Honours Interview: Eleanor White

Eleanor White graduated from Simon Fraser University in December of 2021 with a major in sociology and a Certificate in Social Justice, and completed her honours project under the supervision of Dr. Amanda Watson.

Her research explores the experiences of women with chronic pain navigating the health care system, and the prevalence of “medical gaslighting.” We interviewed Eleanor to learn more about her project and to ask about her experience in the honours program.

What is your honours project about? What are some of your findings?

My honours project is about how women with chronic pain-related conditions are often subject to common experiences of medical gaslighting when navigating the health care system. Through analyzing interviews with women with chronic pain, I argue that medical gaslighting, which in my project's case refers to the persistent dismissal of female pain of various forms, disproportionately impacts women with these conditions. Some of the main ways in which this takes place is through the psychologization of female pain in lieu of hysteria diagnoses, equating “normal” tests with health, and the perceived objectivity of medical spaces.

How did you become interested in studying women with chronic pain and their experiences in the health care system?

I have endured various chronic pain-related conditions for most of my life, and they previously hindered how I felt about myself. In a class at SFU I opened up to another student who also suffered from chronic pain, and seeing how opening up to someone with shared experiences validated my own experiences being dismissed in health care made me realize I wanted to study chronic pain and inequalities in healthcare.

What skills have you developed or strengthened through being in the honours program?

The main skills that I developed while completing my project were analysis skills. I found that I was very comfortable in research papers where I argued a perspective based on existing literature, but analyzing my own data in tandem with existing thoughts was something completely new. I also really liked how the program was supervised but a lot of parts were self-led, in terms of actually being solely involved in the interview process. This honed my skills for self-directed work, which has become incredibly important to my future educational pursuits; this program has made me feel more prepared for graduate school.

Did you face any challenges or obstacles over the course of your project?

In the very beginning stages of my project, I wanted to have an answer to every issue — to comment on every problem within health care and social determinants of health. Narrowing in my project to become what it is now was a huge challenge for a very long time. I really think the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was imposter syndrome though, because I was constantly questioning if the postulations I was making were right, and if what I was contributing was really worth it. Overcoming that and allowing my data and analysis to speak for itself was a huge issue for me, but an issue that in the end was worth it.

What was your experience like working with your faculty supervisor, Dr. Amanda Watson, on your project?

Working with Dr. Watson was amazing. I always knew I wanted her to be my supervisor when I began planning my honours project, but I never would have imagined how beneficial she was not only to my project, but to being my support and instilling a sense of pride in my work that countered so much of the imposter syndrome I felt in academia.

Does your project relate to your future career or educational goals?

This project is actually the reason for my future educational goals. Researching chronic pain in this capacity made me realize I wanted to do this more long term, so I applied to postgraduate programs in the medical sociology realm. I ended up deciding to study at the University of Cambridge in Health, Medicine and Society, which was based on my research being a great fit for this program. In terms of future career goals, I hope that I can find the spot between advocacy and academia, so I can make systems change for women with chronic pain who feel misunderstood in health care systems.

If you'd like to connect with Eleanor you can find her on LinkedIn.