I’m a researcher, why do I blog? / Je suis un chercheur, qu’est-ce que je fais ici à bloguer?

Will Gage, Associate Dean, Research & Innovation, Faculty of Health, York University

This week’s blog post is a guest post from Dr. Will Gage. Dr. Gage is the Associate Dean, Research & Innovation in the Faculty of Health at York University the owner of the blog Don’t Fall, which shares on falls prevention research and expertise.

Le billet de cette semaine est signé par un blogueur invité, le docteur Will Gage. M. Gage est vice-doyen à la recherche et à l’innovation à la Faculté des soins de santé de l’Université York. Son cybercarnet intitulé Don’t Fall aborde des questions de recherche et d’expertise dans le domaine de la prévention des chutes.

Dr. Will Gage

Dr. Will Gage

Six months ago I really didn’t even know what “blogging” was. I’d never read a blog. I knew only one person who blogged – my friend Matt, a photographer who was taking pictures of and writing about the Grand River in Kitchener-Waterloo. I recall from last summer a conversation with Matt about social media. What is this? Why do you “tweet”? Isn’t this a waste of time? He looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t understand, I didn’t get social media, and from my perspective he was the crazy one. How things for me have changed.

Almost two years ago, I took up my current academic appointment as Associate Dean Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Health at York University. At that time I set about trying to have conversations with people across campus, about innovation. I’m a researcher myself, so the “research” part of the title was self-evident. But innovation, this was going to be a challenge. In my conversations, and in my reading on the topic (as any academic would, I attempted to gain a theoretical mastery of the topic while garnering no actual practical ability), I quickly realized that no two people had the same definition of “innovation”. Then I realized that no two industries seem to have the same definition of innovation. But this is a topic of conversation for another day. In these conversations and readings I kept coming across “social media” as an opportunity for academics to share the gospel of their research. Is that how researchers see their work? As gospel? So it was time for me to learn more. Maybe I was the crazy one, not Matt.

David and Michael really introduced me to the idea of academics blogging about their work for the sake of knowledge mobilization. They opened my eyes to the possibilities afforded by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. I realized that this is innovation, at least by one definition of innovation. Academics can tell the story of their research and share their knowledge with everyone. Okay, it can be done. But why would anyone do this? People are more often than we’d like to believe guided by WIIFM – what’s in it for me? I don’t believe that the answer is self-evident to most researchers. But having said that, the research funding agencies want to know that we can, and do, translate our knowledge and disseminate it for public consumption, so maybe at the very least writing a blog helps a researcher to hone those lesser used skills around lay writing. But in my opinion this is not a compelling reason to write a blog.

I believe that a more compelling reason to write a blog is money. The Benjamins. (Do we Canadians say “The Bordens”? I’ve never heard that phrase used in bank heist movie). Not personal wealth, though that’s not off the table. No, I’m talking about research funding. I’m talking a little bit about peer-reviewed research funding – the Tri-councils and so on – but I’m mostly talking about donor funding. This is a conversation that I’m having with the Advancement Officer in Faculty of Health – can the stories that I’m writing on my blog be useful for informing potential donors about the value of my work, and the work of my colleagues in the field, such that it might make it easier to separate the donor from their dollars?

Dontfall.caWhat I’m writing on my blog are indeed stories. If I’m writing about knee replacement surgery and how the patient demographics are shifting and patients are getting younger and younger around the world (this is actually the topic of the blog post that I’m writing currently), well this can be intensely personal for the reader with severe knee arthritis who thinks she’ll have to live for the next 15 years with excruciating pain because she’s only 50 years right now. Who doesn’t know an older person who has fallen in the past year? If you have anyone over 65 years of age in your life, you probably do, even if you don’t realize it and they haven’t told you. Can this be an effective means to tell the public about our work? Can the material we write for our blogs prove valuable in the constant campaign to raise funding to support research? I think it can. I’m building a library of accessible material that can be repurposed for any number of reasons, one of which may be fundraising efforts.

