Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting individual or collective Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and/or communities. Thriving Faculty not only support others health and wellbeing, but also make a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights both the personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty with the intention to inspire the integration of wellbeing into life as faculty.
Read an interview with Professor Michael Lee.
Q. Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health, and wellbeing and learning?
I like looking at wellness from a bio-psychosocial-spiritual perspective; which is a holistic way of looking at a person. To thrive, one needs to attend to all four aspects of one’s life. It is like a four-legged stool, which means lacking one will lead to imbalance, or even tipping over. Mental wellness is one of the essential factors that leads to thriving, including academic excellence. Likewise, in order to excel in learning, one needs to attend to all four aspects of life, hence mental wellness is essential.
I come across many students who invested their energy and time in certain aspects of their life, may it be attending to academic attainments, relationships, physical activities, etc., and neglected the importance of balance of all aspects. We all know the importance of a balanced diet. Likewise, a balanced life that also attends to mental wellness is important for a healthy living.
Q. What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
Like students, I am often faced with too many things to do with limited time and resources. This is one of the challenges that we all face, like it or not, in this fast-paced world. Knowledge and information are growing exponentially, and we all are bombarded with pressing time lines. It is very easy for us to fall into the trap of racing with the fast pace world. Attending to the bio-psychosocial-spiritual aspects of life is a challenge that I face, especially when I am racing in a fast-paced world, or when I am doing certain things that I am very passionate about.
Q. What strategies do you use to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
The best way to promote student mental health is to start from creating a healthy learning environment. Competition among students is contagious. Though competitions foster quality improvement, too much competitions result in excessive stress that is not helpful in creating a healthy learning environment. To me, learning is not all about how many “A”s you got, it is about how you can be a learning agent for the rest of your life, so that you can be a creative problem-solver. Hence, I always tell my students not to focus too much on how you score in your exam or in your assignment, but be reflective, and know how you can use what you learned to build new knowledge. To be a clever consumer, we look for merchandise that meets our needs. Likewise, to be a clever knowledge consumer, we make it clear that we are going after knowledge and intellect, not on having higher marks then the one sitting next to us.
I also tell my students to look at the classroom as an oasis of resources. In a class of 50 students, there are 49 other bright brains that can help you to learn the knowledge better and to understand the concept clearer. See your prof as the one whom you can identify as a mentor, not the one who is mean and holding back each and every mark in your exam. Look around to identify resources, not barriers.
Q. What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
To be mindful of your goals is like having a GPS that will help navigate and not be distracted by what is happening around you.
Know your capacity and maximize your strengths. You don’t have to do everything, but do things that you are good at. Build capacity. There are many resources around us that we are not aware of. Think about our environment as full of resources. Leverage these resources in order to help us to get to where we need to get to.
Q. Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
I worked with a group of students to bring mental health awareness on campus. The Mental Health Awareness Club is a student-led initiative, with the mandate to bring mental health awareness on campus; and to eliminate stigma on mental illness with the hope to create a healthier campus. Students from various disciplines, different faculties and various backgrounds work together to promote campus mental health awareness through various events and programs. One project that we started last year is a campus-wide mental health needs assessment. Using participatory action research approach, we invited students to tell us about their perspectives on stresses on campus, and identify ways to address these stresses. In addition to knowing more about students’ perspective about stress, this project helped participants to know more about stress issues on campus and supported them to develop strategies to build resilience against stresses. This year, the Club is rolling out another needs assessment to look at mental health stigma, and how stigma impacts on student life. Through these participatory research activities, we hope we can draw campus attention to mental health and mental illness issues and to enable our community to develop strategies to address these concerns. Our ultimate goal is to help the community to built capacity in creating a healthy learning environment for our future generations.
Q. In your role as faculty, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
I mentioned a four- legged stool. It is important for me to attend to all four aspects of my life, including not only my physical and psychological wellbeing; but also attend to my social and spiritual needs.
One of my mottos is “know your strengths, build your capacities.”
Michael Lee is the Senior Instructor with the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, as well as the Curriculum Coordinator for the Master of Occupational Therapy program. In addition to teaching, learning with his students and promoting mental health on campus, he enjoys his time with the family and having quite time to refresh.
Nominate a Thriving Faculty
Do you know a UBC faculty member who thrives? We’d like to know! Please send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know why this person is a champion of wellbeing both inside and outside of the classroom.