Developing an interest in research studies

A photo of Rachel hooking wires on a person at her workplace. Rachel Almaw, a fourth-year Health Studies student, shares what it has been like working with Dr. Monica Maly in the Mobilize Clinical Biomechanics Lab during her second co-op term!

Rachel is currently in her 4A term in the Honours Health Studies co-op program with a minor in Gerontology. She has been working at the lab for two co-op terms and will be returning to the lab for her third and final co-op term. 

What are your responsibilities in the workplace and what does your work entail?

During my time in the lab, my responsibilities have included developing and securing ethics approval to conduct a qualitative study and beginning the data collection by conducting interviews. In addition, I’ve also conducted literature reviews, manuscript preparation and contributed to systematic reviews/scoping reviews.

What has been the highlight of your current work term?

The highlights of my current work term have been:

  1. Leading a qualitative study exploring the experience and impacts of osteoarthritis-related pain amongst Black and white Canadians and how it affects physical activity and day-to-day life. Studies have found that Black people experience more osteoarthritis-related pain but are not well represented in research. By collecting information on these experiences, we hope to help improve the representation of Black people and their experiences in osteoarthritis research.
  2. Presenting my research findings to a group at Stanford University.
  3. Contributing to a scoping review that was accepted as a poster presentation at an international meeting (Osteoarthritis Research Symposium International, Berlin 2022) that is currently in the process of being published!

How do you think this experience and/or your previous co-ops have helped you develop yourself?

I think this experience has helped me become more confident in myself and my capabilities. Prior to co-op, I was the type of person to brush over accomplishments and be my own worst critic – which is never a fun time. However, after a few work terms and great achievements, I’ve found that wasting mental energy on criticizing your every action takes away from the passion that got you to that place and shifts your focus away from your goals and what you should be celebrating.

I now remind myself of this regularly: You worked hard to get to this point (whatever/wherever that might be), which is so very deserving of a celebration or two!

I’d also say that the co-op experience has allowed me to develop a newfound passion for research, especially at the intersection of race, health and marginalized identities. I’d never thought much of pursuing a future in research since my understanding of the field was limited to research-based assignments in class. But, thanks to the incredible lab I’ve been able to work with and the amazing experiences I’ve had, I’d like to continue researching the intersection of race, health and marginalized identities, especially among Black people, and advocate for those around me.

How did you overcome challenges during this work term and/or previous ones?

Imposter syndrome was something that has challenged me throughout my time with the lab and my advice for that is to just approach the process with an open mind. Things may seem super tedious or way out of your scope, but that should never stop you from trying your best at whatever’s in front of you. And even when things get tricky there is help all around you.

I was lucky enough to work alongside a lab full of incredible people and am forever grateful for all the advice they provided. Research takes time but be sure to trust yourself and trust the process. You made it this far and that’s a huge feat in and of itself.