Dr. Hector Perez on Innovating Interdisciplinary Research

Saturday, June 11, 2022
by Sid Heeg

It’s hard not to feel like Dr. Hector Perez has already done it all. Before coming to Waterloo, Dr. Perez held positions as a research assistant at the Mathematics Research Centre (Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas) in Mexico, then as a project manager, and later as executive assistant to the Vice-President of Administration and Finance at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico. He has travelled extensively (often teaching wherever he goes) and speaks five languages, in addition to understanding a few more. His range of skills, varies experience, and globetrotting adventures before finally bringing him to Waterloo, so how did he end up at the Games Institute (GI) studying games?

Despite not having worked with games before, Dr. Perez has the makeup of a classic GI researcher. He is someone who finds themselves constantly moving to different areas and fields of research in pursuit of furthering his values and understanding of his research in social responsibility and sustainability—regardless of discipline. While Dr. Perezs Bachelor degree was in Industrial Relations; his Master’s degree was in Business Administration and Management; and finally, his PhD was in Strategy Planning and Technology Management at La Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). And even after all this, one of his first postdoctoral research positions ended up being in health. So how did he manage this switch as someone with a background in administration and management?

His first experience with health based research was while he worked at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, under the scientific supervision of Dr. Francisco Lopez. He first became interested in moving to Canada when doing research at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto where he performed Interviews with health informatics experts supported by Dr. Audrey Laporte and Dr. Julia Zarb and Sick Kids in Toronto in 2019. This was when he quit his job in Mexico and began applying to postdocs in Canada, as he was especially interested in anything that would let him get back to teaching. 

This wide range of diverse research backgrounds eventually brought him to Waterloo to work with Drs. Lili Liu (GI member and Dean of the Faculty of Health) and Antonio Miguel-Cruz. Dr. Perez explained that he “is always shifting” and feels he fits in with the GI as “we are hyperactive people here!” He was able to continue his foray into health based research by becoming a member of the Aging and Innovation Research Program at the University of Waterloo in collaboration with AGE-WELL.

Since joining the GI, Dr. Perez feels that he has benefited massively and is learning about other research in games and interactive technologies saying, “to my surprise, I’m not just learning about games, I’m learning a bunch of stuff that I didn’t imagine!” A lot of this learning he credits with making connections with former GI postdoc Dr. John Muñoz who is “now like my mentor.”

Dr. Perez is especially interested in how to make training and teaching interactive and meaningful as well as accessible. This is something he is considering a lot as he works with First Nations communities in Quebec such as the Mohawk Council of Kahnawá:ke and the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. He explains that with GI Seed funding, “I am exploring how we can make the interactive elements more accessible.” Dr. Perez hopes to further develop training materials used for Indigenous First Responders so that they can better respond to missing persons living with dementia.

With this support from the GI in the form of both monetary support and community collaboration, Dr. Perez expresses enjoyment in working at the GI because “research interests change, but values don’t” and he enjoys working with other researchers who share his values for “creativity and real interdisciplinary work.” 

Dr. Perez concludes by saying that working at the GI is unique because “what Dr. Randall has done here is like a secret recipe. You can see the research. Something is cooking, and you can smell it,” which is why “every university should have a Games Institute!”