An interview with Dr. Lena Rebecca Richardson and Dr. John Pickering

The AIRP Partnership’s new postdoctoral fellows 

By Dr. Lena Rebecca Richardson, Dr. John Pickering, and Margaret Ovenell

September 06, 2023

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Dr. Richardson: I have my PhD in Education from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with a focus in Arts Education. I have a Master's degree in Adult Education and Community Development from the University of Toronto (OISE).

During my PhD, I have been involved in a variety of mostly qualitative research projects, including five years as a facilitator and research assistant (RA) with the SFU Elders’ Digital Storytelling Project in the Faculty of Education with Dr. David Kaufman. My work with the Elders’ Digital Storytelling Project built on my previous community work with older adults outside academia, which focused on intergenerational relationship-building and facilitating creative and relational spaces through story circles, oral history collection, and arts-based practices. I edited the book, Stories Between Us, based on an intergenerational oral history project I co-conducted with a team of young adults in Berkeley, California.

In addition to my work focused on older adults, I have some additional areas of focus. My dissertation is an autoethnographic, multimodal inquiry into intergenerational memory and embodiment, connecting with questions of belonging and land connection as a settler and an inquiry into ancestral histories, particularly the mostly unrecorded stories of women in my family. At SFU, I also worked as a RA spearheading a mixed methods research project in Education and Earth Sciences exploring the integration of Indigenous ways of knowing into science education at SFU.  

On a personal note, I love to sing and make music with friends.

Dr. Pickering: I am a qualitative researcher trained in Health Geography. My primary interests are broadly rooted in the aging, health, and place nexus. I originally became interested in the lives of older adults when I volunteered my time at some residences in my hometown. I was able to further explore my interests by combining aging and health studies during my PhD studies. My dissertation focused on issues of transnational access to healthcare amongst older Canadians who live seasonally in the southern US (snowbirds!). I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University, as well as with the Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) project. 

Beyond academics, there are a few things people might not know about me. One is that I lived in Japan for 11 years and 11 months, and I can speak Japanese relatively well. And the other is that I am a multi-instrumentalist. I play guitar, bass, ukulele, trombone, and French horn.

How did you get involved with the AIRP-VABE partnership? 

Dr. Richardson: I applied to the postdoctoral fellowship at the AIRP-VABE project due to my interest and experience developing and working with projects related to older adults. I am excited to be joining AIRP-VABE.

Dr. Pickering: I was attached to this project through discussions with Dr. Atiya Mahmood, the Vancouver City Lead. I feel truly fortunate to be a member of such a productive and efficient team.

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

Dr. Richardson: I have a long-held interest in working with older adults, partly due to growing up with a father who was in his fifties when I was born. My dad was a writer and a storyteller, and I was quite close to him. My relationship with him shaped my interest in working with older people and honed my focus on bringing attention to older adults’ experiences and stories.  

Working on the issue of homelessness is newer to me, but my own lived experience with struggles around housing in Vancouver and my eventual landing in a co-op where I am part of the board of directors has shaped my interest in housing as a need and human right. I believe the focus of this project is essential and understudied, and I am glad to be part of a research project bringing attention to this issue.

Dr. Pickering: I found this to be a unique opportunity, and one that combines many elements of my research interests and training. I view this as an opportunity to return to a human geography focus under the lens of aging. The potential outcomes of this body of research is also something that could benefit the lives of homeless and precariously housed older persons through future research and policy-making.

What will be the focus of your research in your time with the AIRP-VABE partnership? 

Dr. Richardson: I am particularly interested in palliative care for older people experiencing homelessness as well as a focus on the experiences of people who became homeless after fleeing domestic violence. I am also interested in how learning from and creating deeper connections with Indigenous scholars and community advisors could potentially inform the AIRP-VABE partnership’s conceptual framework and research around older adults and homelessness.

Dr. Pickering: I will be most focused on data collected from the Vancouver sites. However, I have a strong background in case methodology, and I can see opportunities to collaborate with others in Calgary and Montreal.

What are you most looking forward to as you begin your time with the AIRP-VABE partnership?

Dr. Richardson: I am looking forward to working with the rich network of people involved in the AIRP-VABE project across three cities and beyond. I am eager to further immerse myself in the data that has already been collected and deepen my understanding of themes and perspectives in the stories of older people experiencing homelessness and the providers who work in this field. I am excited to participate in the development of knowledge mobilization approaches that can impact public awareness and emerging public policy around older adults experiencing homelessness.

Dr. Pickering: I am looking forward to working on a project that has the potential to benefit so many people. The data generated by this project has the potential to help policymakers make better informed decisions in the future.