Don't be afraid of putting yourself out there - getting to know faculty members and other students may be the key to help you explore different research areas and help figure out your next steps in academia.

Amanda Rowlands receives 2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Amanda Rowlands is awarded a 2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship to pursue research in the Faculty of Health Sciences. On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Amanda as well as all Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars on their outstanding achievements.

July 10, 2020

PhD student in the Faculty of Health Sciences

I grew up in Vancouver, and completed my Bachelor of Sciences in Health Sciences at SFU, in the population and quantitative health stream. During my undergraduate degree, I became passionate about the research process after participating in co-op, and working as a research assistant on two different research projects related to health. These experiences prompted me to pursue graduate studies, and I am currently working on my PhD in the Maternal and Child Health Lab with Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy in the Faculty of Health Sciences. I have learned that it is critical to maintain a balanced lifestyle to support my mental and physical health, and so when I’m not at school I enjoy spending time outdoors - I love to ski, cycle, and I train and race triathlons. Getting outside gives me the space to be creative and helps me stay inspired and motivated about my own research projects.


I was initially drawn to the Health Sciences undergraduate program after travelling for a year as a young individual with my family, and observing first-hand the health disparities in low and middle income countries. The FHS program appealed to me, as it would offer the opportunity to gain a multi-faceted approach to understanding health and disease.

During my undergraduate degree, in addition to my course work, I also worked as a research assistant in two distinct areas of health. I worked on a project at BC Children’s hospital that aimed to understand the barriers around access to essential medicines in low and middle income countries. I also worked at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility to study the impacts of active transportation infrastructure in the City of Vancouver. Both these research experiences gave me insight into the importance of using research findings to inform stakeholders on the improvement of health in specific populations, which shaped my passion for the research process, and ultimately prompted my interest in pursuing graduate studies at SFU in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

After taking several classes during my undergraduate studies with my supervisor, Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy, I developed a fascination for understanding health and disease outcomes through an evolutionary lens, exploring scientific theory, and developing hypotheses. I was particularly interested in the field of women’s reproductive ecology and health and disease. I joined Dr. Nepomnaschy’s Maternal and Child Health Lab in September 2018 to work on a Masters thesis, but quickly transitioned into a PhD program to facilitate a more complex investigation of my proposed project.


My research explores how stress and sleep patterns may have an effect on reproductive development in adolescent girls and reproductive aging in women. Adolescence and reproductive ageing are both critical time periods during women’s reproductive lifespans, and sleep is an important factor involved in supporting healthy development and ageing.

My project explores longitudinal changes in the interactions between sleep and stress across women’s reproductive lifespans, and aims to answer questions such as 1) how does sleep change in adolescent girls compared to menopausal women, 2) how does stress activity change from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, and 3) does metabolic energy availability change over critical transitions across a women’s reproductive lifespan. I work with data and bio-specimen samples collected as part of Dr. Nepomnaschy’s longitudinal study that has been ongoing in Guatemala since 2000. This study will add to our knowledge by characterizing sleep patterns in adolescent girls and aging women, and what physical or socio-ecological factors may be impacting negative sleep outcomes. The insights gained from this research project will provide evidence for the development of interventions aimed at optimizing women’s health and development across the lifespan.


The sense of community, especially within the Faculty of Health Sciences and my research lab, has been such a positive experience. Being a student and young researcher in the Faculty of Health Sciences has exposed me to diverse perspectives of approaching research and scientific inquiry, and I feel that I have gained the invaluable skills of using an interdisciplinary framework to answer complex research questions. As well, the support I have received from the Faculty, and specifically from my lab has been tremendous and critical to my success as a graduate student. Through our lab, I’ve had the opportunity to attend and present my research at several international conferences. Our lab is also very supportive of collaborating with other research groups around the world, and these experiences have further established my understanding of the importance of sharing knowledge to bridge the gap between disciplines.


I was initially awarded an NSERC CGS-M when I started a Masters thesis. I was also awarded a Women’s Global Health Research Trainee Award from the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI) for my preliminary research work, which led to the opportunity to become an associate member of the WHRI.

NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

I was also the recipient of an NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Doctoral Award, but I had to decline this award to accept the Vanier Award.


The Faculty of Health Sciences’ MSc and PhD graduate program is an interdisciplinary program that takes a collaborative approach to improving the health of individuals and populations. The program aims to equip students with a wide variety of skills beyond their area of research, in order for students to gain cross-disciplinary knowledge in addition to their critical thinking and communication skills. This interdisciplinary training enables student to apply a well-rounded approach to solving problems in today’s scientific field..


Take the opportunity to get to know your professors, as they are a wealth of knowledge and are more than happy to help students navigate different graduate program ideas, or may be willing to take you on as a graduate student themselves. Don't be afraid of putting yourself out there - getting to know faculty members and other students may be the key to help you explore different research areas and help figure out your next steps in academia.

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