Thriving Faculty is a monthly column that highlights UBC faculty who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities.
Do you implement any strategies to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
It’s important that students feel that their ideas matter and that they matter as individuals, regardless of their interests and career trajectories. I recently moved to Vancouver for a faculty appointment as Assistant Professor in UBC’s School of Kinesiology from the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry. As a result, I haven’t had the privilege to work with students here at UBC just yet. But at UCSF, it was important for me to check in with my students and research assistants on a regular basis about their wellbeing and their passion for their work. I love encouraging students to be passionate and curious about research, because these traits (plus some research smarts) will lead to successes down the road, regardless of what people do in life. I encourage a lot of autonomy and self-directed learning and believe these allow for strong mental health, securing success in life. Also, it’s important to help students learn how to figure out a plan and stick with it. I encourage students to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for their semesters and plan out their weeks accordingly for a path to success. I’ve learned for myself that adding this type of detailed goal setting to my passion and curiosity for science has increased my research successes. And finally, I encourage students to leave their desks and homes to get outdoors and be active. Refuelling in nature with walks, hikes, or runs is key to wellbeing.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
I’m a new father to a son, named Zev, who will be six months old in mid-December. Every morning, my husband and I take him in the stroller for a walk and head to a café to sit and chat with each other and play with Zev. Making Zev laugh in the morning and watching him absorb the world around him is truly a remarkable way to start the day that helps me thrive for the rest of the day, to be honest. I also work out often, with long runs, hitting the gym, going for hikes. I love to also just get outside, sit on a bench and watch human interaction and contemplate our human existence in a social and natural environment (a little dark but somehow these thoughts help me thrive). Getting my blood and mind flowing in these ways truly helps me disconnect from the challenges of the day and reinvigorates me to sit back down and write a grant or a manuscript. And when I’m stressed out, I plant my two feet on the ground, close my eyes and breathe deeply and intentionally.
Are there any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
At UCSF, my research was all about promoting health and wellbeing in the face of stress through physical activity. Stress and adversity in life are ubiquitous, with, of course, some people experiencing greater and more repeated stressful events than others. There’s a large literature on stress and its impact on mental and physical health, including research that shows the impact of stress deep into the functioning of our cells. My research seeks to help high stressed individuals develop a physically active lifestyle to then test the extent to which exercise can reverse some of these biological and psychological detriments resulting from chronic stress. I plan to continue this area of research at UBC and go even deeper into understanding how exercise can help build psychological and biological resiliency in the face of stress across the lifespan.
Eli Puterman, Assistant Professor in UBC’s School of Kinesiology, completed undergraduate degrees in Physiology (McGill University) and Psychology (Concordia University) in Montreal, Quebec, a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology and PhD in Health Psychology at The University of British Columbia. After completing graduate studies, he moved to the University of California San Francisco for a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and transitioned to faculty at UCSF as an Assistant Professor in 2013. In July 2015, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor in UBC’s School of Kinesiology in the Faculty of Education. At UBC, Dr. Puterman is developing and tailoring intervention trials, supplemented with laboratory-based stress manipulations and ambulatory psychological assessments, to examine the effects of habitual physical activity on immune cell health (i.e. telomere biology, mitochondria biogenesis), epigenetic alterations and protein synthesis, autonomic and neuroendocrine stress reactivity, and ecologically assessed affective and cognitive reactivity. His goal is to better understand and improve the health of British Columbians and Canadians experiencing high adversity who are most at risk for developing diseases of aging.