GRADUATE & LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION

Charlotte Anderson, Rehabilitation Sciences Institute

Why did you choose this Department?
Choosing to be a student in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute (RSI) was a logical progression for me. I was certainly aware of RSI as grad student, graduating with my MSc in physiotherapy from U of T. Upon graduation, I immediately began working as a clinical physiotherapist in Toronto. The more I practiced in a clinical environment, the more I became aware of gaps in our rehabilitative system where further research was required. I was frustrated by the gaps, both in terms of my own knowledge and in terms of providing value-added physiotherapy to my patients and it wasn't long before this frustration channeled itself into an interest in doing the research to fill the gap or at least attempt to start answering questions to some of the problems I identified.   I had really enjoyed the physiotherapy program at U of T, had been lucky enough to work on a research project for a physiotherapy faculty member, and I knew that RSI at U of T was where I wanted to continue my studies, and attempt to find answers and solutions to some of the treatment and protocol questions that I had.  I wanted to be part of a group of driven, goal oriented individuals looking to advance rehab. I wanted to be part of a supportive community, where individual goals were all part of a common theme, which is rehabilitation science. I wanted to be mentored by leaders in the various rehab fields. I wanted exposure to other rehab professionals. I wanted to be pushed and challenged by brilliant research students, and to learn from experienced scientists. I wanted to complete my doctoral work in RSI... so here I am!

How was your experience looking for a research opportunity?
It did take time and careful thought while looking for and solidifying my research.  I found it very helpful talking to other rehab professionals to discuss my thoughts and areas of interest, as well as browsing through the RSI website and the current research being completed. While I knew the area I wanted to research, I knew that I needed support and direction in terms of how to tackle it and the department of RSI was helpful in providing a good list of supervisors whose interest and expertise lined up with what I was interested in researching.

I was extremely fortunate to have a RSI faculty member who had been a mentor of mine throughout my Masters make herself fully available to answer questions, brainstorm and make valuable suggestions. She completed her PhD in RSI, so had all the firsthand experience to help me through preliminary stages of the process. She really helped guide me in the right direction when looking for a supervisor, has provided valuable advice re funding, course work, advisory committees and has been an unbelievable support since. Once I secured a supervisor, the department of RSI made it very clear on what was needed to apply, and was very responsive to questions.

When did you start your research experience
September 2015

Why did you choose this supervisor?
I chose to work with Dr. Nick Reed because I am fascinated by his work. He is an occupational therapist by training, so it is interesting for me to work under someone who is trained in a different field than my own but nevertheless really interested in the protocol and treatment issues that intrigue me.   I believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to health care and was delighted to have a supervisor from a different discipline but with similar interests. I really appreciate his focus on clinical research, and advancing the rehab opportunities and treatments for children with concussion. From our first meeting, I felt comfortable with Dr. Reed, and it was clear that our goals in what we want to accomplish through research align. I was lucky that he was able to take on a student, and was supportive of the research I wanted to conduct.  I feel very fortunate to be supervised by Dr. Nick Reed.

What’s your experience with research?
Because I completed my MSc in physiotherapy, I do not have the research background that other students with a Masters of Science have. As part of my MSc, I did complete a year long research project, under the supervision of a RSI faculty member, which was published and presented at conferences across the province. But, that was it for my research experience. I did not have the typical research background of most students starting a PhD. I was worried and hesitant about my lack of formal training as a researcher when I applied for my PhD, and was something I discussed with others prior to accepting. The courses I took in my first year as a PhD student were helpful for me to learn some of the basics around research. I found the professors of these courses were available to help me understand the basics and underlying theories and methods of research. Furthermore, I am most fortunate to have unbelievable support from other PhD students in my lab, at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. They have helped me learn more about the process, and have been amazing teachers.

How’s the social experience with research?
It is easy when you are so immersed in your research to become a bit isolated, and wrapped up in your specific project. I am in a lab with other PhD and masters students, so we make an effort to spend time together outside of the lab when we can. The group of students I started my PhD with, have remained a close group. We try to set up monthly get-togethers. While in formal classes, it was nice to go out after a lecture, or meet up to study. There is a class that all RSI students have to take for their first two years in the program. Going out after this class means you get to meet students who are in different years, and it leads to a really nice dynamic and a cohesive group. The social experience is different when you are researching, but it is not non existent ... as long as you make an effort, and set up your schedule for time to meet up with fellow classmates, or lab mates!

Future career plans?
I hope that the research I conduct will continue to progress and inform the rehabilitation field. More specifically, I hope it will contribute to my clinical work as a practicing physiotherapist. I see the area of my research being an area that physiotherapists and other rehab professionals can excel in and contribute to. I hope to continue to work in this field, and further the development of concussion management, treatment, and education.

One Advice/Tip
Ask questions! Don't be shy, and don't think you need to find all the answers on your own. Ask peers, teachers, supervisors... just ask! The process of a PhD can be quite overwhelming at times, but by asking questions and seeking out answers, the journey is much more manageable!