I’ve come to learn that there are many reasons to adopt a social media strategy for disseminating your research. Thought-leaders like David and Michael have known this for years, I know. And one at a time, they’re converting people like me. I hope that you can take away from this article some ideas and rationale for dedicating some of your time to, perhaps, blogging about your work.

One last thought … as researchers we’re often confronted with collegial (and sometimes not so collegial) criticism pertaining to our work. My blog audience is grateful for the time I take and effort I devote. Their feedback is amazing. Invigorating. And when it follows on the heels of excoriating reviewer responses to my latest journal submission, it’s reinvigorating.

Small steps towards a big problem: Addressing the social determinants of health at the community level

David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York) wrote the following guest blog post for “Health Policiesabout a new initiative with UWYR that is focused on community solutions for community health challenges arising from the social determinants of health.

Health isn’t a problem.  Not being healthy is a wicked problem.  Wicked problems are persistent social problems characterized (among other things) by:

  • Lack of clarity on all stakeholders associated with the problem
  • Lack of clarity on the causes of the problems
  • Lack of clarity on end points and outcomes
  • Interventions change the nature of the wicked problem challenging evaluation

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are wicked problems.

There is an increasing amount of attention paid to SDOH at the international, national and local levels:

  • International: The World Health Organization recently released the technical paper for the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health to be held in Rio de Janeiro in October 2011.
  • National: National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) is one of six NCCs funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). In 2010 it released an environmental scan of the role of public health agencies in supporting policy responses to social determinants of health in Canada.
  • Local: On June 22 York Region’s Human Services Planning Board release their report, Making Ends Meet which identifies poverty and income insecurity as the single human service priority for York Region.  Health indicators and outcomes are included in the planning.

But how do you tackle such large, wicked problems.  According to WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, all you need to do is:

  1. Improve living conditions
  2. Tackle inequitable distribution of power, money and resources
  3. Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.

I’ll get right on that. I’ll also get right on solving the upstream political issues underlying SDOH that were pointed out in a previous Healthy Policies blog.

NOT (and therein lies the problem – where do you start with a wicked problem like SDOH?) Continue reading

What determines your health? / Qu’est-ce qui détermine votre santé?

By David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York)

A KM in the AM on social determinants of health brought consensus on the challenge but fell short of imagining solutions. At ResearchImpact-York we will continue this dialogue to try to nudge the discussion forward. What will you do?

La dernière matinée de mobilisation des connaissances (KM in the AM) portant sur les déterminants sociaux de la santé a permis d’arriver à un consensus concernant les défis, mais n’a pu dégager clairement des pistes de solution partagées. Chez ResearchImpact – York, nous poursuivrons le dialogue afin de faire avancer la discussions. Et vous, qu’allez-vous faire?

Denis Raphael (School of Health Policy and Management, York University has written, “the primary factors that shape the health and well-being of Canadians – the factors that will give us longer, better lives – are to be found in the actual living conditions that Canadians experience on a daily basis.” WHO defines these conditions as social determinants of health (SDOH), “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The SDOH are mostly responsible for health inequities.” On April 12, ResearchImpact-York hosted a KM in the AM on social determinants of health (SDOH). Part of our suite of KMb services, KM in the AM is a monthly breakfast meeting where university researchers and non-academic stakeholders exchange information and sow the seeds of future collaborations.

Mina Singh and Beryl Pilkington from York’s School of Nursing presented along with Carolyn Mooi from the Heart & Stroke Foundation and Nicky Wright from the York Region District School Board. The presentations kicked off a discussion among the 18 attendees from community and municipal agencies and throughout York Region. Discussion (and there was plenty) focused on the health outcomes related to SDOH: immigration, poverty, homelessness, disability, seniors with people experiencing increased health challenges when more than one of these SDOH intersect. Everyone in the room could speak to the challenges but few were moving to solutions. Local solutions like Mississauga’s investment in community fitness program like Pilates were cited as one example. Nicky charged us to go home and help one person that evening illustrating that we all bear responsibly for being part of the solution.  Continue reading

Social Determinants of Health KM in the AM- April 12

The YorkU KMb Unit will be hosting a KM of the AM event on Tuesday, April 12. The topic of the morning will focus on social determinants of health, with brief presentations by researchers and community leaders, followed by ample time for questions, discussion, and networking.

