By Colin Hearne on March 3, 2015
This month’s Thriving Faculty interview features Dr. Grace Lee from UBC’s Department Of Medicine, Division of Neurology
Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting UBC Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities. Thriving Faculty support others in their health and wellbeing, in addition to making a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty.
Q: What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
The central challenges I face include two dimensions. The first is dealing with my perception of time. I find that time is an ocean of possibility with no set structures or destinations that await. I have to choose to give meaning and direction to every milestone of my journey. While this choice is empowering most times, it can also be scary.
The second dimension of my challenge is accepting that knowledge and talent are not everything. Working with people is more important and equally challenging in many ways. I believe it is critical to build and maintain healthy relationships with others and to adopt an ‘office culture’ that is conductive to supporting the success of the organization and its people.
Q: Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning?
I have taught a number of seminars on how the brain has a central role in the stress response. We all face stressors that take up our time, energy, and mental capacities. We respond to our brain’s perception of those stressors with behavioral and social coping responses, which include activities that provide emotional relief and restore our sense of control over a given stressor. Facing failures is an example of a stressful experience. Adopting healthy ways overcome stressful experience can lead to growth and learning that promote future resiliency. The outcome of this is that failure can be seen as an achievement in itself.
Q: Do you implement any strategies to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
In my capacity at UBC, I enjoy staying connected to the academic community. As President of the UBC Postdoctoral Association during this past year (at the time of this writing), I enjoy reaching out to the postdoctoral community and envisioning ways to meet their professional needs to help them become successful upcoming leaders. I always make myself available to meet with others who request some of my time and listen to their stories about the challenges they face or their aspirations for the future. And if I see a way I can help them, I will always extend a helping hand. I have many ideas on how to increase postdoctoral engagement on campus, and I collaborate with staff and faculty from various departments to achieve this goal. I am always excited about creating opportunities to network and make connections with different people from various interests in fields other than my own. My wide-ranging experiences help me relate to people who come from various backgrounds and have taught me to empathize more and judge less.
Q: Please describe the role of your own mental health and wellbeing in your teaching, research and service to the community?
I incorporate a balance between active and inactive phases of each day. Because of the nature of my work, I might spend much time sitting. I have an adjustable platform on my desk that allows me transform my work station to either a sitting or a standing desk. I have an app that reminds me to break the cycle of being seated for the majority of my work day. I also wear a wireless activity tracking device that measures the number of steps I take during the day and my quality of sleep. It has made me more cognizant of ways I can be more active during my work day. Exercise is a positive coping response to stress. I value dedicating a portion of my day to a challenging workout regimen. It clears my mind and resets my thoughts. My own mental wellbeing is very important to my teaching, research, and my service to the community because it gives me clarity about how I react to stress or failure. It also allows me to be mindful of my psychological health, to build a healthy emotional resilience, and to feel empowered to overcome failure. Then I can truly be in a better position to help others and to speak about my experiences with the hopes of empowering others as well.
Q: What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
During any negative or uncomfortable situation, I try to remind myself that even this will pass. It may not always be possible to make the best of all situations at that moment, but it helps to have someone to unwind with in the aftermath of a negative event. The important step for me is to acknowledge my tendency to magnify negative experiences and to make proactive strides to interrupt this process before it becomes a destructive habit.
Q: In your role as faculty, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
I base my definition of a good work-life balance on the life I desire to live. That said, I don’t think I can define a clear line between work and life. Instead, I adopt a point of view that as long as I feel I am living an inspired life driven by my passions, then I don’t feel as though I am really doing work.
Dr. Grace Lee has a PhD in neuroscience from UBC focusing on neurodegenerative disease and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC with a certification in health care ethics from the University of Washington. She is a lifelong learner and entrepreneur. Connect with her and see more about her experiences at drgracelee.ca.
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