As a medical sociologist, Kate’s research centres around the social determinants of health, the construction of biomedical knowledge, and the application of intersectional frameworks to health research. In collaboration with the BC Centre on Substance Use, Kate is working to understand the experiences of marginalized populations in medical research.

Faculty of Arts
Lindsey Richardson
United States of America
UBC Public Scholars Award
Research Description

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have long been considered the gold standard for medical research. In efforts to improve the design and implementation of RCTs, scholars have begun identifying factors that affect RCT participation and consequently, the effective and ethical conduct of medical research and broader health outcomes. These effects may be amplified in research with people who use drugs (PWUD), given the complex interplay of social and structural issues affecting their participation, including stigma, criminalization, and poverty. Yet little research has explored RCT participation among PWUD, despite the health harms of substance use disorders and need for effective, evidence-based medical treatments. To address this gap, in collaboration with Dr. Lindsey Richardson, my research aims to: 1) identify social and structural influences on research participation among PWUD; 2) understand links between trust, perceptions of healthcare providers, RCT experiences, and study outcomes; and 3) explore mechanisms to improve RCT operations as well as research experiences for PWUD.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

To me, being a public scholar means engaging in “public sociology,” by looking beyond the confines of the discipline and academy to engage in global conversations around social inequality. I think the PSI encourages its scholars to view public scholarship and knowledge generation as a collective endeavour, which will ultimately yield richer data with greater impact.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

What makes the Public Scholars Initiative unique is that scholars are encouraged to pursue their research questions in innovative ways and to conceptualize their research and its impacts within a broader societal context. Given the range of audiences and venues available to the Public Scholars, I anticipate that this program will expand the applications of the PhD beyond traditional career trajectories and build stronger connections between academia and the greater public.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

As a medical sociologist, I see my research as interdisciplinary and with macro-level policy consequences, as well as micro-level influences on the health and everyday lives of marginalized populations. In the next stage of my career, I hope that my work will have practical implications across this continuum.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I want to engage with the larger community and social partners by translating my work for both medical researchers conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and communities of people who use drugs taking part in medical research. For researchers, this data will clarify the social and structural factors that influence RCT recruitment, adherence to study protocols, or perceptions of treatments, all of which can impact the validity, reliability, and generalizability of RCT results. For people who use drugs, this research may better inform potential participants on the merits and pitfalls of medical research participation, as well as provide suitable criteria by which they can critically evaluate RCT studies. By engaging in multiple forms of knowledge translation, the results of this study can be broadly disseminated and utilized in practice.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope that my work will ultimately broaden the knowledge base around medical research participation in order to improve relationships between marginalized groups and health researchers, as well as improve the design and operations of randomized controlled trials and support the development of better medical treatments for people who use drugs.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Graduate study offered me the opportunity to gain additional area and methodological expertise and to grow as a scholar. With this additional training, I will be able to conduct my own independent research projects and better translate my findings into policy recommendations.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I chose UBC because I knew the Department of Sociology would provide the supportive environment and rigorous methodological training that I needed to accomplish my research goals. I was eager to work with Dr. Richardson around medical research participation and the social determinants of health among people who use drugs. I also recognized that UBC would be an excellent venue for conducting interdisciplinary work and collaborating with a wide network of research centres and scholars.


What makes the Public Scholars Initiative unique is that scholars are encouraged to pursue their research questions in innovative ways and to conceptualize their research and its impacts within a broader societal context.