Alexandra Collins, who graduates with a PhD degree from FHS this month, has been awarded the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal.

Compassionate PhD graduate awarded Dean's Convocation Medal

June 10, 2020

By: Geron Malbas

Alexandra Collins, who graduates with a PhD degree from the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) this month, has been awarded the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal. The annual award recognizes graduating students that have accomplished outstanding academic achievements. Collins was also the recipient of the 2018 Vanier Scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in recognition of her work examining the effect of Vancouver's housing and overdose crises on women who use drugs (WWUD).

Collins has a BA from the University of Connecticut in Anthropology and French, with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She completed her MSc from FHS, focusing on HIV programming. Working with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS as a Research Assistant near the end of her Master’s program, she focused on drug use and housing in relation to people living with HIV. She then transitioned to working with the Qualitative and Community Based Research team at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, leading to her PhD research.

“Through my research at these two institutions, I saw the gaps around understanding the role of social, structural, and built environments for women who use drugs, in particular,” she explains. “I realized how the overlapping housing and overdose crises in Vancouver shaped their health and social outcomes.”

As she pursued her doctoral studies at SFU, she continued to work with researchers in HIV and substance use that were instrumental in her studies, including FHS professors Robert Hogg and Kanna Hayashi.

Collins’ PhD dissertation, Social and Structural Contexts of the Overdose Crisis: An Ethnography of Overdose Risk among Structurally Vulnerable Women who use Drugs in Vancouver, Canada, addresses how social-structural forces shape overdose risk for WWUD. Her research magnifies the numerous impacts of the overdose crisis for WWUD and their experiences that intersect with social locations to produce different needs and risks. She hopes that her conclusions will continue to bolster efforts for more inclusive and holistic harm reduction services in Vancouver and beyond.

“All of my work is rooted in social justice and the need to effectively address the diverse needs of people who use drugs, in particular women and gender diverse persons,” she explains. “My doctoral research highlights the need for harm reduction and support services that are developed with women, and are attentive to culture and gender. There is a critical need to prioritize and fund these types of programs.”

With the completion of her PhD, she is now working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University’s School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.

“I am excited to build out a community-engaged qualitative program of research in the next few years there, focused on housing, drug use, and access to services for people who use drugs.”