Reflections on the CIHR summer program in aging

September 13, 2023

By Jill Hoselton and Margaret Ovenell

Calgary regional coordinator Jill Hoselton recently had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Aging Summer Program. We discussed her experience and what learnings she’s bringing back to the AIRP Partnership.

Jill (second from the right) with other attendees of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Summer Program in Aging.

Views from the CIHR Summer Program in Aging.

Why did you apply to the CIHR Summer Program in Aging?

I have worked as a research assistant and coordinator on the Aging in the Right Place Partnership for nearly three years. My interest in aging research has greatly increased as a result of this experience. I saw the CIHR Summer Aging program as a fantastic opportunity to further develop my knowledge and skills as an emerging aging researcher.

What sparked your interest in working with older adults and homelessness?  

At the beginning of my social work career, I practiced alongside older adults experiencing houselessness due to family violence. Learning about the issues older adults experiencing abuse and houselessness faced was shocking and I was introduced to an entirely new paradigm for understanding older adults’ marginalization and vulnerability. My long held belief  that older adults are somehow protected from homelessness in Canadian society was completely disrupted.

My career eventually went in another direction but I was pulled back into this vital practice and research area while working on my Masters of Social Work. My supervisor, Dr. Christine Walsh, the City Lead of the Calgary arm of the AIRP Partnership introduced me to the study.I started working as a research assistant. Three years later, I am still on the project and strongly believe cultivating awareness among the public about older adults and homelessness is crucial. The AIRP Partnership’s arts-based, participatory framework makes it an ideal avenue for advocacy and activism within research. I'm very proud of the work being done through and as a result of this study.

What are your research interests?

I am particularly interested in using an intersectional lens to understand aging and homelessness. Older adults are subject to systems of oppression that implicate them in various ways based on the interlocking identities that they embody. For example, what are the specific challenges that older immigrants face in the context of housing? What about older veterans, or older adults with substance use issues? How do these contexts coincide and relate to race, ethnicity, gender, class, and citizenship? How can we collectively craft social services and programs to meet all of these unique needs and support older adults to age in the right place?

What was the best part of your experience with the CIHR Aging Summer Program?

The best part of the program was collaborating with and getting to know all the different people from across Canada that engage in aging research. Uniquely, a small number of Swedish researchers and emerging scholars joined us too, which added to the diversity of the program. I appreciate that the program also had us immerse ourselves in East Coast, Celtic culture. We celebrated our week together with a Celtic music band and there wasn't a person in the room who didn't have their arms swinging and feet stomping to the music. Finally, the location was ideal. We stayed at a beautiful resort on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. We listened to a variety of captivating lectures on various aspects of aging research while looking out at wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from your time participating in the CIHR Aging Summer Program?

There was a huge emphasis on health sciences and quantitative research throughout the program. While this approach to research is invaluable, it did make me appreciate how unique, personal, and compelling qualitative research is. I hope, in future years, that the program looks to invite more qualitative researchers to engage with and educate participants. I also want to add that on a more practical side, the program was very instructive about how to effectively complete CIHR funding applications, which is a much needed skill for those of us who are new to the research landscape.