Dr. Ingrid Waldron is an Associate Professor in the
School of Nursing and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University. She is also cross-appointed in the Departments of Sociology & Social Anthropology, Gender and Women's Studies, International Development Studies, and the School of Occupational Therapy, Dalhousie University.
Dr. Waldron’s research focuses on medical sociology, sociology of health and illness, Black women's health and mental health, mental illness in African Nova Scotian, African Canadian, Mi'kmaw, and immigrant communities. Alos health effects of environmental racism in African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities, social determinants of health in African Nova Scotian, African Canadian, Mi’kmaw, and immigrant communities.
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1. Why did you decide to become a part of HPI?
HPI looked like a really great platform to share research. A more concentrated space where you can easily develop partnerships and identify people who are in your area. The way the research pillars are set up, for example, I am in the marginalized pillar. You can immediately connect with people who are doing work in your area. To me it’s about faculty partnerships that seem to be much more immediate than in a larger department. It’s a space where research can gain a better profile. It’s the platform, through social media, where one can highlight events and projects -- in a newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, social media. Building partnerships is easier in a space where everyone is concentrated in one area, and is more effective in providing a platform for your research.
2. When and how did you decide that health research would be your career?
In 1998, when I was doing my PhD, I was focused on education. The challenges that black students and People of Colour have in common -- failing high school, dropping out, and missing access to higher education. It was my passion to do something about it.
As I was reading the literature review for my PhD, I noticed there was an impact of those things on health and mental health. So, I took a left turn and started to consider the impacts of oppression and discrimination on mental health. I became so fascinated with it that I abandoned my original reason for my PhD. I thought that there was something missing in the literature. I was not seeing Canadian studies on the mental impact of discrimination. I was getting a lot of research from the United States and England, so I changed completely to mental illness. Which made sense because my undergrad was in psychology but I knew that I did not want to be a psychiatrist. This new focus allowed me to bring together the interest I still had in mental illness in an academic form and coupled with discrimination, and melded them together. This set me on a new path. I am very happy that I did that.
3. What’s been most surprising along the journey of your career path?
How much I love what I am doing. But also my so-called expertise in environmental racism also makes no sense, because I was interested in mental illness. So, I am now seen as somebody who is an expert of the health impacts of environmental racism which makes people look at me and go “oh yeah that’s what Ingrid does,” not knowing that I only started down that path in 2012 and that my PhD and Postdoc were on mental health issues.
I was put on a different path in terms of my focus, so what I find most surprising is how I came here to Dalhousie to continue my work on mental health issues and continue what I did in my post doc. In 2012 a former Dal engineering student came knocking on my door to say “I want you to do this project in environmental racism, would you do it?” I hesitatingly said yes because I didn’t really know anything about the environment and I had no interest in environmental issues. I often have to remind people that the bulk of my life has been in mental health.
It has also been surprising in the way this project has engaged a lot of different people on this topic as well as climate change and topics I knew nothing about. The path of this project just takes me on winding road and I am surprised by the outcome of it.
Everything has fallen into place and I think I have achieved a lot even though it’s an area I feel I’m not an expert in. Maybe the sociological and health part of it, but not the environmental engineering part which is a different thing. It has been amazing, there is a part of me that feels it’s what I was meant to do, so I am going on instinct. It’s been really shocking as I am doing something not in my field, but I have gotten more comfortable in it. The way in which my research career has gone, I came here for one reason and went in another direction.
4. Can you tell us about a person, community or event that has inspired your research?
I guess I can say it’s both the Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotia communities because my research has been about them. Before I started the environmental racism project, I did a project on gentrification in the North End. I looked at urban Mi’kmaq communities and urban African Nova Scotian communities. With the ENRICH project I am looking at rural. I didn’t come here expecting to work on Indigenous health issues. When I was in Toronto I didn’t have any connections to the community. I came here to look at the African Nova Scotian populations and once again it kind of came into my realm. Those are the communities that inspire me; it’s their issues that I am interested in, looking at the impact of gentrification, housing, income, employment, or environmental racism.
I am also inspired by what I am seeing in those communities: people who are organizing at the grassroots level who don’t give up, people who are fighting government. I would find mostly women in the forefront of my research. Whenever there is an event it is mostly women who are involved and I say to myself “where are the men? Why is it always women”? I am inspired by communities that seem to be resilient and psychologically tough and who keep fighting and keep being involved in grassroots resistance. And even though it seems like nothing happens from it, and as if the government isn’t listening and there are no results, they just keep going. And I said to myself I can't just do nothing. I can’t stop my research. Even if I am frustrated, the community that I work for keeps going. So that’s my inspiration.
5. How does your research impact the everyday lives of Canadians?
The research that Amy Bombay and I are working on is a collaborate project on mental illness. We are looking at mental illness via survey and using the findings to inform the NS Health and Addictions strategy. All the research I do it impacts the community in a different way. It is impacting policy which will, in turn, impact people. It will provide a strategy which acknowledges the unique ways that Indigenous people, African Nova Scotians and other people of colour seek help for mental illness. It could be traditional Indigenous knowledge, yoga, Chinese traditional medicine. It will allow us to inform the policy about the diverse kind of services and resources that need to be in place. That impact then becomes policy.
The ENRICH project is more direct but does include policy as well. I developed a few bills which have to be supported by government but they are there to guide where Nova Scotia puts its waste and landfill so that has a direct impact on policy. I host a lot of community meetings to hear their concerns.
6. What advice would you give a junior colleague or student just starting their career?
Mentorship. It wasn't something I had. A lot of people are not lucky enough to find mentors. So you wade through things on your own and it takes a lot longer. I didn’t have mentors, I didn’t have anybody in my field, Race and Health, when I did my PhD. My supervisor was great but he was in Education.
Maintain respect and dignity for everybody even if they are not in your field or not related to your career or studies. Always remember that if you didn’t have the greatest relationship, someone you meet could come back to haunt you. Especially in Nova Scotia because the province is so small. It’s the weirdest thing when there is someone who has nothing to do with your career, but you encounter that person two years later, on a hiring committee. For a student in Nova Scotia, reputation, character, integrity, honesty, self respect and dignity are important. It will allow you to make great connections and relationships with people who would want to mentor you and want to work with you. So, have a good grounding of who you are.
Build relationships. See everyone as somebody you should have a relationship with, people in your faculty, people outside of your faculty, people in the community. Because when you build relationships people want to help you and they may want to volunteer and give their time. Seek out mentors who can show you the path. If you want to get into Academia there is no specific path like other jobs. A mentor can help guide you. So be respectful, act with integrity, be responsible and dedicated and people will respect you and want to work with you. Stick with them and see what they are doing, ask for their CVs, see what committees they are on, and ask why, ask what are the best committees for you to be on and where will that get you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Build great relationships, ask questions, don’t be shy, don’t think you are bothering people because you are probably always bothering people because everyone is a buddy, get peoples CVs look at them, study them, figure out why people are doing what they are doing, and find your path.