Joy Johnson, Simon Fraser University’s Vice-President, Research and International is one of eight at SFU named to the Royal Society of Canada this year.

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SFU’s Joy Johnson named as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

September 10, 2019
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Simon Fraser University’s Vice-President, Research and International (VPRI), Joy Johnson has been named as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Johnson is being recognized for her research in sex and gender in health, in particular, substance use and mental health. Additionally, she is awarded for shaping Canada’s health research landscape to better represent women, as many studies have focused on health outcomes for men.

Johnson leads SFU’s strategic research initiatives and facilitates international opportunities that foster research collaborations and student exchange. Her work focuses on facilitating research excellence and helping the university respond to new opportunities. She collaborates with members of SFU’s eight faculties to ensure they have the support and resources required to conduct excellent cutting-edge research in all its forms. Building on her long-standing leadership and research experience, she works with faculty, students and staff to secure research partnerships within the community and industry. Johnson is also a champion for equity, diversity and inclusion at the university.

SFU News spoke with Johnson about her passion for research and drive to improve the lives of others.

Describe the focus of your research or advocacy.

My research focuses on the social context of health behavior—that is how factors such as gender, age, race and place shape opportunities and health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.

I am particularly interested in how we can develop interventions and polices that can be tailored to meet the needs of disadvantaged populations.

What message do you have for people relating to your research?

Every cell is sexed and every human is gendered. Sex-based factors influence the types of diseases we acquire, the symptoms we experience and how we respond to drugs. Gender-based factors influence what we eat, who we talk to about our conditions, what risks we are exposed to—and yet, for many years science has been sex and gender blind. Including sex and gender considerations in research is good science and leads to better health outcomes.

Describe a problem your research solves or a way it will improve someone's life.

A large portion of my work has focused on issues of mental health and addictions. Our research on cannabis among teens helped to elucidate the ways that drug choices are gendered—and led to the development of harm-reduction guidelines for young people.

Our research on men and mental health helped to elucidate the ways that men deal with their depression and how their presentation of symptoms differ from those typically seen in women. This research helped to inform new approaches to supporting men with mental health issues.

Describe what your research means to you. What is your personal connection to it?

My original career was in nursing—I have seen first-hand how research evidence can inform practices. For example, I worked in intensive care in the early 1980s as the AIDS epidemic was coming to the fore. We cared for patients presenting with the symptoms of AIDS whose health outcomes were unknown, and I witnessed the ignorance and cruelty that can arise from a lack of sound evidence.

Research is essential to improving lives. My research has reinforced how paying attention to social constructs such as gender and race is important. As SFU’s VPRI, I also see how attention to the needs of equity-seeking groups can also strengthen our institutions.

What circumstances in your life led to your interest in this subject? Is there a personal moment or event that inspired you?

My interest in conducting research that addresses the needs of under-served groups was in part inspired from my career in nursing. As a nurse, I witnessed how life circumstances played such an important role in shaping health outcomes and saw first-hand how quick people can be to judge others.

How did your research change you or your perceptions of the world?

My research has helped me remain open to new insights and perspectives. What I love most about the work is the privilege of engaging with diverse community members. As an example, we conducted a study focused on developing harm-reduction approaches for women who use crack cocaine. Meeting these women and gaining a glimpse of their concerns and struggles was a privilege that pushed me to refocus my efforts on developing policies and practices that address social determinants and improve health.

Read more about the seven other SFU researchers named to the Royal Society of Canada.