Bev Holmes: The Value Of Doing Your Degree Later On In Life

May 24, 2017

By Alisha Pillay

With a passion for health communication, Bev Holmes is doing exactly what she loves: serving as interim CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) – a provincially-supported Foundation that fuels world-class innovation in health research. Named after Nobel Laureate Dr. Michael Smith, MSFHR was started in 2001.

The Foundation supports a vibrant health research and life sciences community in BC by:

  • Developing, retaining, and attracting the best and brightest health researchers.
  • Working with partners to increase funding awards and dollars available to BC health researchers.
  • Leveraging their expertise to identify the best people and projects to succeed, to address gaps in the system and build capacity where needed.
  • Providing support to government and partners on using research to inform emerging health issues.

As head of MSFHR, Bev works with her board to oversee the entire organization. The core business of the Foundation is running a variety of funding programs that support individual researchers at various stages in their careers, as well as teams looking to improve their ability to translate research into practice. Bev also works with her team and partners around the province to increase capacity for knowledge translation – the broad range of activities meant to improve the use of research evidence in practice, policy, and further research. Highly responsive to health system concerns, the Foundation is currently working with the BC government to respond to the opioid epidemic by conducting a review of how other jurisdictions are responding to similar situations.

An innovator in her own way, Bev took an unconventional path to get to her current position at MSFHR:

“I’ve always been interested in working for non-profit organizations. I started out in a variety of communication related roles working for United Way, the Arthritis Society, and also the Health Association of BC. I was interested in communication from a practice point of view, and how stories need to be told in different ways for different sorts of people.”

Through her experiences at each of these organizations, Bev became inspired to go back to school:

“I did my degrees later than most people. I had my kids and then I went to SFU to complete my bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Business Studies. I completed my undergraduate degree as a working adult, and then went straight into a master’s and PhD program in the School of Communication.”

As a graduate student, Bev was interested specifically in how people with arthritis connected with one another online to support each other. Similarly, her PhD dissertation focused on best ways to communicate with the public in times of emerging infectious diseases.

After completing her degrees, Bev continued consulting and eventually found herself at MSFHR. Challenging the status quo, Bev found great value in doing her degrees later on in life:

“When you go back to school as an adult there is a certain amount of pressure that you don’t have. I already had a career. For me, I was lucky enough, first of all, to get funding for my research. And secondly, I was already working as a consultant so I had the freedom to play with my time. I didn’t have the standard nine-to-five job. Because I already had a career, I was able to pursue things I was deeply interested in, but that the rest of my life didn’t depend on. I avoided the whole I’ve got to do well so that I can get this thing over with and find a job piece. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great for students to go straight to university after high school – my own daughter is taking this route – however, there are lots of benefits in going back as a mature student as well.”

As a consultant, Bev has always felt immense pressure to have all of the answers. Returning to school has allowed her to think about learning in a new way – indulging in discovering how much she doesn’t know yet. Bev is grateful to have a foot in both the worlds of academia and practice. Her advice to students: “enjoy the experience of school while you still can, and apply what you’ve learned in practice.”