Confirmed Panelists:

  • Mina Singh, Faculty of Health, York University
  • Beryl Pilkington, Faculty of Health, York University

Date:       Tuesday, April 12

Time:       9:00 am to 11:30 am

Breakfast will be served at 8:45

Location: Markham Convergence Centre, 7271 Warden Ave, Markham

Space is limited. Kindly RSVP kejensen@yorku.ca to confirm your attendance.

This event has been organized by the Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Unit at York University and the York Region Community Foundation, both of which are partnering on the Living in York Region project.

KM in the AM is a series of issue based forums linking the university and community/government agencies to enhance research, the graduate student experience and knowledge mobilization.

The Living in York Region project is seeking to develop a made-in-York Region reliable baseline understanding of residents and communities’ well-being across a series of civic, economic, environmental and social indicators. The project is designed to give a voice to residents to help generate solutions to key issues affecting local communities and neighbourhoods.

Youth Diabetes Sports Camp – Mobilizing Knowledge for Exercise and Diabetes

The fourth annual York University Youth Diabetes Sports Camp has come to an end. Yet there remains plenty to celebrate. York’s KMb Unit was proud to witness the successful conclusion to a unique knowledge mobilization initiative. Being there every step of the way during the two weeks of the Diabetes Sports Camp, we experienced a valuable partnership in action that was unique in its composition. This partnership was between the youth participants at the camp who were engaged in their sport of interest (tennis, basketball, soccer or track and field) and the research team that was focused on learning more about glucose regulation during exercise and the prevention of hypoglycemia. This partnership flourished and provided everyone involved with plenty of fun, learning experiences, and invaluable data for research on type 1 diabetes metabolism.

During last year’s camp, Dr. Michael Riddell conducted a study that examined the relationship between blood glucose levels and sports performance for youth ages 6-17. These youth had their blood glucose levels monitored in real time using new technology supplied by Medtronic Canada for the week as they engaged in soccer, basketball, or tennis, and even as they slept. The goal was to see how sports performance is affected by oscillations in blood sugar levels. The study, which was published this year in the International Journal of Pediatrics, found that optimal athletic performance was observed when blood glucose levels were in the normal range. A slight deterioration in performance was observed when blood sugar levels were a little bit above the normal range. However, the study found that there was considerable deterioration in performance when blood glucose levels were lower than the normal range (4-7 mmol); this is a condition called hypoglycemia.

This year Dr. Riddell and his team are advancing this area of research by collecting data using real time glucose monitoring on a newly developed carbohydrate intake algorithm that prevents hypoglycemia during exercise. With this research, they hope to optimize nutritional strategies for the prevention of low blood sugar in young active individuals with type 1 diabetes.

This research is the first of its kind to be tested outside of the laboratory in a field setting. However, what may be equally important is the process of knowledge exchange that the Diabetes Sports Camp has facilitated. Besides the fun and excitement that the young campers got throughout the duration of the camp, they were also taught various strategies to help manage their diabetes and encouraged to share their experiences with other campers who have diabetes. In return, Dr. Riddell received important data for his research that he plans to share in an upcoming symposium at the International Society for         Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD), taking place from October 27 – 30, 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is classic KMb, bi-directional flow of knowledge that can help inform health policy, foster emerging research questions, as well as inform individual practices in safe blood sugar regulation in young patients with type 1 diabetes. This is KMb that is practical and benefits all parties involved.

Stay tuned for the KMb in Action story on the Youth Diabetes Camp which can be found on the ResearchImpact website.

Week 2 of the Youth Diabetes Camp – Overall Youth Experience

By the end of the second week of the Youth Diabetes Sports Camp, the kids have made new friendships and greatly improved their skills in sports. York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit interviewed kids with diabetes about some of their impressions and experiences at camp.

