My research doesn’t just engage with community and society – it’s entirely grounded in them. I would never have been able to formulate my research question if it didn’t arise directly from my and my peers’ experiences. Through my PhD work, I’ve also been very fortunate to partner with other community organizations and researchers with common goals of enhancing health equity for the Queer community.
As recently as 2018, 1 in 5 Gay men in Vancouver was living with HIV. Preventing the spread of HIV in the Queer community of Vancouver has become the focus of significant resources and attention by researchers, health authorities, and community groups. One of the most promising HIV-prevention strategies is a drug regimen called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which, when taken in one of a few approved modalities, is nearly 100% effective at preventing HIV infection. PrEP has been available for free to at-risk Gay men in BC since 2018, yet many people who might benefit from it are still unable to access the drug. This is partly due to the stigma and complexity around PrEP resulting in primary care providers being unwilling to prescribe it. Research on this problem up to this point has largely examined the prevailing attitudes toward PrEP held by providers, whether they are family doctors, nurses, or pharmacists. The logic is that if certain types of providers seem to be more willing to prescribe PrEP, we should equip those providers to prescribe PrEP to as many patients as possible. My research, by contrast, starts with the premise that there is already a valuable base of knowledge about PrEP in the Queer community and therefore I aim to understand how Queer patients themselves may be able to better teach their providers what they know about PrEP in order to access it. That is to say, rather than looking at societal-level trends in prescribing, I prefer to examine the micro-level educational moments that occur in the exam room between a given Queer patient and their provider. My ultimate goal is to apply the findings of my research in developing health education materials for the Queer community in Vancouver that will enable Queer patients to have more productive conversations about PrEP with their providers. My work is framed in theories of adult learning and medical education and takes into account broader sociological conceptions of power.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
It means a lot. I recall being so excited when I first learned about the PSI. During my Master’s, I followed a much more traditional model of academic scholarship and, though I still very much enjoyed the experience, I was very glad to find that there were more diverse opportunities available to UBC grad students when I returned to pursue a PhD. I’m particularly glad that I’m able to pursue questions, methods, and overall research goals that connect with me on a deeper level.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
I can sense already that there’s been a culture shift among graduate students between my first experience in grad school and now – particularly in the ways we talk about our goals after we finish. More and more of my peers don’t necessarily see themselves in the professoriate when they finish, yet still see value in pursuing a PhD for various reasons. The PSI is a wonderful validation of this shift and an acknowledgment that a PhD can be an impactful process and a powerful tool no matter the end goal. So in that sense I think the PhD experience is already being reimagined by many of us and I’m grateful that the PSI is there now to support us.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
Like probably most PhD students at this point, I’m not totally sure where I see myself after finishing. I do know, however, that, because I’m pursuing research that is personal and meaningful to me, I want to continue working in this field into the future. For that reason alone, I know that my PhD will be a significant stepping stone in my career.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
My research stems directly from challenges that I encounter in my volunteer work connecting Queer patients with healthcare resources. In that sense, my research doesn’t just engage with community and society – it’s entirely grounded in them. I would never have been able to formulate my research question if it didn’t arise directly from my and my peers’ experiences. Through my PhD work, I’ve also been very fortunate to partner with other community organizations and researchers with common goals of enhancing health equity for the Queer community.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
Honestly, because my former boss Dr. Frances Chandler encouraged me to. I’m very grateful to her for having planted the seed in my head, for giving me lots of good advice, and for supporting me when I applied. There have been many people who have kept me going along the journey in significant ways since then, of course, but thinking back to that conversation in Fran’s office when she said, “You know, I really think you should go for it,” still gives me goosebumps. It just goes to show you that not only do most PhD experiences not look the same by the end, but they often don’t look the same at the start either.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
I mean what’s not to love about UBC? You get to live in Vancouver AND get a degree from one of the top universities in the world! I suppose I should also mention that UBC is one of the few institutions globally with a significant research focus on health education. I’m very fortunate to be part of UBC’s Centre for Health Education Scholarship (CHES), which has been a hub of a lot of truly ground-breaking research in my field.
I recall being so excited when I first learned about the PSI. During my Master’s, I followed a much more traditional model of academic scholarship and, though I still very much enjoyed the experience, I was very glad to find that there were more diverse opportunities available to UBC grad students when I returned to pursue a PhD.