Every year, as part of the Master of Science in Global Health program’s capstone project, an intense two-week international symposium, MSc Global Health students present their research and gather invaluable feedback on their research from peers and experts. The symposium typically takes place in India, bringing together students and faculty from partner institutions that form the program’s higher education consortium. But this year, the symposium is online.
Also this year, students have linked their scholarly research to one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, reflecting McMaster University’s ongoing commitment to the 2030 Agenda.
Student Nikki Janszen Spitman shares with us her research focus to date, what inspired it, and what she plans to do when she graduates.
Tell us about your research topic and why you chose it?
While I was on exchange as an MSc Global Health student at Maastricht University, I heard numerous stories of East Asians facing discrimination and harassment, whether that was by word-of-mouth or via the news media coverage. Being half Chinese, my heart dropped every time I heard the news and observed people keeping a distance from me. One day my friend had a cough and became very worried about potentially facing harassment because she is Asian.
As I observed and experienced all of this I pondered the fallout, even after the WHO declares the official “end” of COVID-19. What about the PTSD developed by survivors of the pandemic, the mental health of East Asians who have faced alienation and discrimination, the economic status East Asian businesses and small businesses in general? I felt strongly that these complex issues need to be explored and addressed. I hope through my research I can contribute to at least a small part of the conversation.
Inspired by my observations and experience and using the SARS epidemic as a case study, my paper, ‘SARS, COVID-19 and the Importance of Focusing on ‘After’’, argues for the importance of looking beyond the biomedical aspects of infectious disease outbreaks. I will look at what was made visible and invisible by viewing the SARS epidemic from a biomedical lens and explore why and how including an alternative perspective would be beneficial–especially in the context of a racialized illness.
What aspects of the Global Health Symposium have you been most excited about?
Other than seeing some of my classmates that I haven’t seen since back in December, I am really excited about the Expert Perspectives on Pandemics: Global Health Webinar Series. All of the sessions touch on the current COVID-19 pandemic and are highly relevant. I am especially looking forward to the webinar on the ethical aspects of pandemic measures like quarantines and community lockdowns. I think generating a discussion about the ethical dimension of such measures is important because we as a society need to make sure that these actions don’t serve to further marginalize already marginalized populations. I’m very eager to hear different thoughts and perspectives on this topic.
What next? What do you plan to do after you graduate with a MSc in Global Health?
I’ve really enjoyed the program so far. I may pursue medicine or participate in some form of qualitative research. I really learned the value of research while I’ve been in the MSc Global Health program, and also the value of perspective. I think conducting, or helping to conduct, qualitative research would be a very rewarding, impactful experience. Ultimately I want to enter a field that promotes and propels equity, especially for marginalized groups.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) area(s) of focus: