One of the School of Population and Public Health’s greatest assets is the people that support important research and facilitate the education of health leaders. In this new series, we will be featuring some of our incredible staff so you can get to know them better and learn about their impressive backgrounds.
Elizabeth Samuels, SPPH’s Communications Specialist, tells stories about the people and research that sets SPPH apart. Day to day, she interviews researchers, students and staff to write profiles, stories and posts on their work. She brings forward the achievements of the SPPH community to the public. When she’s not working, she enjoys running marathons and local trails with her husband.
What attracted you to work for SPPH?
During my Bachelor of Science in Biology at UBC, I took several courses at SPPH as electives. Seeing the wide range of interdisciplinary research and caliber of work being conducted at the School inspired me to apply to work part-time while I finished my degree. I was thrilled to stay on after graduation and now to continue working through my graduate degree in the MSc program.
How would you describe your role? What is your favourite part? What is the most challenging part or something new you have had to learn?
As a Communications Specialist, my job is to tell the stories of the people and research that set our School apart, and to expand the audience who is aware of our impact. Day to day, I interview researchers, students and staff and write profiles of their work, prepare and distribute the newsletter, manage some of our social media channels, and work with the administration on strategic initiatives.
My favourite part of my job is learning about emerging research from incredible faculty members and graduate students, many of whom are world leaders in their fields, and present it in a way that is accessible and compelling. The most challenging part, however, is having to choose which stories to write with the limited amount of time I have as part-time staff.
What did you do before you joined SPPH?
My path to public health was a bit unusual. In high school, I started working for my Member of Parliament, motivated by the potential for public policy to improve the lives of so many. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts from Queen’s University in Political Studies and worked throughout my degree on Parliament Hill. After graduation I worked as a campaign consultant and for two provincial governments, including as a speechwriter in the Cabinet Office in New Brunswick. In these roles, writing about policy challenges made me want to research the underlying causes of health inequity and advocate for solutions. After completing a second undergraduate degree in Biology at UBC, both working and studying at SPPH felt like a natural fit because of the School’s focus on the social determinants of health and interdisciplinary culture.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to run. Pre-COVID I focused on the half marathon distance, but recently I have been enjoying shorter distances in the local trails with my husband.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by the many incredible women in my life! My mother, a Professor and cell biologist, has always been a role model for me of how to lead from a place of empathy. She has very high standards but is collaborative and kind in how she injects those values into her research, teaching, and life. My mother-in-law is also very inspiring to me in demonstrating how a great sense of humour and relentlessly positive attitude are an asset to any type of work – including, in her case – serious journalistic coverage of global conflicts and difficult domestic issues.
What is the best book you have ever read?
It’s so difficult to pick just one! Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is definitely in the top books I have ever read. The next book on my reading list is Missing in the Village by Justin Ling, which investigates how structural racism and homophobia contributed to delays in solving the cases of missing men in Toronto’s gay village.
I also indulge in some lighter fiction (especially necessary in a pandemic), but the books that have had the greatest impact on me are about the lives of real people and the structural challenges we all have a responsibility to address.
What’s one thing on your bucket list?
The top of my bucket list is trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. I grew up hiking in B.C. and got my first taste of trekking while on exchange at Fudan University in Shanghai, where I spent the Golden Week holiday trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province. I’ve had the trekking bug ever since!
What has your experience with research and education been like?
My BA taught me a lot about the history of colonialism, power imbalance, and the long-term consequences of structural inequity. I also credit my education at Queen’s with strengthening my qualitative research and writing ability. Then during my BSc, I had the opportunity to learn more about biological systems. I also spent three years in a plant physiology lab where I gained invaluable hands-on experience in different types of microscopy, genetic cloning and molecular biology. Now I’m applying by background in genetics to my graduate thesis work, and using my understanding of biological systems, political institutions, and policy to communicate emerging research.