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Dan Kim

Dan Kim | Master of Science

Who is Dan?

My name is Dan and I’m a student in the MSc program at UBC SPPH. Before this, I also attended UBC for my undergraduate degree, where I got an honours in Sociology. In terms of my career path, I would like to work on policies that can benefit and meet both the needs of society as a whole and of individuals within that society. This will require a skillset that can approach policy through a careful and balanced perspective in order to minimize unintended consequences. So, I still have lots to learn, but the MSc program at SPPH seemed well-suited to help me build and grow the skills needed to reach my goals. In my spare time, I like hanging out with friends, learning and trying new things, and staying physically active.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m constantly amazed by the efforts of all our healthcare workers who have been working hard on the front lines, often putting the needs of others before their own safety and well-being. On the other hand, I’m inspired by the public’s ability to respond so quickly and mobilize collectively in the wake of a global emergency, such as this one. This includes all the essential workers who have also been risking their health to offer the services that have kept the world moving during these times. These are challenging times, but seeing what we can do when we all come together gives me hope for the potential changes we can create in the future.

How did you learn about the MSc Program at SPPH?

During my undergraduate degree, we spent a lot of time exploring the impacts of social determinants (e.g., level of education, area of residence, etc.) on different issues, such as inequities in health. Here, I was especially interested in medical sociology, where we focused on health-related outcomes. The MSc program at SPPH seemed to be the natural progression for me, where I could expand on my knowledge in medical sociology but from the perspective of public health and epidemiology.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve got the chance to work for my supervisor, Dr. Craig Mitton, at the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation (C2E2). Here, I help out with some of the ongoing projects, where I’ve been involved with systematic reviews, stakeholder engagement interviews, and drafting reports. The team that I belong to at C2E2 produces health technology assessments (i.e., comparing different health interventions for their cost-effectiveness to help inform decision-making) for organizations such as the BC Ministry of Health. In terms of my school projects, I’m currently working on my thesis.

For my thesis, I’m exploring different options for a daily universal meal program in a school setting, before then modelling how much some of these options would cost in the context of BC public schools. This project involves a systematic review to explore the existing meal program options, a costing exercise to estimate the potential cost of operating some of these options in BC public schools, and then interviews with stakeholders to provide more context and insights.

Can you tell us about a course at SPPH (or UBC) that challenged you to step outside your comfort zone?

In my first year at SPPH, there were two statistics courses that we took back-to-back over the two terms, and they were probably the most challenging so far. Mostly, trying to learn statistics in an online setting was a bit tricky, but many of us in the MSc program were in those courses together and we often helped one another, which helped build up some connections within our program when everything was still fully online. The most important lesson I got from statistics is the fact that numbers and datasets can be manipulated and presented in different ways to produce completely different narratives, which is really something to consider when being presented statistical information.

Your thoughts on the qualitative versus quantitative debate?

I’m a strong believer in a mixed-methods approach. For my undergraduate thesis, I analyzed qualitative interviews, where I discovered the value of providing depth to personal and human experiences when presenting evidence. On the flip side, I’m now diving into quantitative work, which appears to be very valuable when it comes to informing policy decision-making. It’s hard to say that one is better than the other, but I do think there are instances in which you need one over the other. Ultimately, I believe that integrating both qualitative and quantitative evidence provides a more complete picture in research.

What is something you wish more people knew about your area of study? 

I want to highlight the fact that public health is such a multidisciplinary field. Here, there are experts from all different backgrounds who come together and make their contributions. Since public health focuses not only on short-term individual health but on population-level health over a range of time frames, there is a lot of variety in the research that comes out of this area of study.

What are you most proud of about your time at UBC?

Once it’s finished, my thesis will definitely be my proudest accomplishment at UBC. I’ve spent more time on this thesis than on any other project, so it’ll be rewarding to finally have it completed and submitted.

How do you define success?

Of course, success can mean different things for different people. Personally, I like to define success as having a positive impact on my surroundings. It’s a simple but flexible idea, because you can apply this mindset to different aspects of life, so trying your best to make some positive and meaningful changes is the definition of success that I want to work with.

Can you expand on what you mean by ‘meaningful change’?

To expand on what I mean, it comes down to whether the individual who is being affected by a certain change views that change as positive and meaningful. My choice of the word meaningful is purposefully subjective, so that people can make that decision for themselves.

For example, if I think about the impact that my research on school meals might have, it could potentially inform policy decisions that have actual effects on children attending public schools in BC. In this case, it’s these children who are affected by these changes and I believe my definition of success relies on the feedback from these individuals on whether these changes were ‘meaningful’ or not.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in your field of study?

SPPH is an environment that often encourages people from multidisciplinary backgrounds to work collaboratively toward a common goal, so there is a role for everybody. Regardless of the background you might have, there are opportunities to enhance your existing skills and to pick up new ones. Since SPPH is so dynamic and encompasses a wide range of research, my best piece of advice is to reach out to some faculty members you might be interested in working with and to meet with them (in person or over Zoom) to determine personal and research compatibility. If you plan on writing a thesis, you’ll want to make sure you are interested in that topic first.

What’s been your favourite part of your journey at UBC?

By far, my favourite part about UBC has been making friends and meeting new people – whether it be in class or in extracurricular settings. The social aspect of campus life is what I’ll remember the most when I think about UBC in the future.


To read more stories, please visit: https://www.spph.ubc.ca/student-profile-miniseries

Published on February 2022. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This interview was coordinated by Ariana Choi.