The children with Type 1 greatly appreciate the opportunities that they are given at this camp. Overwhelmingly, the kids admire the unique nature of the camp, the first sports camp of its kind that brings together kids and adolescents with diabetes with diabetes councilors and varsity level coaches. Most importantly, they get to meet other kids with diabetes and share their challenges as well as their experience managing their condition. Many of the kids said that prior to attending this camp they had not met very many young people with their condition who are so interested in sports. At this camp, there were approximately 30 kids and adolescents with diabetes, there were counselors who have diabetes, as well as guest speakers who excel despite their disease.

Among the guest speakers at the diabetes camp was Chris Jarvis, a prominent Olympic rower and Pan Am gold medalist with type 1. Chris talked about the “highs” and “lows” while being on the Canadian National rowing team and competing in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Prior to joining the kids to play their respective sports, Mr. Jarvis spoke to the young campers about living with diabetes and overcoming numerous challenges including challenges with his glucose control and facing losses in competition. Chris spoke about the importance of “team” support in helping to facilitate his success both on and off the boat. Overall, the kids found their camp experience to be inspiring. The goal was to show that having diabetes should not hinder anyone from pursuing a career in competitive sports. And that is something that the kids certainly understood and appreciated by the end of camp.

Of course, there is also the fun factor. The kids were happy to share excitement and laughter while becoming more proficient in their favorite sport. The children were very fond of the camp counselors. They were happy to get excellent instruction from some of York’s finest varsity athletes. However, counselors were more than just the kids’ coaches. They made sure to befriend them as well and did a great job connecting on the kids’ level, making their camp experience that much more enjoyable.

The most amazing thing about this camp is the fact that, while the youth with diabetes had an overwhelmingly positive experience, they also contributed to valuable research on how sports and exercise affect glucose control and how exercise can help manage diabetes and improve quality of life. This is a prime example of knowledge mobilization and a bi-directional flow of knowledge. The kids learned new strategies on managing their diabetes while Dr. Riddell gets valuable data for his research on exercise and diabetes.

Week One of Youth Diabetes Camp – Interview with Dr. Michael Riddell

The first week of the Youth Type 1 Diabetes Sports Camp, York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit interviewed Prof. Michael Riddell, asking him about some of his reasons and motivations for starting this camp. We also began to learn more about what the camp is all about.

Dr. Riddell was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 14 and continued to be a very active adolescent engaging in various sports, including basketball, tennis and mountain biking throughout the time of his diagnosis. Although at the time of the diagnosis, there was limited research on the effects of sports on diabetes. Dr. Riddell eventually went on to get his PhD, specializing in energy metabolism during exercise in children and adolescents. In the ensuing years he decided to focus his research on how exercise affects blood glucose levels in persons with type 1 diabetes. 3 years ago Dr Riddell noticed that although adults with diabetes had the opportunity to go to a newly established sports camp in the U.S., none were in place for children. This set in motion the start of the Diabetes Sports Camp at York University, a unique camp in that it is the first of its kind.

Now children aged 8-16 with diabetes have the opportunity to engage in a sport of their choosing where they will receive excellent coaching from varsity athletes as well as guidance on how to best manage their condition. This camp is now run in conjunction with the York University Sports and Recreation summer camps offered to all youth between the ages of 8-16 years. Not only are children with diabetes able to develop their athletic skills in a monitored environment, but they are able to share stories and strategies with other children who have diabetes.

Dr. Riddell has been running this camp for 3 years with the aim to further his research in the field of sports, active living and their effects on diabetes. Last year’s camp was the basis for a study that has been published in the International Journal of Pediatrics last week. This research examined the relationship between blood glucose levels and sports performance in youth with Type 1. This year’s camp also has a research component focusing on the development of new strategies to prevent low blood sugar levels. Kids are mobilizing knowledge by having fun and by contributing to the study. This is what KMb is all about!