Here and back again
By Dr. Elizabeth Wall-Wieler
I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree in Statistics at the University of Winnipeg when I first heard about the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Aynslie Hinds – one of my Instructors – was completing her PhD in the Department of Community Health Sciences and suggested I apply to the program for grad school. I met with several professors to decide whether the program would be a good fit (including Dr. Les Roos) and eagerly applied. These connections led me to start working with Les as a Research Assistant as I was finishing up my undergrad.
Having never worked with administrative data, the learning curve was pretty steep. Fortunately, I quickly figured out that everyone at the Centre was incredibly friendly and happy to answer my many questions. I worked with Les throughout my MSc, and when he asked me whether I wanted to continue working on a PhD with him, I jumped at the chance. By this time, I was starting to get a pretty good grasp of the data and an understanding of just how many research questions could be answered with these data! I was also developing a passion for maternal and child health research and wanted to work on questions to better understand the relationship between health and social circumstances.
Upon completing my PhD, I moved to California for a postdoc. Living and working in northern California had many perks – the weather, the proximity to so many beautiful national and state parks, working closely with clinicians to answer clinically relevant questions, to name a few. One of the downsides was the stark difference in the kind of data I was able to use in my research. Without a universal healthcare system, the health data I was using was based only on employer-based insurance claims, and only available for relatively short windows of time. Linkages between health and social data were essentially non-existent. About eight months into my postdoc, a posting came up for the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Population Data Analytics and Data Curation to be based at MCHP.
Having now worked with administrative data in three countries, I was getting a better sense of just how unique the data and the people at MCHP were, and decided to apply for the job. A few weeks after coming back to Winnipeg for the interview, I was offered the job. I couldn’t think of a better way to start my career – I already knew the people (and liked them a lot!), I knew the amazing possibilities and limitations of the data I would be working with, the Canadian Research Chair came with funds that would allow me to focus more on doing research and not just applying for research funding in my first few years, and I could be closer to friends and family. So after convincing my husband to trade in California for Winnipeg, I took the job!
I’ve been back at MCHP as a Research Scientist for about five months now. Although it has been strange to start a new job during a pandemic, and I have not yet been to my new office, it has been so nice to be back! There have been some pretty cool changes in the few short years I was away – the R Lab is up and running (I’ve already benefitted greatly from their support), there is an increase in student engagement, and there are quite a few new faces. Over the next few years, I hope to bring in new datasets to complement the data already housed at MCHP, increase awareness of the data we work with, bring in more national and international collaborators, and train students to continue to work with these data in new and exciting ways! Over the past decade, I have seen MCHP evolve and adjust to some big changes, and am excited to be a part of this continued evolution.
Dr. Elizabeth Wall-Wieler is a Research Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences. She completed her BSc in Statistics at the University of Winnipeg, MSc and PhD in Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, and postdoctoral training in perinatal epidemiology at Stanford University (Stanford, USA).