Dr Gabrielle Jenkin was interviewed about her experience of being awarded a University of Otago Health Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship. These are the original interview questions and her responses.
What does your current work involve? What do you hope to achieve in this role?
I have two positions. I am a Senior Research Fellow, in the Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, of the Department of Public Health, UOW (University of Otago, Wellington). My expertise is in food policy (especially around food marketing) and politics, and the influence of the food industry on food policy and population health. I am just completing the final part of my Health Science postdoc on food marketing to kids on the internet: Word of Mouse: internet marketing to NZ kids.
I am also involved in an HRC funded study, KidsCam—a study of Wellington children’s lives documented through wearable cameras—which is being led by University of Otago, Wellington in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Innovation (University of Auckland) as part of a 5-year programme of research called DIET.
I also recently took on the position of Deputy Director of the Social Psychiatry and Population Mental Health Unit, Deans Department, UOW, where I will increasingly be working in the area of mental health, especially suicide research.
Where do you hope your career path will go from here?
Hopefully into further research and research management.
What attracted you to this field of work? Were there specific people that were an influence on your choices?
I have wanted to do research since I finished a BA in sociology. I moved to Wellington specifically so that I could work with the researchers because of my respect for them as the leading experts in health inequalities research in NZ. I also think Wellington is a great place to work and study, because it’s the political and policy making hub of NZ. This provides better than usual opportunities for research to be translated into policy.
I am inspired by the women for whom I have worked at the university here, having a female dean is inspiring, especially for an old school university like Otago, and I am also inspired by the other academics and researchers here at UOW.
What excites you about it?
Working with really passionate people and the possible links between research and policy that can be forged. Using new and novel research methods. Interested in bringing a social science perspective into mental health.
What role did receiving a postdoctoral fellowship have on your career path up to this point?
It’s probably a bit early to tell but I am sure that it has helped me get selected by the International Social Science Council (ISSC) as one of 30 postdoctoral social scientists to discuss the future of food at Food Futures, which was held for a week at Villa Vigoni, the German-Italian Centre for Cultural and Scientific exchange, in Lake Como, Italy. Helped in my promotion from Research Fellow to Senior Research Fellow and my recent appointment as Deputy Director of SoPOP. And more generally, I think getting the Health Sciences postdoc award certainly brings you to the attention of a number of key university staff!
What were the most valuable things that the opportunity provided you with?
Providing me with opportunity to further my own research into a new area. The area of Facebook marketing is dynamic and changing rapidly, with few experts and publications, allowing me to gain expertise in a new niche area.
What types of impact did this opportunity have on your research direction and prospects?
I have two directions in my research—one in food policy and marketing, the other in mental health. Although the areas are completely different, the research methods and other skills developed in conducting and publishing research are transferable, as is my underlying social science background.
Were there contacts, connections, networks, that were opened up to you?
Yes contacts from the ISSC, who I still keep in touch with. I think society has a lot of respect for people with PhDs, so in that sense, you are consider and treated as an expert in a way that does not occur in absence of the title.
Were there any downsides, sacrifices or difficult choices to make?
Some people are intimidated by the PhD! What they don’t realise is that it makes you quite humble in some respects.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to postdoc work?
All work done after the PhD is postdoc work, just in my case I am still in the university system. Be open to working in areas different to that of you PhD (you are probably sick of it anyway)
Where did you grow up? What interested you in the world as a child?
Christchurch. My interests: Ballet, music and reading.
Did you have a clear vision as a child of what you would like to be doing as a career?
No. Not until I went to university. But I was inspired by the BBC series 28 Up. This made me think about how much of life was preconditioned by our families and how much was free choice. It led me into studying sociology, and later a master's in public health that analysed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study.
What subjects did you enjoy most at school, and as an undergraduate?
Social Studies, History, French.
Undergrad, - Sociology & American Studies.
Why did you choose Otago, or the group you worked with, for your postdoc?
I love Wellington and the department that I work in.
I have a 10 year old boy who was age 3 when I got to Wellington to start my PhD. So this has become our home and the UOW is really a great place to work and study, and we have good leaders here in public health and the wider medical school (Dean/Head of Dept, Supervisors) and other great staff (general and management and HR) who look after us.
What do you enjoy doing outside of your work?
Argentine Tango, going to the gym, and most of all, spending time with my boy.