Reflections from Amanda Raffoul

Extend your network beyond your bubble

Amanda Raffoul, an Alumni Gold Medal Finalist who graduated with a PhD in Public Health and Health Systems in fall 2020, says it was odd wrapping up her degree during a pandemic.

Amanda Raffoul.“I had to defend my thesis from home and missed out on saying goodbye to many of the people I’ve worked with over the past six years,” Raffoul says. “But one interesting turn of events is that so many of my family and friends have had their eyes opened to the importance of public health and finally seem to understand the work I do!”

For her doctoral work, Raffoul researched the potential unintended consequences of obesity prevention initiatives on weight-related attitudes and behaviours among young adults in Canada. Her supervisor was Sharon Kirkpatrick.

Besides being an Alumni Gold Medal Finalist – an award that recognizes exceptional achievement – she received several other awards during her studies: a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Graduate Scholarship, a student award from the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation, a Certificate in University Teaching Award from the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

“The best part of my degree was the wide variety of research and outreach experiences that I had the opportunity to get involved in,” Raffoul says. “I had freedom to explore different research topics through a variety of methods and disseminated my work through academic, government and community outlets.”

She volunteered with several organizations during her studies, including Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition, YWCA Cambridge, and on-campus groups like HeForShe AHS and The Body Project out of Counselling Services. She also launched the UW chapter of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) – Institute of Gender and Health Trainee Network, was the chair of the Obesity Canada – Students and New Professionals national executive and volunteered with the National Initiative for Eating Disorders.

“The experiences I had during my degree shaped the career that I see for myself in the future, and I wouldn’t have known what I liked or what I was good at if I hadn’t had those opportunities.”

Raffoul is now a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellow with the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital.

She says that when it comes to graduate work, it is important to “find the health topics you’re passionate about and to get involved with people working in the area. That could include finding researchers whose work is related to it, reaching out to non-profit organizations, or connecting with people who have lived experience.

“Some of the most fulfilling parts of my degree involved collaborations that I just ‘stumbled’ upon! Extending your network beyond your own personal bubble is a great way to get involved in new projects and meet people that shape your understanding of public health.”