Despite the major toll social isolation increasingly takes on health, there are very few evidence based interventions and policies to adress this challenge. Yeeun works with groups to develop, test, and disseminate online interventions to enhance social engagement in BC, and turn the resources developed over to the communities to help their residents. 

Faculty of Arts
Frances Chen
Korea, Republic of
Research Description

Social disconnection is a growing public health epidemic. Increasing evidence shows that social disconnection is a major risk factor for all-cause mortality and a range of physical and mental health issues. Despite the urgency, evidence-based interventions for mitigating social isolation and loneliness are lacking. The objective of my research is to develop and disseminate an evidence-based online intervention to promote social engagement in British Columbia communities. This research uses an acts of kindness intervention, which has been successful in increasing social connectivity, and turns it into a community-based initiative that not only reduces residents’ loneliness but also may induce positive ripple effects within the neighbourhood.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a public scholar means that I have a responsibility for my research to make tangible changes in our society instead of remaining just within academia. I view my research as a scholarly action to combat the growing epidemic of social isolation, an urgent public health crisis.

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

The PSI is a unique community for scholars who pursue the social value of research. Belonging to such a network of like-minded scholars substantially expands one’s capacity to achieve scholarly social contributions. The mentorship through PSI can also equip scholars with practical skills such as knowledge mobilization, serving to augment both scholarly rigorousness and activist-practitioner interests.

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

In addition to the rigorous research training, my PhD work will give me substantial hands-on field experience and close connections with a network of leaders and activists in the local community. These experiences and connections will be an important stepping stone towards my ultimate post-graduate career goal, which is to be an intervention scientist who translates scientific knowledge into evidence-based solutions to societal problems.

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

My research involves close collaboration with local community partners such as the United Way British Columbia (UWBC). My previous work with UWBC was to develop a detailed assessment tool to gauge neighbourhood social cohesion and test the effectiveness of their local initiatives. Moving forward, my research aims to develop a simple and widely-available program to increase social cohesion within local neighbourhoods. The shared enthusiasm with community partners for a research-based initiative will yield much needed practical solutions for combating social isolation in BC.

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

My doctoral research will contribute to two public goods - a healthier population and a better-connected society. I will link scientific evidence with practical needs by developing an intervention program that combats social isolation in local communities.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I found myself getting more and more enthusiastic about researching and discovering the keys to human physical and mental well-being through my hands-on research work in South Korea. I believe it is the researchers’ privilege to pose and scientifically delve into such core questions in life. Ultimately, as a psychologist, I hope to contribute to the enhancement of scientific knowledge about human well-being and better-connected society, bridging the chasm between research and peoples’ day-to-day real-life issues. To this end, I decided to pursue a graduate degree to continue my research activities and also to prepare myself to offer education to the future generation in an academic setting. 

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

UBC is one of the leading research-focused institutes worldwide. I particularly loved how UBC scholars publish creative yet rigorous articles thanks to their strong training, ample and collaborative research opportunities, and quality mentorship. These strengths were precisely what I sought in an ideal academic community to join.

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

I loved the actively ongoing, intriguing projects in the UBC Psychology program. In addition, I was fascinated by the projects on the associations between prosociality, social interaction, and well-being, which meant I had found a superb research fit with the faculty members!

For you, what was the best surprise about graduate life, about UBC or life in Vancouver?

UBC has an exceptionally beautiful campus right beside beaches and forests. The student facilities are a plus, there are several libraries and a huge aquatic center that is free for students! In addition, people in Vancouver are open to people from diverse backgrounds: you don't feel alone here, no matter where you come from!

Do you have any tips for students from your home country coming to Canada / to UBC Grad School?

My best advice, for now, is to be proactive and persistent! Graduate student life is pretty much independent. If I don't push myself to be active and keep myself engaged, it is easy to be lost and lazy. At the same time, facing multiple failures and challenges, which may be inevitable for every graduate student, we all need to be resilient and persistent. For this, we need our colleagues to support each other in difficult times.