Tell us a little about yourself, and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
I am originally from Toronto, Canada where I completed my undergraduate degree at McMaster University in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. I had always intended to go into medicine alongside many of my peers upon graduating, but my switch from wet-lab to health policy research in my third year made me realise how much more there was to learn, and how much more I wanted to learn, about upstream forces and social determinants of health. This led me across the pond to Kings College London, where I gained invaluable experience in studying for the MSc in Medicine, Health and Public Policy, making the rather rogue but enlightening shift from dementia research to biological weapons non-proliferation policy. The course also introduced me to medical anthropology, effectively leading me to the MPhil in Medical Anthropology at Oxford.
I feel very fortunate to have come across my current post; after a difficult year with COVID-19 and its related challenges, I was feeling pretty beat-down and unfulfilled. Of course, I love the university and it’s a privilege to get to transition from student to staff, but I was attracted to stay because of the project I’m working on and the vision my colleagues share re: health inequalities, participatory action research, and affecting systemic policy change via unorthodox, inclusive methods.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
Not to toot my team’s horn, but I do believe the Co-PACT study is doing something quite important in psychiatry and mental health research. Co-PACT is using Photovoice, a method that stems from visual anthropology and emphasises participants’ authority over their own experiences, as a policy-research tool that highlights service users’ lived experiences to inform and develop experience-based co-design workshops alongside staff and policymakers. These workshops are taking place across seven NHS trusts and will contribute towards the reform of the Mental Health Act in the UK to hopefully reduce ethnic inequalities.
It is rare for a multi-sited, national study to employ a relatively unconventional method and deeply collaborative design; beyond Photovoice, a member of the research team is a lived-experience expert who contributes equally to practical and analytical decisions made throughout the study. It is my hope, as well as the rest of the team, that more studies will adopt methods not typically deemed as robust or effective in fields long rooted in and governed by traditional positivist values of research. Who better to aptly represent and interpret existing experiences than those with lived experiences themselves?
What is currently at the top of your To-Do List?
Right now, I’m focused on liaising with the NHS trusts that I am overseeing to organise Photovoice workshops with service-users, as we hope to run three workshops at each of the seven localities prior to the new year. I also hope to stay on top of the relevant theoretical literature in preparation for data analysis once the workshops are complete, which is really exciting because we expect to encounter an abundance of rich, insightful data. This stage will also allow me to utilise and nourish the more critical side of my medical anthropology background.
How did you get to where you are today?
Although I believe there’s still a ways to go to get to where I hope to one day be, I am very much enjoying the life of a fresh graduate taking a much-needed interlude from the many more years of school planned ahead. I have always loved learning within an academic setting but being outside of the classroom and “in the field,” so to speak, has allowed me to learn so much more about my academic interests, research skills, as well as the importance of my health, of self-care, and of recognising my worth and capabilities.
I would be remiss to not mention the wonderful mentors I’ve been lucky enough to encounter in my brief career, both academically and personally. I am where I am today because of the care, belief, and inspiration they’ve all so graciously offered me, for which I will always be grateful. Of course, my family, friends, and partner have also played important roles, as their love, support, and silly antics keep me going through the highs and lows!
Who or what inspires you?
My family. I grew up in a big, tight-knit household with four grandparents who doted on me, aunts who cared for me, a younger brother who challenged me, and parents who often reminded me to not put so much pressure on myself. My parents are immigrants who have sacrificed a lot for me to have led the life I did and get to where I am. My mother, who is a chronic kidney disease patient and transplant recipient, has inspired me with her strength, and my father, who comes from an extremely humble background in the outskirts of Hong Kong, has inspired me with his grit and commitment to helping those in need.
I am also inspired by Dr Paul Farmer, one of my academic “heroes” and a fellow medical anthropologist whose work on health inequalities I deeply admire.
If you were not in your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
If asked this question pre-COVID-19, I would have quickly answered doing a DPhil, starting medical school or, if feeling particularly adventurous, switching career paths to become some type of writer or journalist. These past few years have since made me evermore aware of life’s vulnerability and unpredictability, a sentiment I’m sure is not unique to me. But now, if I was not in my current job, I think I would just want to take some time off to go home and spend quality time with my grandparents, taking them out for dim-sum whenever they’d like!