Rising to the challenge
Ken Tran, a PhD graduand from the School of Public Health and Health Systems, was one of the students who had to defend his dissertation remotely in July. He wasn’t the first to do so, but there was still uncertainty about how graduate students could accomplish what they needed to in order to graduate.
“In the past few months, it was not clear that I would graduate because I was physically cut off from the support system and people that I needed for my research,” says Tran. “But I am grateful to John Hirdes, my supervisor, and staff at the University for rising to the challenge to make sure standard protocols were changed to accommodate remote learning and defenses.”
While pursuing his degree, Tran worked at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Waterloo Wellington. “My job was to conduct high-priority projects for the organization,” he says. “For example, in response to COVID-19, I helped design tools to assess and measure outcomes specific for mental health services tailored to serve the front-line health care workforce.” His dissertation was informed by his real-world experience, which aimed to predict health-care resource use of readily available clinical data from across different mental health care settings.
This work contributed to the understanding of resource use patterns of community mental health services, making health-care funding reform in Ontario and Canada one step closer to reality.
One of the things Tran liked most about his studies was connecting with “the caring people from the program and beyond who were genuinely interested in my learning and growth.” He also appreciated being able to pursue his research without fear of financial hardship. “For that, I have the Government of Ontario and University of Waterloo to thank for providing me with a full scholarship.”
Being successful in graduate studies can be challenging at the best of times, but during a pandemic, it takes even more resilience and resourcefulness to overcome new hurdles. Tran says, “Working on your thesis can be a lonely process, often without sight of the finish line. You may find your journey much more fun if you are willing to be there for your peers. Small acts like proofreading their drafts or listening to their practice presentations are ways you can make sure everyone can cross the finish line.”