Bipolar disorder is a chronic, severe mood disorder that affects 2.4% of people worldwide, and and has is ranked by the World Health Organization as the 5th leading cause of disease burden among mental health conditions. People living with bipolar disorder experience negative impacts to their relationships, physical health, cognition and memory, and participation in education/employment. Effective wellness strategies exist--unfortunately, individuals face significant barriers to obtaining information and support with their self-management practices. Smartphone apps can improve access to evidence-based techniques; however, people often do not use mental health apps for sustained periods, limiting their benefits. In order to benefit the lives of users with bipolar disorder, apps must not only be effective, they also need to be appealing, usable, and engaging. My postdoctoral research aims to improve understanding of what users with bipolar disorder are looking for in a mental health app, how they interact with such an intervention over time, and what factors influence quality of life outcomes. Using user-centered design methods, I will work with a multidisciplinary team and people with lived experience to guide the selection of features and content that support engagement with an mHealth intervention. The impacts of this beta-app and the dynamic ways in which users engage with the intervention will be evaluated through both quantitative and qualitative methods. Together, this program of research will contribute to the design, evaluation, and iteration of a novel smartphone app to optimize quality of life in bipolar disorder.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with several UBC researchers during my PhD candidature at an Australian University, including my current supervisor Professor Erin Michalak. I was impressed with the international reputation of UBC mood disorders research. Dr. Michalak’s UBC-based research group, the Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in bipolar disorder (CREST.BD) was a particularly strong draw, as their work intersects with my interests in psychosocial treatments, eHealth, and quality of life outcomes for people with bipolar disorder. Working in this team has given me invaluable opportunities to collaborate with mood disorders experts across the globe. Further, the ethos of CREST.BD is to work hand in hand with people with lived experience across the research and knowledge dissemination cycle. I am grateful to be able to conduct research in a manner that aligns with my values, and to ensure research findings are quickly shared with the communities who can benefit from them.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
Take advantage of opportunities to grow your research network--by collaborating on other projects, you can grow your reputation, learn new skills, and diversify your expertise within your discipline. That said, remember to also take the time to explore what your new city has to offer.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love exercising the creative side of my brain through drawing, crochet, and storytelling. Staying active is also really important to me, whether it’s yoga, exploring beautiful Vancouver on walks, or testing myself by picking up a new hobby like roller skating.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
First of all, I feel incredibly privileged that my job is to learn more about topics I am passionate about. I take a great sense of personal accomplishment from growing my skill set and knowledge base. I get really excited when I can share research findings with the community and have a direct impact on the quality of life of people living with mood disorders. That’s why I love being involved in CREST.BD knowledge translation activities like our #talkBD webinar series and our Reddit “Ask me anything” events.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced, or anticipate facing, in your career?
Making an international move from Australia to Canada is challenging enough--it was tougher than I anticipated during times of COVID. I miss my family and friends back home, and certainly didn’t expect to go so long without seeing them, but I am fortunate to have developed a strong social support network here in Vancouver.
What does receiving this award mean for your career?
I am honoured to be the recipient of a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship; the recognition and prestige associated with this award is incredibly validating and positions me to take steps to an independent research career. Having two years of dedicated funding will allow me to answer critical questions to improve digital health interventions for people with serious mental illnesses. Finally, this gives me the opportunity to extend my stay in beautiful Vancouver.