Can you provide an overview of your current research focus or projects?
I am a public health researcher who has been working as the manager of the TB Program Evaluation and Research Unit (TB PE & RU) since 2010. I received my doctorate in 2020 and in 2023 joined the Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Medicine, at the University of Alberta as a Senior Research Associate. My broad interests are in surveillance of communicable infectious diseases, implementation science, and systems change. Specifically, I am interested in the use of surveillance data to inform public good interventions against TB. My research has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Alberta Lung Association, the Government of Alberta, and the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. Implementation and knowledge translation are integral components of my work. To that end, I do advocacy as a steering committee member of STOP TB Canada, I am a member of the Canadian TB Elimination Network, and I am a member of the CDC’s TB Trials Consortium Implementation and Quality Committee.
What motivated you to pursue tuberculosis research?
I have prior education in Philosophy, which, as a discipline, responds to questions that are generally curious like: How do we know what we know? What is true? What is virtue? That being said, while philosophy taught me how to think about my beliefs and the world around me, the direct impact of that field felt limited. TB research has been a natural fit because the disease and its spread are characterized by biological and social realities that can be investigated philosophically with the resulting insights having practical implications. For example, while all scientists apply a philosophical tool-kit whether they are aware, TB is well-suited to complex probing about what is right and just. In philosopher-speak, science is: ontology – or determining that something exists (a belief); epistemology is how you come to know it (explanation); and, these are bridged by your methodology. In my experience TB research requires considering additional questions about who is affected or excluded from effective interventions and why. For these reasons TB research has been a truly satisfying marriage of learning and doing.
On a more personal note, I have also trained in the Fine Arts (specializing in printmaking, and specifically lithography). Like others before me who have been inspired by the social etch-a-sketching that pandemics perform, my artworks explore themes of grief, bodies, and change. I am always interested in talking about intersections of art history, material culture, and the history of tuberculosis.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your research, and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that I face in my research is team building. I am not a natural networker, but TB demands bio-social solutions across different sectors and with input from multiple fields of knowledge. Fortunately, as someone who is naturally curious, I am excited by creative and untraditional partnerships. The best method for overcoming this challenge has been to express humility about the limitations of my own abilities.
“TB research has been a natural fit because the disease and its spread are characterized by biological and social realities that can be investigated philosophically with the resulting insights having practical implications”
Can you discuss any future directions or potential applications of your research?
I am generally interested in improving and maintaining good TB surveillance programs. Since surveillance data are the cornerstone of public health practice and successful implementation of interventions is contingent on end-user support, I would love to see guidelines and/or policies at every level of government that encourage involvement of TB-affected people and communities in the interpretation of their own epidemiological narratives and leading design of strategies to respond to those data.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing unanswered questions or areas for further exploration?
I think there are a lot of unanswered questions around infectiousness and transmission of TB. I also think that there is a lot of great evidence in support of effective programs that are variably delivered across the world, which means implementation science, or the science of exploring barriers to closing the evidence-to-do gap in different contexts is a great area for future exploration in TB research.
More About Courtney:
Could you share any specific interests, hobbies or passions that you have pursued or are currently pursuing outside of academia?
I am interested in something new every week! I belong to a movie club, I enjoy swimming for relaxation, I am a casual knitter, I am an animal lover with two senior dogs, I enjoy doing art and design – especially of the home where I am constantly renovating, I am a sports fan – particularly hockey, which goes back to my days of playing Blades of Steel on Nintendo. Generally speaking, I like to keep both my mind and body active.
Do you have any favorite books, movies, or TV shows that you enjoy or have sparked your curiosity?
I am a huge fan of the British sitcom Peep Show. For books, I was very intrigued by Rudy Wiebe’s telling of the story of the Mad Trapper whose identity remains an unsolved mystery to this day! True Romance is definitely one of my favourite movies of all-time, and I’ll gladly watch anything featuring Nicolas Cage who is my favourite actor.
What is your all-time favorite food or dish?
It’s a toss-up between Japanese and Mediterranean, and I’ll eat any type of salad unless it’s caught up inside of Jell-O.
Is there anything else interesting or surprising about yourself that you'd like to share?
Most people will not know that I am from Summerside, Prince Edward Island and spent the early days living at a farm with pasture raised pigs.
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