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Interview with Shania Bhopa


📷 Shania Bhopa

Journalist: Shanessa Furtado


Shanessa: Welcome to SciSection! My name is Shanessa Furtado and I am your journalist for the SciSection radio show broadcasted on CFMU 93.3 FM radio station. We are here today with Shania Bhopa: PhD Student in Health Evidence and Impact & Global Health at McMaster University, Non-profit co-founder, Wellness Content Creator, Knowledge Translator and most recently a published children's book author who has done immense research into the gut-brain connection. Thank you so much for joining us today Shania!


Shania: Thanks so much for having me, I am really excited to be here.


Shanessa: So to get us started tell us about your educational and career background and how you got started in your field.


Shania: Great question, I actually did an undergraduate degree at McMaster in Communications and health studies and at that point in my life I did an internship in knowledge Translation and that's when I saw the connection between health and Communications and how important it is to fill that gap. I moved forward to complete a master's in global Health with a focus on the Health Management courses and completed a thesis specifically on health communication and from there I realized that my learning wasn't over and so I applied to one PhD program and ended up getting accepted and it was the PhD in global Health at McMaster again so they kept me over the last couple degrees. I am working with a team and specifically understanding how newly immigrated children have access to health-active living interventions in a community in Riverdale. It's called Riverdale in Hamilton and it is child health specific.


Shanessa: That's super fascinating! So what called you towards doing a PhD in global health and going into health communications?


Shania: I think it's that first pivotal moment in third year when I had an internship in knowledge translation and I understood that

What is the point of amazing research or great research if no one knows about it or if the community that it is meant for isn't accessing that material or that information.

So I think more so I'm just so fascinated and passionate about filling gaps and that's what led me to being curious about health Communications and led me to the PhD I think specifically in my third year as well while I had this internship I also was a TA for this health research methodology course and that's when I realized I loved teaching and knowledge creation and dissemination and collaborating with students and so the mix of the two worlds led me to Academia today.


Shanessa: Wow! So on the note between bridging the gap between research and the public, you’re a wellness content creator with over ninety five thousand followers on tiktok and instagram combined, how do you feel social media and content creation in general has helped you with your career, specifically your research career.


Shania: That’s a great question! I think specifically Social media has allowed me to share the work that I'm doing and again that gap that I found when I was in third year of University having health research put out there and having health information and it not being communicated with the communities and groups that it needs to get to. Social media is a tool and it's a tool that I'm using to further share information that I'm reading in journals or the work that I'm doing in regards to my research or community work and so it's almost like a portal that disseminates information and its again a way for me to connect with students and people because when I was growing up I didn't have anyone that looked like me or that was like me on the internet that I could follow and simply DM if I wanted to right so be accessible to young girls that by not have an older sister and being that figure for them in any way that I can.


Shanessa: Yes! For sure! I'm sure being at your position right now did not happen easily and you must have had to overcome challenges, especially being a phD student and managing all the side activities, so can you tell us about some of the challenges you faced along the way in your career.


Shania: I'd say there are three challenges that I faced. The first is time management. Understanding how to be passionate about certain things and give it your all and taking projects to the very end of its course I think is sometimes really hard and I have learned various techniques that have allowed me to do the things that are in my portfolio today. The second hurdle would definitely be that inner dialogue that we all have and that self talk. Because sometimes when you're doing things that are outside of the norm and outside of the norm of a friend group, for example, it can be really hard to break out of your shell and just be daring and bold and trying something that you don't know anyone else who's ever tried it or a program or been you know engaged in social media. So I think the self talking like surrounding myself with positive people was a hurdle, but it allowed me to create a friend group and a community of people that are like-minded and that are going to support me. The third hurdle I think is remaining focused and keeping your head up high. I think when you are constantly trying new things and doing different activities, you experience failure at a much higher rate than perhaps an individual who does one activity that they do day in and day out. So I think that determination and like keeping your goals written down on that piece of paper and not changing the goal but changing the course of the goal is something that has been a hurdle as well but again all these things they had to happen to make me the person I am today.


Shanessa: For sure! I think the challenges help us get to where we are. So you are the author of the children's book "Gurk and Bianca" which educates children on the gut brain connection. can you tell us about the research you have done in the area and what inspired you to then take that research and write a book on it for children?


