Shamara is a true scientist at heart. Her natural inquisitiveness and willingness to push aside any assumptions has served her well as she has transitioned from a career in basic sciences to social epidemiology. In high school, she was fascinated with the biology of HIV and that interest followed her into university where she studied the biology of cells. But for her PhD, Shamara made a shift to social epidemiology. “At first it was a steep learning curve and I had to figure out the language of social science,” says Shamara, “but my background in science has really helped me in my research. I like to get the facts straight first and gather all the information so that I can approach the question without any preconceived notions.” And her research is starting to reflect this philosophy.
With the help of the 2010 CAHR Studentship in Epidemiology award, Shamara’s PhD work examines the social determinants of health in an African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) community, an ethno-racial minority and immigrant population. As part of the BLACCH (Black, African and Caribbean Canadian Health) Study, Shamara has worked with individuals in the ACB community in London, Ontario to get a better perspective on HIV and health.
“With her efforts, the BLACCH study has grown to be larger than just her PhD thesis work,” explains Dr. Greta Bauer, Shamara’s PhD supervisor. “As an advanced PhD student, Shamara has built connections with community organizations and other researchers, and taken on work on outside projects.” As part of her research, Shamara has produced e-bulletins, reports, and public service announcements, as well as manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Bauer also appreciates Shamara’s science background “she has made great contributions in technical areas such as survey design, data set cleaning, and codebook production.”
Though still in its infancy, Shamara’s research has already shed light on the influence of education, gender and financial status on HIV awareness, risk behaviour and preventative measures in the ACB community. In particular, she has found that perceptions of who is at risk may not reflect the overall distribution of actual risk in this population. Shamara emphasizes that prevention interventions must take into account the social determinants of health and ensure the correct groups are targeted.
As it progresses, Shamara’s research promises to illuminate more complexities in at-risk communities and the CAHR award will continue to support this work. “The funding has helped support me as a student and has covered the costs associated with my research,” Shamara explains, “without the scholarship from CAHR I simply wouldn’t have been able to pursue this research.” The CAHR congratulates Shamara on her research efforts thus far, and is proud to support her work towards prevention and awareness of HIV/AIDS in Canada.
2010 CAHR Studentship in Epidemiology Award winner