By Melissa Lafrance on December 2, 2015
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.
Posted in Guest Contributor, Mental Health, Physical Health, Thriving Faculty | Tagged balance, Eli Puterman, goals, School of Kinesiology, students, Support, Thriving faculty, wellbeing | Leave a response
By Colin Hearne on August 5, 2015
This month’s Thriving Faculty member is Zach Walsh, Associate Professor in the department of Psychology at UBC Okanagan.
Thriving Faculty is a monthly column that highlights UBC faculty members who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities.
Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning
I believe that students perform at their best when they feel safe and appreciated. Establishing a comfortable and accepting environment in our lab helps students take the kind of chances that allow for personal and scientific discoveries. It can be a challenge at a high-stakes, competitive institution such as UBC for students to feel that they belong and are valued. I let students know that their wellbeing is important for its own sake and for the health of the lab.
Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
Improving mental health is one of the most common motives reported by those who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. People looking to address mental health problems face considerable barriers, including stigma, and those who use cannabis to treat mental health face a double stigma. As cannabis is being reintroduced as a medicine, research that examines how cannabis compares to other treatments is essential to allow Canadians to make informed decisions about their health. Our hope is that talking and learning more about the use of cannabis for mental health will help to refine treatments and reduce stigma. The freedom to make personal choices in an environment free of superstition and shame promotes mental health and wellbeing.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as faculty?
I try to find projects that allow me to work off-campus with community groups that aren’t directly related to academia. I like the variety and it helps get me out of the office. I try to have something really good for lunch whenever I can. I also try to focus on process rather than outcomes. I avoid the news and choose my music. I’m learning to ask for – and accept – help, support and advice.
Zach Walsh, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC, Director of the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use lab, and a registered clinical psychologist. Ongoing projects include several studies of the therapeutic use of cannabis, including a recently initiated clinical trial of cannabis for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Zach has presented his research to diverse audiences, including the Uruguayan Department of Health and the Canadian House of Commons. Zach’s research on substance use, mental health, and personality has been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Health Canada, and others.
Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting individual or collective UBC Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and/or communities. Thriving Faculty support others’ health and wellbeing in addition to making a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty.
Read an interview with Carla Nappi
1. What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
The central challenges I face as a faculty member are largely issues of balance. Balancing my responsibilities to myself with my responsibilities to the various communities I’m part of. Reconciling my duties as a member of an institution to my duties to the individuals within that institution, especially when those duties are in direct conflict. Getting enough sleep. Remembering to step away from the unending cycle of judging-and-being-judged so that I’m not constantly measuring myself in someone else’s terms. Getting enough sleep. Especially during the early years before tenure, remembering to step back and laugh at myself every once in a while, and reminding myself not to turn into a horrible stinking tenure-track go-go-golem molded out of power bars, coffee grinds, and the shredded bits of old CVs and job applications. Learning how to navigate my perceived service obligations to the university in order to distinguish those battles worth fighting from those that aren’t. Also, have I mentioned the importance and challenge of getting enough sleep?
2. Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning.
I teach courses on the history of medicine and health, and an important part of what I try to convey to students is that those notions that we take for granted as measures of our emotional wellbeing (“mental health,” “balance,” etc.) are rooted in very specific historical, social, and political contexts. We need not accept them unthinkingly as necessary and determined concepts with which to describe and measure ourselves. What that does is to open up a huge range of possibilities for taking agency in understanding and shepherding one’s own mental and emotional wellbeing. How we visualize our selves, minds, bodies – the metaphors we use to describe ourselves – determines how we live. Those metaphors are often plucked from our cultural and media landscapes without our being aware of it. Do you understand your body and mind as a kind of ecosystem? Then most likely you’ll strive for balance as a way to live optimally. Do you think of your self in terms of a machine? Then you will tend to try to optimize productivity in the choices you make for how to live. Are you a river or a pond? Then you might strive to achieve a kind of calm, stillness, or quiet. It can be transformative to realize that whatever model you have come to use to understand your body and mind is not a given – it is only one possibility that emerges from a particular social/cultural/political context – and thus there are options. Once you realize that, you realize that a crucial part of the learning you’re doing at the university level has to involve learning about yourself – what are your goals, here at UBC? What does fulfillment look like for you and what do you need to do for yourself in order to help you figure that out? How do you understand your body and mind, and (whatever the answer is) what do you need to do to help yourself be the best version of that you can be, whatever “best” means in that context?
For me, living in a way that helps each of us be our best selves is a matter of self-acceptance: understanding what your tendencies are, working with the grain and knots of that wood rather than against them, and rolling with the difficulties as well as the pleasant bits. Learning how to roll is a process that can take a lifetime. This is true of all of us who make up the university community: students, faculty, and staff. We’re all engaged in learning on some level, whether it’s in the classroom or behind a desk or walking or driving across the university grounds. For students in particular, the experience of what’s happening in the classroom or in the context of course-related work is deeply entangled with the broader processes of Figuring Yourself Out that are happening at the same time. A student’s performance in coursework tends to be related to where that student is within that larger context. So the question becomes, how do we take that into account when designing the semester-long classroom encounter? I don’t have the answer. I’m still trying to figure that out. But at the very least, I try to be thoughtful about this issue in my role as a teacher.
3. What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
Honestly, I don’t always feel that I am thriving. One of the strategies I use to keep myself (relatively) sane is to remind myself that it’s okay when that’s the case. It’s important to be kind to ourselves – to embrace our idiosyncrasies, to understand that we all have difficult times, and to try not to be too hard on ourselves when we’re not as efficient, stable, happy, companionable, productive, pleasant-smelling, etc. as we’d like to be. So, I try to remember that.
I try to keep a sense of humor about things. Also really important for me is music. Playing with music in all forms. I play the banjo very, very badly. I can make sounds with a Theremin. And the times when I feel my best are the times when I am regularly playing or listening to something. During particularly bad workweeks I’ll come into work early, put my iPod on REALLY loudly and dance around my office for a half hour or so. (I have very understanding office-neighbors in Buchanan Tower.)
Invariably, I’ll forget all of these things and by the end of a semester (or sometimes well before) I’ll find myself completely burnt out. I’m talking about ‘Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200’ burnt out. When that happens, Productive Carla shuts off and Recovery Mode Carla takes over. This usually involves binge-watching TV (I am not above downloading past seasons of Survivor that I’ve already watched and blowing two days on a Jeff-Probst-and-take-out-sushi marathon), taking a lot of LUSH-bath-bomb-filled baths, reading lots of vampire- or gunslinger-filled fiction, and trying to get back some of the control over household life (laundry, groceries, etc.) that I will undoubtedly have lost at that point. It helps that I have a very understanding partner who recognizes Recovery Mode Carla and makes room for her in our household when necessary.
4. Are there any resources on campus that you have found to be helpful for promoting wellbeing for either yourself or your students?
I have a new coffeemaker in my office. And I just ordered an inflatable camping sleep-pad and camping pillow so that when I take naps in my office during particularly sleep-light weeks I don’t wake up with the imprint of my sleeve on the side of my face. When taken together, these tools promote both my wellbeing and (by association) that of my students.
Carla Nappi is Associate Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Studies at UBC. She works on the history of medicine, science, and translation in early modern China, and is the podcast host of New Books in East Asian Studies and New Books in Science, Technology, and Society. For more about her (including gratuitous photos of her unusually attractive cat posing with books), visit www.carlanappi.com.