Shania: Thats a great question! I published" Gurk and Bianca the Great Adventure of the Gut and the Brain on the Path to Mindfulness" in February and honestly the inspiration behind the book: I grew up as a child with such awful digestion and just digestion pain and the inability to express my emotions. The way we learned about the gut-brain connection, you know the research is still really early in its course, but the way you eat and the way you think and the way you feel everything is connected and your digestion can really affect and contribute to your mental well-being and the way that you are processing your daily tasks. So I personally had like a personal ambition with Gurk and Bianca I wanted a book like this growing up to teach me about how everything in my Orbit is connected and so I wanted to create it and at the same time. My sister's a physician and my mom is a naturopath so together everyone has done their research independently as care providers and then myself as a student. We found that there was just no children's book out there that described or introduced the gut-brain connection. I wouldn't say it's like the tell-all on what the gut-brain connection is but it's definitely an introduction for children to be aware of the fact that your systems are all talking to each other every single day and we use "Gurk and Bianca" as figures to share how mindfulness and being mindful of your body and being mindful of your day-to-day tasks and how your body feeling is super important for your overall well-being because you can't be the person you are without promoting your health first.


Shanessa: For sure! And speaking of promoting your health first, do you have any advice for students who are trying to balance heavy workloads, eating healthy and exercising. Do you have any student wellness advice?


Shania: I have an entire series on my Tik-Tok and I did an entire series on my Instagram. I think three piece of advice I wish I could give my first year self and my younger self, my little sister just started first year University so honestly this is probably an excerpt from our conversation last week, but number one is

Understand how your Social Circle can actually influence your habits. You are your habits. everything that you do, everything that you are on a day-to-day basis is based on your habits.

and how can you curate healthy habits, for example like going to bed at a specific time so you make sure you sleep 8 hours a night or making sure that you have that 30 minute walk every single day for your body and for your mind. Think of little habits making you you. I think it's really important before you just kind of throw in, you know I need to eat more greens or I need to exercise more, Take inventory of what your day actually looks like and take inventory of everything that you actually do on a weekly basis. Analyze all those habits. You know, you're going to keep most of them but what are some habits that you can integrate that change your overall life trajectory. I think the first step is self-reflection. Really sitting down with yourself and reflecting on what you can do and what is feasible to integrate.

The second thing to remember is that supplements or these diets or any of those fads are not sustainable and the best thing you can do is just think about holistic living as best you can. Instead of, you know going straight to a keto diet, think about just slowly incorporating more broccoli. Think about the small steps of the staircase rather than climbing all the way to the top of the staircase. Its going to be more sustainable than any of these fads you might see on the internet.

And then the third thing I'd recommend is

Your mental well-being is so important, but how you cope and resilience is one of the best things you can foster as a student. Being resilient to failure, being resilient to a bad grade, being resilient to plans changing on a weekly basis, or being resilient to an occurrence in your life that you might not have anticipated. All of those things are important to promote a well you.

Shanessa: Yeah I think that's really great advice and I'm sure all of our listeners will definitely benefit from that. So for our final question , what do you think the research Community needs the most right now?


Shania: I think what the research committee needs the most right now is the discussion of knowledge translation, both when you're like applying for a grant for a study and at the end of the Grant. I think again it goes back to what I saw in my third year of University. If there's amazing research being done but it's in this Silo of journals, or presentations at conferences that they aren't getting out to the public or getting out to policy makers or getting out to end users then I think we need to all sit back and think about what's the point of the research. We need to make sure it's impactful and we need to make sure it's getting out there. Knowledge translation is the number one thing to think about especially if you are a student and you’re young in University and you're doing a small research project for a class, share it. Share it on Twitter or linkedin because you never know who's going to read it and you never know how it can impact the end users.


Shanessa: I think that's really great advice for a lot of students in University. We're starting to do a little research projects and I think putting ourselves out there and kind of whether that be on social media because a lot of students do have social media. I think that's great advice on something that if we all do it will definitely benefit others. So that's all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us Shania. Hearing about your experiences and career path was so fascinating and I'm positive that your student wellness advice will help each and every one of our listeners.


Shania: Thanks so much for having me!


Shanessa: Thank you again and that's it for this week of SciSection. I'm your journalist, Shanessa Furtado, and make sure to check our podcast available on all Global platforms for latest interviews.