" I was drawn to the faculty because of the emphasis they have on qualitative research. Being a qual researcher myself, it was very important to me that I would have support using the methodologies I wanted to use, which can be challenging when medicine tends to favour quantitative approaches. "

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Mary Berger

June 11, 2024

Sociology master's student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

I am a sociology (MA) student with a focus on medical sociology and the sociology of illness. As someone with a chronic illness, I was hyper-aware of the ways in which my sense of self was always in contention with the fact that I was seen as "sick" by other people. As I got older, I started to realize that I was not alone in this feeling, and there were many people in sociology who were exploring this exact experience. I didn't intend to study sociology (I was convinced I wanted to be a psychologist), but after taking a sociology of health and illness class with a professor who had the same illness I did, I realized the important role sociological research has on improving the lives of those living with chronic illness. Ever since then, it has been my goal to contribute to that research and find ways to improve healthcare and shed light on how stigmatizing labels impact how those with chronic illness see themselves.

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

I was drawn to the faculty because of the emphasis they have on qualitative research. Being a qual researcher myself, it was very important to me that I would have support using the methodologies I wanted to use, which can be challenging when medicine tends to favour quantitative approaches. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by incredible professors and students who share a passion qualitative work, and it has profoundly impacted how I approach my work. I was incredibly fortunate to have found a supervisor in Dr. Barbara Mitchel. My research is focused on young adults and their transition to adult care, and Dr. Mitchel's knowledge and expertise in youth transitions has continued to be incredibly helpful and insightful for my research. She has also been instrumental in guiding my work to ensure that it has direct impact on the community, which was always a goal of mine so I am very grateful that she has been able to help me facilitate that. I am also very fortunate to have Dr. Prof-Collins Ifeonu on my committee, who has been a wonderful source of support both in my academic work, as well as navigating life as a new MA student.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

My thesis will explore how the transition from pediatric to adult diabetes care impacts how young adults with type 1 diabetes feel about their identity as 'diabetic'. This transition period is not only difficult from a health perspective, but the challenges associated with entering a new life stage (young adulthood) likely impact how one comes to terms with being 'diabetic' both at a new clinic and in a new social context. Trying to navigate a completely new care team while also trying to navigate a new, and often stressful, life stage is very demanding emotionally and physically. However, a lot of adult care clinics are not well equipped to help ease this transition. My goal is to understand how this life transition and transition of care implicates how young adults feel about being 'diabetic' to eventually provide insights for how clinics can develop programs to educate healthcare providers to ease the process for incoming patients.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Chronic Illness Identity, Qualitative, Community-Based Research

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

In my first semester, I TA'd for SA150 Intro to Sociology with Dr. Kyle Willmott. I was pretty nervous about teaching first years about sociology, but it was such a fulfilling experience to see students engage in the topics we covered and find areas that they want to explore more. It was also a great experience for me to teach, and it hopefully will aid me down the road if I ever decide to take the long and arduous road to becoming a professor. I was very fortunate to have found work outside of an academic institution after my undergraduate degree that has profoundly informed how I approach research. I've worked as an RA at an organization that does research aimed at improving the healthcare system, and is made up of researchers from diverse academic backgrounds. I have really enjoyed the work that I've been able to do the past couple of years, and it's helped show me how sociological research can have real implications for change.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I am incredibly grateful to have received the graduate dean's entrance scholarship (GDES) as well as the SSHRC CGS-M scholarship to support my research.

What have been the most valuable lessons you've learned along your graduate student journey (or in becoming a graduate student)?

Everything is fixable! I think we get so lost in the weeds of everything having a permanent impact on what we do because every decision feels like it holds such gravity. At the end of the day, the point of being a student is to learn and grow, so it's important to remember that mistakes are never permanent. But I am still very much trying to put this into practice myself!

What are some tips for balancing your academic and personal life?

I joked with some of the people in my cohort that my hours of operation are between 11-3 excluding stat holidays. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, I do really try to put time aside to ensure that I can spend time with my loved one's (and myself!) and do things that bring me joy. It's definitely easier said than done, but I do think having a few years outside of school before doing my MA got me in the habit of working normal office hours, which has been a strange benefit.

If you could dedicate your research to anyone (past, present and/or future), who would that be and why?

My mom unfortunately passed away before I started my MA, but I know she would be so proud and happy to see what I've been able to accomplish. Growing up, she was always one of my greatest advocates whenever something came up with my health, and I know that a great deal of who I am and what I am passionate about has been influenced by her. I saw how she stood up for me in healthcare settings where I wasn't being treated with the care I deserved, so I want to carry on that legacy in my own work.