and I know I have much to learn.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My BA and MA in Anthropology were foundational as preparation for pursuing a PhD. Both degrees offered rigorous training in critical thinking, ethical writing practice, hands on research experience, and a deeply ingrained curiosity about the diversity of human experience. This curiosity includes what I like to think of as a healthy skepticism of ‘common sense’ ways of thinking about the world. Such views often become systemically embedded in our institutional, disciplinary, and professional modes of practice. The opportunities I have had to work on other community-based projects have furthered my learning, providing me with a compass for navigating the complicated territory of research with participants and communities.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Outside of my work and studies, my biggest passion is my garden. I share a community garden plot with a very good friend who is equally passionate about outdoor learning and education. It’s a space where people from many walks of life and backgrounds come together to cultivate not only food, but also community. I have also helped start a ukulele group with some other parents who want to learn / practice playing music.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

The best advice I can give to graduate students is to stay connected – to others in your circles, the outdoors as much as possible, and also to yourself. It’s important to find ways to ground yourself without guilt if you have to skip it once in a while in order to sleep!


Read tips on applying, reference letters, statement of interest, reaching out to prospective supervisors, interviews and more in our Application Guide!