Jacqueline Davis

Adele Diamond
United States
Killam Doctoral Scholarships

Research Topic

Youth development through circus-based physical activity

Research Description

Youth circus, which emerged in the 1970s as a community-based movement, is "circus created and performed by youth, as opposed to entertainment devised for youth". Youth-oriented circus activity is non-competitive and includes children of all ages, abilities, physical sizes, developmental and educational levels, economic classes, genders, and races. My research interests lie in exploring the relationship between circus-based physical activities and positive youth outcomes. I hypothesize that youth circus activities markedly benefit physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development in young people. Using self-determination theory as a lens, I am designing a stratified, randomized control trial with pre- and post-intervention assessment to compare children in an afterschool circus program, sport program, and no program to measure participants' physical fitness, executive functions, social/emotional competency, psychological need satisfaction, and motivation. Evidence from this study could point to a new paradigm for positive development for youth of all ages and abilities.

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

Circus-based physical activity could provide an alternative to the dominant model of youth sports by providing a new paradigm for young people who tend to be marginalized in the sport context (e.g. girls and overweight youth). Evidence suggests that the youth circus sector is growing; therefore youth circus is poised to intrinsically motivate young people of all abilities to be active "for the fun of it" while simultaneously improving their health, physical fitness, and well-being.

What has winning a major award meant to you?

Being named a Killam Doctoral Scholar is an amazing affirmation that the growing field of youth circus merits serious research. On a personal level, this award means I can focus all of my time and attention on my work without needing side jobs that sap my focus and energy. In the big picture, this award opens doors to my pioneering research that will hopefully, ultimately, make a significant difference in countless young people's lives.

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

Living in Vancouver is a huge part of my UBC experience. I find the physical beauty of this place utterly inspiring - I feel limitless personal potential looking out on the mountains or across the waters, or walking amid the huge, stately trees that have played such an important role in indigenous cultural life here. I love having a bus pass that will take me anywhere and I take advantage of this privilege fully!

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

In a way, UBC chose me. While I was at Harvard I had my first conversation with my future UBC advisor who invited me to do a PhD with her - I had not even thought of that yet. I filed that in the back of my mind and searched for a doctoral program closer to home. Nothing met my needs. UBC's Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program is a perfect fit - there's nothing like it in the United States.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

As a physical education teacher for 17 years, I became convinced that circus arts imparted significant benefits to my students. I sought out youth circus leaders nationally and abroad and found they shared the same convictions regardless of student background. I pursued a master's degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to construct a theory of change for "developmental circus arts". Pursuing a PhD is necessary for constructing an evidence base through research.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

You may find yourself in survival mode for the first year: adjusting to life in Canada, learning the ropes at UBC, navigating the complex dynamics of your advisors, and juggling courses, lab duties, and - oh yes - some kind of personal life. But as you're able, find ways to contribute to the UBC community (e.g. volunteer at orientations, facilitate meetings, join or start a club). Connecting with others happens in these ways, and connecting matters most.