Jens developed a potential new therapy for inflammatory bowel disease. He now engages with patients and their caregivers to understand perspectives towards this therapeutic approach. Jens strongly believes that research should be conducted in liaison with key stakeholders to ensure that their research needs are addressed and progress is communicated.

 
Theodore Steiner
Freiburg
Germany
UBC Public Scholars Award
Jens Vent-Schmidt
 

Research Description

Canada has among the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a group of chronic inflammatory condition of the intestines, globally. Current therapies control symptoms, have many side effects and do not provide a cure. I developed a potential therapy which involves genetic modification of anti-inflammatory immune cells to recognize bacterial aspects present in the inflamed gut. Currently, this therapy is validated in the laboratory. As a PSI, I aim to understand the willingness and perspective of people living with IBD, and their caregivers, to accept this new therapy. Through an online survey, I will ask respondents how likely they would accept this therapy at different stages of disease. To learn about the impact IBD medication has on people’s lives, and to ensure the questions convey the intended meaning, I will conduct iterative focus groups. This research will lay the foundation for ongoing patient involvement and increase public awareness of IBD through different publications.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

As Public Scholar, I formally commit to pursuing research for the public good. This includes two-way communication between members of the public and scientists. Understanding, and enacting, research and educational needs of the public is key to maintain trust and integrity in the sciences. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in distrust towards the sciences. My intention as Public Scholar is to be part of a network that works to actively reverse this trend and to reinstall trust in scientific discovery and reasoning.

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

Traditionally, a PhD in my field includes several years of working in a laboratory and publishing peer-reviewed articles, followed by a defense. There is little to no space and appreciation for interaction with members of the community and for teaching. I have a deep passion for both and am grateful to PSI for providing me the framework through which I can include my passion for community engagement and communication as part of my PhD experience. I am now able to personalize my PhD experience to prepare me for my career goals.

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

Traditionally, a PhD prepares graduates to pursue an academic career and become a professor. However, these positions are rare and the number of PhD graduates has increased. This led to competition at the cost of aspects I care about, such as public scholarship. The career marked is broader and more focused on non-traditional careers. The PSI allows me to use my PhD as leverage to gain necessary skills during my PhD that will position me ideally for my career path. I aim to pursue a career that includes teaching, communication and research components. Through the PSI, I have the opportunity to learn qualitative research skills such as conducting focus groups and mixed method research skills, such as developing and analyzing surveys. I will connect with members of the public and broaden my network beyond academia and the biotech industry. I work towards becoming a Professor of Teaching. In this position, I will instruct scientific knowledge and use my research skills to advance the quality of higher education in an evidence-based manner.

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

In Canada, we have a large community of people affected by inflammatory bowel disease. I have partnered with the Gastrointestinal Society to engage the community in therapeutic development. Understanding perspectives of people living with a disease highlights their wishes and concerns. Only when we know these, we can work together with the public to ensure that all concerns are addressed before a new therapy hits the market.

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

For my research, I define “the public” as people living with inflammatory bowel disease and everyone affected by this circumstance. Through focus groups and survey, I will provide space to make their voices heard and valued. After analyzing insights, I will publish my findings to community and peers. Future contributions may include development of educational material based on assessed needs, rather than based only on assumptions made by the scientific community.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I pursued my M.Sc. equivalent in Biochemistry in Germany and noticed that only PhD students were allowed to instruct courses and TA. With my aim to instruct at a higher education institution, I knew I needed teaching experience. I also wanted to conduct translational research and engage in knowledge mobilization and science communication.

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

I chose UBC for its reputation, its location between mountains and sea, and the recreational clubs through which I go mountaineering and scuba diving. Once here, I created opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge that originally motivated me to pursue a PhD. I facilitate instructional skills through UBC’s CTLT, I TAd and guest lectured through diverse departments and, funded through the PSI, I have initiated a knowledge mobilization project based on my previous PhD research.

 

I have a deep passion for both interacting with members of the community and for teaching. I am grateful to the PSI for providing me the framework through which I can include my passion for community engagement and communication as part of my PhD experience.