As a research assistant at SFU, Shane Virani studies injuries in athletes and older adults, and he helps find innovative technologies to prevent such injuries. While finding ways to keep people active and injury free, Shane is also pursuing his Master’s degree. We chatted with him about his career path in academia and his current work in research.
Briefly tell us about your current career and how you got there.
Certainly! I’m currently a research assistant in the Injury Prevention and Mobility Lab (IPML) based at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. Our lab aims to use innovative technology in order to gain novel insight and prevent a variety of serious injuries that place a significant burden on the Canadian health system. Currently our lab has been focusing on two very important and common injuries: 1) Hip fractures and other fall-related injuries in older adults and 2) Concussion Injuries in athletes, specifically in the game of ice hockey. Ultimately, all the work we do is geared to keeping people active and injury free!
I started working as a research assistant in the lab in 2013 and since then I have had the pleasure to work on a wide range of projects. Prior to joining the lab, I completed my Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology at SFU. During my undergraduate career I had the fortunate of meeting Dr. Stephen Robinovitch who runs the IPML. I immediately took an interest in the applied research Dr. Robinovitch conducted and we connected in our shared passion for injury prevention. I took a directed studies class with him where I got my first taste of research experience and following the completion of my undergrad degree, I was offered a position as a research assistant while simultaneously completing my Master’s degree.
How does the work you do incorporate your strongest interests, values, and/or natural strengths?
I can honestly say that I am fortunate to work in a field that I am extremely passionate about. I started playing ice
hockey at the age of 5 and played at a high level until I graduated from high school. It was only natural being an athlete that I
wanted to pursue a field that involved health and physical activity hence why I chose to get my degree in Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology. During this time, I also started volunteered at Sunny Hill Health Centre – a development and rehabilitation facility connected to BC Children’s Hospital. I assisted running recreation therapy programs at Sunny Hill and was able to work with a wide range of children with complex medical needs. Many of the children I worked with had incurred brain injuries as a result of physical activities such as football or skateboarding. Working with these children really made me wonder if there was any way that the injuries that these children sustained could have been prevented or mitigated.
My work in the IPML attempts to do exactly that. Currently I am overseeing the concussions in ice hockey area of research. Concussions are serious injuries to the brain that can have long-term complications on cognitive function. Throughout my years playing hockey, I saw firsthand how debilitating these injuries can be. Now I am able to help oversee a collaborative team of researchers from a variety of different fields including kinesiology, engineering, and psychology and do my best to come up with innovative solutions to reducing the current concussion epidemic that is occurring in sport.
In your experience, what is the biggest benefit and drawback of pursuing a masters and a career in research?
Pursuing a master’s degree helped me develop a strong skill set that is very applicable to the working world regardless of your field. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I definitely felt the grind of studying for exam after exam and felt that I lacked practical hands-on experience. I really wanted the opportunity to make an impactful difference in the healthcare field and the best way I feel one can do that is by being hands-on and innovative.
By pursuing a master’s I was able to take my knowledge and apply it to real-world problems. I learned to think critically to develop potential injury prevention solutions. I also learned how to manage the demands of different projects. Additionally, I learned how to translate the knowledge obtained from our research to stakeholders and get their feedback and input on our initiatives. All of these skills are important to have regardless of your career.
As for drawbacks, pursuing a master’s degree can definitely have a few. Firstly the cost of tuition can be a burden especially as many graduate students have already accumulated a significant amount of debt from paying for their undergraduate degree. Also research work is not always fruitful. You will often have to go through many iterations of a hypothesis or solution before ending up with a finalized idea. Sometimes the finalized idea will prove unsuccessful as well which can be quite disheartening.
What advice would you give to high school students who are currently interested in a career in academic research?
As cliché as it sounds, I think the most important advice I could give would be to find something you are genuinely interested in. Research involves long hours looking incredibly in-depth on the same topic. Chances are if you don’t like the topic, you aren’t going to enjoy researching it.
When you are looking for what university and what department to apply to out of high school, also take a look at the professors in the department and what research they do. If you come across some research that catches your eye, it may be a good fit for you!
Also when you get into university, start connecting with your professors early on! Ask them if they have any volunteer opportunities in their lab or if you can take a directed / independent studies course supervised by them. Most professors are passionate about their research and welcome undergraduate students who share their same interests. By volunteering in a few research labs you can learn the ins and outs of the field and figure out if the research area would be a good fit for you!
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