Student Profile: Eireann O'Dea

November 08, 2022

Eireann O’Dea is working on her PhD with a focus on generativity which refers to the desire among individuals to help and teach the next generation, cultural generativity, and the impact of COVID-19 and volunteering.

During her undergrad, Eireann studied health sciences because of her interest in population health. Taking Dr. Andrew Wister’s course, GERO 420: Sociology of Aging as an elective, introduced Eireann to the area of aging. It became apparent to her that there was a lot of overlap between Gerontology and Health Sciences. By taking more courses in gerontology, Eireann quickly realized that she wanted to further her education and training in this area, and seeing how society views aging and ageism prompted Eireann to pursue grad school.

“Aging is a part of everyone’s life and learning about it is important because it makes you more empathetic and understanding of others,” says Eireann.

Prior to starting the Master’s program, Eireann spent her summer working at the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). Through this internship, she was able to interview participants and develop her research skills.

Taking Dr. Habib Chaudhury’s course on Qualitative Research Methods led to Eireann’s current research area on volunteerism. For her Master’s practicum, Eireann worked closely with the Jewish Community Centre’s Adult-Day Centre. During this time, Eireann noticed that there were a lot of seniors volunteering there that were very engaged in their community.

After completing her Master’s degree, Eireann still had questions surrounding cultural identity and generativity. Ultimately, this was one of the factors that led to her decision to continue on to the PhD program.

“I decided to apply for the PhD program because I had a very positive experience in my Master’s program and I wanted to pursue academia and continue learning," says Eireann.

Building off of her Master’s research, cultural generativity inspired Eireann to research the intergenerational aspect of how older adults pass down their culture to members of the community.

Eireann’s PhD will be focused on three interlinked theses papers. The first paper will be a scoping review exploring previous studies conducted on volunteerism among diverse cultural groups of older adults. In the second paper, a quantitative analysis utilizing CLSA data, will look at the impact of COVID-19 on volunteerism among older adults. This will culminate with the third paper which will be based on a qualitative study and explore the experiences of diverse groups of older adults in the community who volunteer. There is very little research in this area that reflect volunteers from diverse cultural groups. Eireann’s research will address this to broaden knowledge in this area.

As Eireann’s supervisor, Dr. Wister has been very supportive of her research goals. Eireann has been able to choose the direction of her research project, and meets regularly with Dr. Wister to review her work. One thing that Eireann appreciates is how understanding Dr. Wister is, as he recognizes the challenges that come with being a student. Dr. Wister has also provided Eireann with many job opportunities to build her CV and expand her network.

This semester, Eireann is teaching GERO 300: Introduction to Gerontology for the first time, which is really a full-circle moment for her from her undergrad up until now. After completing her PhD, Eireann wants to stay in academia and teach, or work with older adults in a more applied setting.

Eireann’s advice for prospective students interested in Gerontology:

  1. Reach out to professors and current students that work in the area you are interested in and ask them questions!
  2. Whichever route you decide to take, make sure you are still passionate and excited about it!
  3. Get involved with the program - such as the GGC, and take advantage of the resources that are available to you as a student.

Connect with Eireann at: