In this episode, Sujani sits down with Ama Kyeremeh, to speak about a day in the life of a public health research coordinator. Ama has worked in this role with an organization in British Columbia, Canada that focuses on women’s health. She takes us through how she became interested in the field, what a day looks like, and more.
- Ama’s journey into public health
- How Ama gained public health experience early on during her undergraduate degree
- What a day looks like for Ama, as an early public health research coordinator
- A discussion on being a realist when you ponder the question of whether you are contributing in a meaningful way through your work and are making an impact in the world
- Top practical skills to develop to excel in a public health research coordinator role, in addition to facilitation, communication, and negotiation
- Someone anticipating to get into this role should develop various writing skills, as well as project management
- The importance of networking for a role as a public health research coordinator, especially proactive networking
- The inspiration for Ama to pursue a career in public health: a beautiful story of her early school years in Ghana, and seeing public health interventions and educators in action
Ama Kyeremeh is a Research Coordinator with the Women’s Health Research Cluster at the University of British Columbia. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Biology and a Master of Public Health with a specialization in Population Health Science from Simon Fraser University. Ama has experience assisting and coordinating health projects related to Women’s Health, HIV/AIDS, Mental health and substance use. She is currently supporting various research initiatives and activities for the Women’s Health Research Cluster.
- The Malaria Free Future song Ama mentioned were public health interventions that were significant, as they involved school children in educating their communities. You can view it here: Malaria Free Future
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I grew up in Ghana. So this is in West Africa. And growing up, we had a lot of public health interventions around malaria or reproductive health and other infectious diseases in Ghana, and during in school, I remember when all those health educators will come to your classes and start teaching you about the different things, maybe hand washing or sanitation around malaria, and getting home and telling my father was like, “This is what we learned, this is what we can do to prevent getting malaria.”, and-
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.
Hey, Ama, welcome to PH SPOTlight. And thank you so much for taking the time on I think it’s a Friday evening to sit down and talk to me and the PH SPOT community.
Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited to be here. I’ve been listening to the podcast. So I’m very happy to.
And I think it’s awesome how we met because I think if our community members remember I did a quick call out to do a Vancouver meetup. And you were one of the individuals that came out and we actually got to see each other in person after being sort of virtually connected to the- through this community. So that was kind of amazing the way we met, and then we’ve connected online ever since. So thank you for coming out that day. Really. I think it was the highlight of my Vancouver trip for sure.
Even with the rain, yeah. Thank you for coming. Yeah, it was nice meeting you.
Yeah, I didn’t expect the rain. I think as much as like I knew how the temperature and I was watching that there was going to be rain in the forecast. I think it was surprised as to how much it rained throughout the week, I was there
Amazing. So I think I was telling you that we’re doing this series about a day in the life of a certain public health career. And since you’ve been a public health research coordinator for some time now, I thought it’d be amazing to have you on to really tell people what it is that this role entails. And for anyone that may be either entering public health or even, you know, considering switching their career within public health into becoming a public health research coordinator, we could help them understand exactly what this role looks like, within the context of of course, your work. So I was thinking maybe we could start by understanding the journey that you took to get into this field. So maybe you could walk us through the education you had and then how you entered into the field of public health research?
Oh, yes, I would love to. So I did my undergrad in biology and psychology at University in Peterborough, Ontario. I fell in love with psychology initial, my major was biochem that took a psych class and I loved it. So I decided to do a joint major in biology and psychology. And I decided with that to do a specialization in health sciences. So part of it was doing an internship in a community organization or government organization that is doing public health research or public health outreach, actually. And I ended up doing a one year internship at a committee aid resource organization. And I learned a lot from that organization at that time being in my third year. And that really strike solidified my plan for me to pursue a career combining what I’ve been learning either my biology degree and my psychology degree, but also with that experience working with women living with HIV in the community. So I decided to do a public health degree after that.
I think that’s a very good topic I’d like to talk to you a bit more about because a lot of undergrad students I’ve come across, they’re not able to obtain experience in the area of public health or public health research. So I’d be curious to know how you were able to get an experience like that, or an internship, being an undergrad because I’ve heard that it’s quite challenging to get relevant experience that are beyond.
Oh, yeah. So, started in for my program in particular, during this specific specialization, it was required for the internship. So mostly, when I was approaching organizations in the community, it was just, it’s part of my degree. And I’m open to learning everything and supporting the organization’s goals. So for me, I approached it in that sense. So I did a couple of interviews, and I got a call back from that particular eight results network. And my supervisor at the time was the Women’s Health, women in HIV Health Initiative coordinator. So just finding somebody who have the same values or the things that they’re doing in the community as to your interest also helps because for me, when I did the interview, they brought the coordinator in and just are you able to take this person under your wing to train them in what you’re doing here, because they have similar interests as you. So my work out that way that she was able to take me under her way.
And what- and what did like the work look like, early on in your career as a public health researcher within this organization?
So since it wasn’t a paid internship, mostly I was doing a lot of some of the admin work initially, then she decided to train me in harm reduction services. So I was able to be part of the organizations in around that. And also given me some of the studies that they were doing around women’s health and HIV to to assist with either coding or doing some basic data analysis on those. So the role sort of evolved. My, during my time there, so at the end of it, when I had to write my final report, I realized I have really learned a lot around criminal- criminalization in HIV and intimate partner violence, for women living with HIV, and even gender based violence, so and some of the lack of support services in the community. So I did learn a lot after that internship.
So then after I guess, you then graduated from Trent University, and then immediately went on to do a Master of Public Health at Simon Fraser University.
Okay. And then did you then decide that public health research or like a research coordinator, was the next step for you? Or did you have a bit of experimentation throughout your masters or even after your masters before you kind of landed in this role?
Oh, so at SFU, I also had the opportunity to do one of the parts of the program is a capstone project. And to do that, I did my practicum, at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV. And I wanted, I was working on a particular project around support services for women living with HIV in BC. And I fell in love with that research. And I wanted to explore more around sort of collaborative research in the community and community based participation research as well. So after my degree, I decided to explore more other research opportunities that wasn’t specifically active research. So I started looking for roles around project coordination or project assistance. And I think it was also, to be honest, a break for me because I didn’t take a break from my undergrad, my masters. So I wanted a break in some sense. So I looked for roles that will let me explore all the best the back end of research, actually, are the things that go around your social with grant writing and facilitating of the teams that come together to design research projects.
And so what does a day look like for you as a research coordinator now?
Oh, yeah, so for me, in this particular row, I coordinate a lot of what is disciplinary teams, so is very, is based at UBC. And it’s a lot of cross faculty members and also affiliate members in different institutions across BC and a few in other provinces as well. And day to day, because lots of emails and meeting facilitations and also planning, other research seminars, or research events, or trainee research days, or other mini research conferences that comes with that, too. And I sort of oversee, all the day to day planning for initiatives around the research cluster. So that includes grant writing and editing for funding, because we have to be very self sustainable. So I do a lot of grant writing, and editing, and organizing research teams that could come together to write those grants as well. And all bringing people together can collaborate on future research projects too.
Sounds like a lot of collaborative work, a lot of facilitating conversations, negotiating, would you say those are some of the top three skills that you had to develop to like excel in this role?
Very, everyday is very, very different. So you have to have a lot of time management, and also initiative in the sense that sometimes decisions are left hanging. So you have to make sure that you’re reaching out to members that is to come together to make a decision and making it very easy as much as possible for teams to come together. So working in interdisciplinary teams, you’re never going to get everybody in the same setting at the same time. So doing virtual meetings and virtual events for everybody to be included.
Would you say that you were already someone who was good at those things? Or is that something that you had to quickly learn?
I have had a little bit of experience doing that. So during my MPH supervisor, was very great at giving opportunities like that, though, I had the opportunity to plan if- as if he was very first Women’s Health Research Symposium. And while I was doing- so that was the second year of my MPH, and it was a very good experience. Again, bringing in different faculty members together and other members in the community as well, and leading the planning for the research symposium so including meetings to full team development, putting together abstracts for presentations, and coordinating meetings that customers need to before, during and after the planning, and also seen to the data- to the planning of the actual symposium. So it was a great experience, literally into that. So I had a little bit of background, sitting in the room with diverse bars of sort of stakeholders, pretty much.
It sounds like there’s a lot of challenges, right in a role where you’re constantly bringing people together, making sure projects are running smoothly. And would you say that that’s one of the biggest challenges of your work? Or do you have other challenges that you’re kind of facing on a daily basis with this role, that that maybe someone who’s considering this role should be prepared for or aware that these are some of the challenges that they can expect?
Also, I would definitely say interdisciplinary teams are working in that what is disciplinary setting can be a bit challenging, because you have, again, different faculty members or different researchers and trainees coming together. In this case, we all have the underlying goal of improving mental health outcome. But of course, we have people approaching it from very diverse disciplines. So that can be very challenging when you’re trying to bring all those voices together. So it’s just active listening and finding a common ground in knowing that underlying goal for the team together.
And do you feel that, as a research coordinator, you should also be sort of, are you also need to have the background of the technical side of the research or is that something that you feel that you can leverage some of the experts on the team for?
Well, I think it would be very helpful to know all of that. So I think mine in- in my case, having a background in public health really helped in public health. So my concentration was published in health science and you get to touch on so many different parts of the house, the policy, economics, the social determinants of health, the iostat, and epi. And so coming into a very multidisciplinary team that people come in from backgrounds in education, in the humanities, nursing, medicine, we have economics, all coming together, having that background is very helpful that I know, in maybe not to the fullest spec- stands on a default expertise in that, but having that background in facilitating those conversations does really help.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think someone might also be wondering, like, do you get to do actual research as well? And if you do, maybe you could speak to what you’ve done? Or maybe if you don’t, like do you miss getting like hands on research experience in your role?
So not active, sort of like collecting the data and putting all of that together and analyzing those data and writing the reports on it? I haven’t done those in yet since I took this role. What this particular research initiative is just bringing people who are doing those research together. So my kind of research that I’ve been doing is maybe we need a report on lack of funding for Women’s Health Research. So my- just with minimal research would include looking for studies that have touched on those who that lit reviews and analyzing those in writing that report around that. So it’s those type of research that I’ve been doing.
Okay. Do you think there’s something that you were mostly surprised by when you came into this role? Like, is there something that you’d want to give others interested in this role? Just a heads up as to what a day to day looks like within research coordinators role?
Oh, yes. So I can say every day is very different. You don’t get to do the same thing pretty much every day, depending on what the row looks like. So I would say, be in for a surprise, and just be willing to go along with the flow of what that might look like. Because maybe sometimes you might come in, and a new collaborator wants to be a part of your initiative or wants to work together. So that also throws up your day, you have to connect with that person have a lot of either conversations, or you’ve been talking to them on the phone, and also reaching out to so many different people, to bring them together as well. So I think it’s very dynamic. So I will say that it’s, for me, it’s never boring, that I get to do a lot of different things. So if I’m not working on a grand economic report for something else, or maybe a day, I may be organizing a research seminar. So it’ll be Monday will revolve around that as well. Or you might be working on the report after that funding, then as a capacity and other days is just also mediates as well. So either in person or virtual meetings, and there’ll be a lot of them be an expectation.
Were you surprised by how this role has played out? And how much sort of each day is different? Or was that something you were already kind of aware of because of the experience you had in undergrad or perhaps even in your masters?
Oh, what really surprised me for this, or maybe it shouldn’t have because how passionate everybody is, and in supporting basically the common goal in working together to get more funding to support women’s health research. So maybe it shouldn’t have come up as a surprise, but it’s very, it’s wonderful to be a part of that. For me it was something that’s because mostly you finish school or I finished my grad school and got a little jaded say, okay, so we all do this and we all really working towards policy to improve health outcomes for all, is this really possible, doable in the community and working in a very diverse team as it is, I realize everybody’s doing their own little bit to support people in the community and also improve outcomes for women. So I was what? Yeah, it’s wonderful to be a part of, and it was a surprise that it is indeed happening in some capacity.
I think that’s a question that comes up in a lot of people’s minds, regardless of the role, like how much impact am I really having? Right?
Yeah. And how do you go about that, like, when you- when you do feel, some days, I’m sure are much more challenging than other days? Do you get that question come up? And how do you address that question in your head?
For me, I see as stressed a little bit at a time. And yeah, can’t change the world, or we can make that policy decision happen rright this minute, and that it takes time. So be in a realist that way, and know that you need more information or do the research to support the work that you’re doing. So getting people together, that will also work together to make that research happen. Drives me really every day that we need those teams, we need those we’re interested in, we’re engaging people in the community to make that meaningful research happen, we need them together to keep going. So for me, that’s my main goals, just making sure that you’re doing in the different teams that could really help support these health outcomes.
Then we can shift gears a tiny bit, we talked about some of the skills that are important for our public health research coordinator. And maybe we can speak about that a little bit more. So you know, the facilitation, the negotiation, and absolutely, like communication is a big part of this role. Are there other sort of tangible things that you think someone could work on? If they’re anticipating a career as a research coordinator, or somewhere in that research field?
Well, certainly, I would say, writing and just specifically, maybe proposal writing or project, project management in that capacity. And also, grant writing.
-Was, yeah, so it’s something that I came into this role. And I knew little, of course, mostly undergrad, you’re already working with somebody who have the funds already. In masters again, I was working with somebody who already have their funding, so we don’t really get their experiences, unless you’re applying for a particular award, or, yeah, so grant writing was something that I came to this role and said, Oh, I need to know more. And so grant writing was very important for me.
And how did you get yourself like skilled in grant writing?
So I, there are quite a few courses that you can take as well. So I get take one of them for grant writing either, what you need to know before where you need to know during grant writing and the process after as well. So I took one of the courses on grant writing, and also talking to the grab facilitators in the department. So this in this case, was an academic institution. So having those department facilitators, help, was also great. So I can reach out to them, looking for funding opportunities and planning the writing photos because you have to plan it takes a lot of time for grants to maybe do is that thimble, that you got to start writing now. So now you might be late. So and making sure you know what have to go into the prep writing and all the resources and the documents and supporting supplemental materials that you need as well. So we rely on those craftest tutorials and the different departments went really helpful.
And you mentioned project management skills. Is that also something that you took courses in or had to read up on?
Yeah, so that one, basically was learning on the go. Because everything that you’re doing sort of sums up to be projects management in the university, right? So taking the actual form, of course. So I did the turn around where I was like I’m doing it, then it’s like, oh, there’s a course that explains what you’re doing. So taking that course, actually put everything into perspective in terms of the agenda planning for maybe a whole year for a cluster, you have to decline and all of that, and what we need to be doing our goals, the strategies that we have to get there, and the people that need to be involved and bring together so all of that around project management was very helpful.
Yeah, I think we all do project management one way or another. It’s just I think that knowing the principles, and having those in your back pocket makes that whole process a lot more efficient. Yeah. Okay, so we have grant writing, project management, do you think there’s other things that individuals can focus on in terms of just building up their skill set if they were aligning their career towards becoming a research coordinator.
I will also say, knowing the different projects that, so if there’s a particular area of research that you are interested in knowing the different components of that research, so all the different people that need to be included into that particular research, so maybe looking for women living with HIV coordination around the community members that need to be involved, that people actually living with HIV that needs to be involved, any government officials that needs to be involved in terms of policy and decision making, and other researchers that need to be involved. So knowing those key stakeholders in that particular area, can also be very helpful. If you’re looking into exploring public health coordinating.
Yeah, awesome. I think those are like really solid things that people can take back and work on to prep themselves up for a role as a research coordinator. So thank you for that, Ama. Okay, so I thought we could kind of wrap it up with your advice to someone WHO may be considering a role as a research coordinator, if you were to just give them a quick advice, what would it be?
My crooked advice, know the experts in the field. Because as a research coordinator, you- You meet a lot of different people. And so knowing those different aspects in the field that you’re in is also very good. So yeah, know, the aspects in the research area that you’re working in.
Yeah, I think, yeah, knowing experts in any of the fields that you’re interested in will really go a long way, in making your role so much easier. And I think it goes back to we chatted a bit about this, when we met about the second podcast episode of networking.
Yeah, networking, it really takes you far in your career. And you’re always networking and the more people that you can make connections with and build build meaningful relationships with, I think it really helps advance a lot of these public health projects that you may be passionate about.
Yeah, I will say that because, knowing those experts and also reaching out to different people, it really it’s very beneficial if you have a contact in a particular area, or if you know, somebody who’s doing similar things as you’re doing, to be able to reach out to them too.
And I guess, like when you’re in that role, you also have the role in the research project to leverage to say, hey, I’m doing X Y, Zed, I’d love to connect over what you’re working on. And it’s kind of a platform to further your networking. And have you done any of that? Or has it only been reaching out to individuals when it was needed for a certain project?
Oh, no. So that was a very important thing for me as well, because not just expanding research cluster in terms of the people who were in it, but also other community organizations that we could affiliate with. So for me, it was just maybe an email to somebody just we’re doing this do you want to collaborate? So there was a community organization here working around women in Postpartum Support Services, and I reach out to them say we are doing women’s health research we are touching on, resolve issues around whether it’s disease postpartum, perinatal mental health, and a lot of other issues facing women right now. So it’s the opportunity to work together. And they said, Yes, sure, When opportunity comes up, reach out to us. So UBC, how to- a small fund. It’s called a partnership recognition funds. So when the funding open up, I send it to that my contact to their agents to them, like I’ve only- you’ve only been in contact, I think this was April last year. And I’ve been in the room just briefly. So secondly, we’ve been connected, just briefly, but we have this opportunity here. So if you want to work on it together, I’m happy to get in touch with somebody who’s hoping to move forward with it. And yeah, they’re connected me with one of their service providers and community support members. And we worked on it, we apply for the grant, we got the little fund. And just last month, we organized two community workshops around perinatal mental health support services for LGBTQ plus parents in Vancouver. So that was a way to guess, send an email and just hope for the best.
Yeah, no, that’s proactive networking. It’s really about, you know, sowing the seeds early on. And it’ll bloom into like, beautiful partnership later on just the way you explained. So I’m all for networking. And I tried to push anyone and everyone I know, just to be very proactive. So that’s good to hear that that’s also another skill that folks can practice, even now.
All right. So I guess the other question I had for you, and you sort of talked about it, in the beginning was around like the inspiration for you to pursue a career in public health research. And you mentioned, when you were an undergrad, you were sort of inspired by that experience you had. Were there other experiences that inspired you to really, you know, tackle a career as a public health research coordinator?
Oh, yeah. I think I have always been interested in public health without actually knowing it. I grew up in Ghana. So this is in West Africa. And growing up, we had a lot of public health interventions around malaria or reproductive health and other infectious diseases in Ghana, and during in school, I remember when all those health educators will come to your classes and start teaching you about the different things maybe hand washing or sanitation, around malaria and getting home and tell him my father said, “This is what we learned. This is what we can do to prevent getting malaria and they have a little song.”, a public health education song that the kids were saying, and looking back now, that was a great intervention because they were reaching out to kids to release, bring the education back to families. And I think just being very, like proactive and being involved in an education like that, I really loved it. I wrote particularly around reproductive health. So for me, I think that’s where it all started for me. So I wanted to do public health but again for women’s health and women’s reproductive rights as well.
Oh, that’s such a really nice story. So happy you’ve told me that.
Yeah, the malaria song is great, so popular.
You’ll have to find that song and share it with us. We’ll have to link it in the show notes or something.