Experiencing GRADtalks through a kindred spirit’s eyes

Kaylen Pfisterer and Samantha Biglieri

Who are we?

We are Kaylen Pfisterer and Samantha Biglieri, PhD students at the University of Waterloo. While we come from different disciplines – Systems Design Engineering and Planning – and are interested in different system boundaries – the food plate and the city – what brought us together is our passion and dedication to supporting health, aging and wellbeing through creative approaches.

Why did you apply to Grad Talks?

Kaylen: One thing I’m most passionate about is breaking down silos. Through my previous work experience as the glue between researchers and participants, I had the unique opportunity to see how different communication styles affected the success or struggles of research projects. The particularly successful ones engaged all parties, and listened to one another. I believe that collaboration drives the most meaningful innovation. Collaborative learning and bringing research to life is why I get out of bed. GRADtalks was the perfect forum to have a lively discussion from complementary perspectives where we could focus on the “so what” of what we do.

Samantha: I remember seeing the poster to participate in GRADtalks and thought to myself, “Nah, my work is probably too removed from what they are thinking of.” Then I got an email from a classmate of mine, urging me to apply. Her rationale? Exactly the reason I had used for not applying. I was bolstered by her confidence in me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that GRADtalks was the ideal venue for research like mine. In order to address big picture issues like inequity in access in our cities and stigma surrounding living with dementia we as researchers have to think beyond disciplinary boundaries and reach out to collaborate with community members, practitioners and other disciplines. GRADtalks was an opportunity to share this vision of meaningful collaboration and discussion.

Things We Got to Share

  • Our knowledge and passion: A lot of our time as PhD students is spent in a lab or office, usually toiling away by yourself. Being alone makes it rather easy to doubt yourself, which can be incredibly debilitating. Being selected for GRADtalks was a wonderful recognition that the work we are doing is important. Our research is important not only to older adults and to our respective fields, but it is important research to UW and the greater community. GRADtalks allowed us to share our knowledge and passion and not only get constructive feedback, but be inspired to keep on keeping on.
  • Our time back to the community: Often, we feel like there’s so much as students we get from our supervisors and communities. We’re constantly asking for resources. It was an incredibly empowering feeling to be able to contribute back by presenting at GRADtalks in an environment full of enthusiasm for the topic.

Things We Gained

  • A new friend! It’s not every day that you get to meet someone who sees the world through similar eyes, but arrived there from a completely different journey. Because we are in different faculties and programs, without GRADtalks, we may not have met. This would have been so sad, since finding kindred spirits is hard and you need to hang onto them when you meet one!
  • We finally feel like we fit in! We’ve both often been on the outside of our circles academically because of our unique age-focused/user focussed lens. Finally we were able to present in a forum that was designed especially for these types of interactions where our unique perspectives were celebrated and encouraged. We were able to receive validation for the approach we are taking from ourselves, the organizers and the UW community. This venue provided the opportunity to be able to see our projects through others' eyes and also having others see additional synergies that we may not have seen otherwise.

Kaylen Pfisterer and Samantha Biglieri at GRADtalks

Kaylen Pfisterer and Samantha Biglieri: "it was an absolute privilege to get to introduce each other as kindred spirits".

You're probably wondering about our title - why are we, as Anne of Green Gables would say, kindred spirits? When we were selected for GRADtalks we did not even know of each other’s existence, but were encouraged us to get to know each other in order to do introductions for one another before the event. We went for coffee, and ended up pouring our hearts out. Yes, we do different types of research, but we share the same outlook - the desire to work with older adults to support their wellbeing as they age. We bragged about each other to our families and friends, and when the event finally rolled around, it was an absolute privilege to get to introduce each other as kindred spirits.

In closing, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the fantastic people who made this event happen, including the GRADtalks team (Dr. Jeff Casello, Dr. Simron Singh, Marta Bailey and Tasha Glover), our supervisors (Dr. Jennifer Dean and Dr. Alexander Wong), and of course, our family and friends who have been through this whole journey with us. We couldn't have done it without you!

Kaylen Pfisterer is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Systems Design Engineering, Faculty of Engineering. Her research focuses on an innovative solution to calculate nutrition intake for experts to monitor and deliver better care to older adults.

Samantha Biglieri is a PhD Candidate in the School of Planning, Faculty of Environment. Her research focuses on understanding the experiences of older adults in their neighbourhoods to design more inclusive, supportive cities that enhance wellbeing. 

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