Staffed to Support the Future of Arthritis Research
At Arthritis Research Canada, we believe training the next generation of scientists is just as important as conducting arthritis research.
“It takes over a decade or more of mentoring for a new scientist to become an independent researcher and a leader in their field,” said Dr. Diane Lacaille, Arthritis Research Canada’s Scientific Director. “For critical research to continue, we must invest in the next generation of scientists.”
Over 40 trainees currently call Arthritis Research Canada home and are working across Canada and in different disciplines to find answers for people living with arthritis.
Megan Thomas is one of those trainees. She completed an MSc in community health sciences under Arthritis Research Canada Research Scientist, Dr. Glen Hazlewood, and Senior Scientist, Dr. Deborah Marshall. She is now working on a PhD at the University of British Columbia in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences under the supervision of Arthritis Research Canada Research Scientist, Dr. Mary De Vera and Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Mark Harrison. The focus of her research is on equity, diversity and inclusion in clinical trials.
“The research that our trainees do is the research that we do. There is no separation,” said De Vera, who is also Arthritis Research Canada’s Associate Director of Training. “Trainees help drive the research at Arthritis Research Canada. They collect the data, analyze it, write the papers and present the findings.”
We sat down with Megan Thomas to find out how she decided to go into arthritis research and to learn more about her current work.
How did you get involved in arthritis research?
I did my undergraduate degree in health sciences, with a focus on public health, at the University of Calgary. After graduating, I secured a research coordinator position with Dr. Glen Hazlewood.
Dr. Hazlewood helped open doors for me. He supported me in my decision to apply for a master’s program and offered to be my supervisor. I completed my master’s in community health sciences at the University of Calgary under the supervision of two Arthritis Research Canada scientists, Drs. Hazlewood and Marshall.
Why arthritis research and not another area of research?
I enjoy arthritis research because it allows me to work directly with patients. Arthritis researchers have well-established patient partners – people who have arthritis and bring their lived experiences to research projects. I hadn’t seen that in other fields. I think patients should have their preferences represented and have a say in clinical trial design. So far, it has been such a great journey and inspired me to build a career in arthritis research.
Did you have any mentors who inspired you to do arthritis research?
During my undergraduate degree, I did an honours thesis on mentorship, so it was important for me to work with the right people – individuals who could support me on my path to better myself. Dr. Hazlewood pointed me in the right direction. He also introduced me to people in Canada and internationally. I was able to take on more leadership roles in arthritis research. It’s important to have a mentor who supports you and wants to see you thrive.
What is your current research focus?
My master’s degree allowed me to look at clinical trial design. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to look at equity factors. Who is participating in these trials? Are they representative of people living with arthritis in Canada? In terms of equity, diversity and inclusion in clinical trials, representation is really lacking. Most participants are usually female, middle aged and Caucasian. I’m looking at how we can reach more diverse populations that we know anecdotally have inflammatory arthritis, but that we don’t typically see represented in clinical research. I was able to develop this research topic with the help of my supervisors, Dr. Mary De Vera and Dr. Mark Harrison. Dr. Hazlewood introduced me to them.
Why is arthritis research important?
I think arthritis research is important because arthritis, especially the inflammatory type, is usually chronic and takes over a person’s life. People living with arthritis should be represented in any research where they will be the end user. If we aren’t hearing from all the people or don’t have that representation, we can’t know that the treatments or findings are accessible to everyone or can be translated to their own care. Ultimately, the goal is to provide better care.
Why train at Arthritis Research Canada?
Arthritis Research Canada is very well established. I like that it has a network of patients, trainees, clinician scientists, and a patient advisory board. As researchers, we can present our work to patients at the grassroots level before starting a project. There is also so much work going on at Arthritis Research Canada across different research areas and types of arthritis. Arthritis Research Canada feels very integrated and the research teams include patients throughout the process, which I feel is very important.
What is your favourite part about training at Arthritis Research Canada?
My favourite part is that I’m able to have a hands-on experience – write research papers, present at conferences and lead research studies before I have my PhD. Senior scientists oversee all the research projects, but it’s nice to also have independence to take the lead. I have been able to shape a lot of my projects and have supportive supervisors who encourage me to add my own thoughts to the work we’re doing as a team.
I feel fortunate and grateful to be part of Arthritis Research Canada. Everyone is very open to hearing from trainees and patients. It doesn’t feel like the clinician scientists are running the show. It feels collaborative. I’m also glad the organization keeps expanding and has research teams across Canada. I like that we are able to work together and have more representation. Arthritis Research Canada is a big team doing important work for people living with arthritis and I’m happy to be part of it.
Dr. John Esdaile Professorship in Arthritis Research
Discover how we’re supporting the careers of young researchers.