Jacob and his teammate Lianne Cho are part of a team involved in a longitudinal study - entitled the Hotel Study - conducted in an impoverished neighbourhood in Vancouver. Taking their work one step further, Jacob and Lianne co-designed 'Community Brain Art' a knowledge translation project that involves co-creating art with the community to better communicate the study and its findings to the general public and the stakeholders. 

Research Description

My thesis work focuses on using longitudinal neuroimaging to explore how the health of individuals who are homeless or precariously housed is affected by traumatic brain injury. We are looking at how neuroimaging markers of brain health are different from the general population, what factors (such as traumatic brain injury) predict decline or resilience, and how changes in these neuroimaging markers are associated with changes in health over time. The Public Scholars Initiative is supporting myself and my co-applicant in our work with others in our research group to carry out a knowledge translation project focused on brain health which involves co-creating brain health-related art and infographics.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

To me, being a public scholar means embracing a broader view of scholarship and contributing to the public good in ways beyond the normal constraints of a graduate degree program. Moreover, public scholarship represents collaborating with community partners and translating research findings back to the community.

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

The Public Scholars Initiative allows research trainees to have an increased reach to help generate their research or to help translate their research findings into the community. But beyond the traditional framework of graduate training, the Public Scholars Initiative enables trainees to make broader connections in the community, to other scholars, and with industry, with a specific focus on contributing to the public good.

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

Being a part of the Public Scholars Initiative connects us to a broad network of other scholars but also encourages collaborations outside of academia. Partnering with members of the community, industry, and medicine will allow me to broaden the reach of our group’s research, contribute to the public good, but also expand our network of collaborators. I believe it is important to include knowledge users and a diverse set of collaborators in large scale projects, and the Public Scholars Initiative will be an important component of developing those connections.

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

The primary aim of this project is to translate research findings directly back to community members, frontline workers, and care providers. We are working directly with community members in projects that allow us to act as a bridge for quantitative research findings to be translated to community members, but also to allow community members to express their perspectives on the research and broader topics.

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

My hope is that our work will lead to a better understanding of the importance of brain health in this community. But moreover, I hope our work will allow community members to feel heard and included in the research process, and guide future research in directions that are important to the community.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I became interested in the interaction between the brain and behaviour after I sustained a pretty serious concussion during my undergraduate. Among other symptoms, my eye movements were not as smooth as usual for a few days after my injury. As I recovered, I became increasingly interested in how brain injury affects behaviour. During my undergraduate, I also got my start in research as a volunteer, and I was immediately hooked by the prospect of working on questions to which no one yet knew the answer.

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

The research group and study I work with at UBC has collected some of the most granular and high-quality longitudinal data on my thesis topic anywhere in the world. Our group is interdisciplinary and highly collaborative, and a true joy to work alongside. And as a Vancouverite, I was able to stay in this world-class city.

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

The Experimental Medicine Program’s ability to work with people from many specialities and conduct interdisciplinary research is what made me feel that it would be the best fit for myself and my degree. The program’s broad range of faculty and students promotes learning and connections outside my specific area which is invaluable as a trainee scientist.

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

The best surprise for me as a graduate student at UBC has been realizing just how many world-class experts and opportunities are either right here or only an introduction away. Training at UBC affords connections to people and opportunities all around the world.

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

I worked as a hockey referee throughout my adolescence and early twenties. Officiating was an ongoing trial-by-fire exercise in clear and concise communication, adapting and problem-solving under stress, and time management. These skills have been invaluable during my time as a graduate student and are important to continue developing throughout my career.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I spend a pretty substantial amount of my downtime on my road bike. When not on the bike or in the lab I can also be found spending my time with a few different programs and organizations in the community.

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

Try to find the elusive balance of saying “yes” to as many opportunities as you can while still maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Take things seriously but don’t forget to enjoy your day-to-day, and always remember to keep the bigger picture in perspective. And be flexible! Work towards your goals but recognize that they rarely turn out to be exactly what you had originally envisioned (and almost always for the better).