Currently Megan is working to complete her second year of the Masters of Public Health program at the University of Victoria. For her research thesis, she is looking at the intricacies that tie HIV, access to housing, and health together. She is also completing a practicum placement with Pacific AIDS Network in partial fulfilment of her degree.
What first piqued your interest in HIV research?
To be honest, what really attracted me to HIV-related research was this whole sense of participatory action and promotion for change among those living with HIV/AIDS. I am particularly drawn to the idea of having people living with HIV working together with HIV-negative people toward a shared goal – it is very motivating! The stories shared by those who have been a monumental part of this movement are inspiring and they get others, like me, fired up about this movement as well.
There is also the whole social justice issue. The fact that living with HIV/AIDS could be, and has proven to be, a cross-cutting factor that further disadvantages one’s ability to receive proper health care, access to housing, as well as other determinants of health, is truly saddening. Since beginning the MPH program at UVic, I found that the lectures discussing HIV-related issues and the prejudices that many people living with HIV face got me to consider how I could combine my desire to eliminate inequities with my academic experience.
How is your research applicable in the “real world”?
I am not currently leading any research in community-based projects. I would hope my research would be applicable in the real world because it would affect all members of society. What I am really aiming for with my research is an approach that includes better living and housing options for individuals with HIV/AIDS, which would in turn better all members of society. This is based on the premise that in order for our society to feel good about the place we live, we need to be sure it is a safe and healthy place for all its members.
This year I have started to engage with the Positive Living Positive Homes research study with PAN. As a practicum student, I will have the chance to jump into the various stages of the study. I am hoping that through the results of the study we as researchers and community members can look to new strategies that will influence the policies that determine the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV.
I value research methodologies that creatively reveal the narratives and lived experiences of participating individuals, and what is often in sync with these outcomes is a participatory-action piece. I believe that this is what led to my interest in CBR and participatory research. Knowledge produced by research is a powerful and effective means of influencing the decisions made at mico, meso, and macro levels. Therefore, the processes of research should be positive ones by allowing key participants to take control of the matters that most namely affect them.
How is the community involved in your research?
It would be difficult for me to even distinguish between my work and the community. My work is about the community, takes place in the community, and involves working with other members in the community. I personally thrive in environments where ideas and thoughts can be shared collaboratively and when people can mobilize collectively on a common goal.
Everyone has potential and sometimes just needs a little support from the community to get started. I help facilitate an arts group with members that congregate at one the centres in downtown Victoria. One of the members in the group is often reminding us, “Everyone has a story… Share it with the world or even this group. Share your story and inspire”.
If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest in?
I would invest in a housing project of some kind for those experiencing barriers to accessing affordable and safe housing. This is crucial to me! I like the idea of a housing project that facilitates a sense of community and has all inhabitants working on a common goal (possibly even cooking together!). I have seen in my daily living that when people get together with a collective interest, great things happen and some of life’s problems just seem to go away.
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with and why?
This is a difficult question because the possibilities are endless! But really, it is a tough question because I feel very fortunate, in regard to both my abilities and opportunities thus far. I guess a real talent would be to lend myself to being in two places at the same time. I am new to my career but I am new to Vancouver Island as well. As much as I want to keep up-to-date with current research and attending the latest committee meetings to put an end to homelessness, I want to be outside exploring, camping, or just being present on my yoga mat. I want to be here on the island, but I also want to be home in Ontario with my close friends and family. I’m at a very exciting stage in my life, it’s just that desire to take on every opportunity all at once, that’s the tough part – it would be helpful if there were more time in a day!