Heather O'Brien

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

user engagement
user experience
community engagement
information seeking and retrieval
information access
cognitive processes related to information searching and evaluation
health technologies

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.

Research Methodology

questionnaire development and evaluation
search behaviour
User-centred Design

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Heather O'Brien always makes time in her schedule for students. The best thing about her: she views our mistakes as opportunities to teach us something new. She's always positive about our work and ideas. I'm so grateful to have such an incredible advocate. #greatsupervisor #UBC


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Viewing immigrant labour integration through an intersectional lens: information and identity in the settlement of African immigrants to Metro Vancouver, British Columbia (2020)

Background: Many immigrants arrive in Canada in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their families. Securing meaningful employment positions immigrants to have a meaningful quality of life and contribute to the host countries’ society and economy. Access to information about employment is crucial to this process and yet inadequately understood. Objectives: This research sought to determine the kinds of information that African immigrants value when seeking meaningful employment, how they access employment information, what information services are available to support immigrant labour integration, how participants utilized these and how these services could be enhanced, and finally, any relationships among participants’ multifaceted identities, information and employment.Methods: Data were collected through qualitative document analysis of information presented on the websites of settlement and employment agencies in five Metro Vancouver cities, and semi-structured interviews with 25 Black African immigrants in Metro Vancouver. The interview incorporated Information World Mapping, an arts-based elicitation activity. Data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.Results: The document analysis revealed an abundance of employment support being offered to immigrants. However, the interviews revealed that participants utilized only a few of these. The interviews also explained this gap and highlighted opportunities for providing information that participants deemed more relevant to them. Participants valued three types of employment information and obtained these both serendipitously and purposefully through a variety of information sources. Sources of information included institutions in Canada, online sources and other people. Participants’ pre-migration employment expectations contrasted with realities in Canada, while intersectional factors such as immigration status and gender were found to be major determinants of employment and information access. Conclusion: This research has made contributions to theory, research methods and the practice of information provision. This project also demonstrates the generative capacity of a novel research method for this type of inquiry and population. This has led to significant methodological insights. Finally, results of the study suggest that employment information provision that accounts for the intersectional identities of the recipients could be valuable in making support more relevant for immigrants. Future research could explore the dynamics of such intersectional information provision.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

A systematic review of mindfulness mobile apps: considering content quality and user engagement elements (2021)

No abstract available.

The impact of task type and domain expertise on information searching behaviours in a full text digital (2020)

No abstract available.

Transgender information seeking: a collaborative approach to supporting the information needs of transgender people (2020)

No abstract available.

Using Japanese sources for academic research: information-seeking behaviours of graduate students (2020)

No abstract available.

Exploring the information contexts of young fathers in two British Columbian cities (2018)

No abstract available.

The design process: designing information technology for the public sphere (2010)

No abstract available.



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