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Student Spotlight: Raquel Burgess on Tackling Gender Stereotypes and the Value of Optimism

Raquel Burgess, soon-to-be graduate of the MSc Global Health program.

Raquel Burgess, soon-to-be-graduate of the MSc Global Health program.

March 14, 2018

The summer before she started the MSc Global Health program, soon-to-be-alumna Raquel Burgess read The Invention of Wings, a book about abolitionist sisters who were pioneers of women’s rights. The narrative helped inspire her thesis, which explores gender issues – specifically masculinity – in the context of access to breast cancer care in South Africa.

“The dominant discourse surrounding black men in South Africa focuses on violence against women, and negative stereotypes that may actually threaten attempts to improve gender equality,” explains Burgess. “My thesis explores an alternative representation of South African males through interviews with men who are in long-term relationships, some of whom are also involved in gender advocacy work,” she says.

The purpose of Burgess’ study was to inform emerging breast cancer initiatives and contribute to the current understandings of gender relations in South Africa, and she is now looking to publish the findings of her thesis research in the near future.

Recalling the thesis defense experience, Burgess describes the two-hour presentation and questioning period as “heartwarming, stressful, and exhausting,” explaining that having friends and family in the audience was a great source of support.

When asked what advice she would give to students who have chosen the thesis option, her response is to stay positive. “You have to learn to deal with uncertainty, and I think the best way to deal with that is to arm yourself with optimism,” she says.

“When I first started my thesis, I had no idea how I’d speak with middle-aged South African men about breast cancer and gender relations – let alone how I’d access the community to complete my interviews – but things fell into place.” She credits her supportive supervisor Dr. John Eyles, who convinced her it would all work out.

Today, Burgess is working as a research assistant in the department of Family Medicine at McMaster, a role she was able to secure because of skills in qualitative research she developed in the Global Health program.

As far as her long-term future goes, Burgess is open to possibilities. “There are so many intriguing options wrestling for precedence in my mind, including social work, occupational therapy, research, and non-profit work,” says Burgess. 

"There are lots of ways to fight the good fight – the trick is finding your way.”