McMaster researcher Stephanie Premji is working with internationally educated researcher and Insight Immigrant Scholar Momtaz Begum to build the networks and skills Begum needs to transition into a research career in Canada.

It was while helping to combat the outbreak of deadly diseases in her home country of Bangladesh that Momtaz Begum says she developed her passion for research.

A highly-trained qualitative researcher, Begum was part of a multidisciplinary team of public health experts working in communities experiencing disease outbreaks.

“Our job was to find out what was going on, why the disease was being transmitted and disseminate the information to the community in a culturally appropriate or sensitive way,” says Begum. “The job was tiring, unpredictable, challenging and dangerous, but at the end of the day, I felt like I could be of benefit to people –  it’s that feeling that made me fall in love with research.”

After Begum and her family arrived in Canada, she hoped to continue her career as a researcher, but says it was difficult to find steady work in her field. “You can apply for hundreds of positions, but if they don’t see any Canadian experience, they just eliminate you and don’t call you for an interview,” she says.

Then she heard about a new one-year fellowship program – the Immigrant Insight Scholar initiative – that pairs internationally educated researchers with researchers at Ontario Universities to help them the gain the skills, experience and networks they need to transition into a research career in Canada.

Now, Begum, is working with McMaster researcher Stephanie Premji as an Immigrant Insight Scholar, doing the research work she was trained to do.

“These are highly skilled researchers, they just need opportunities,” says Premji, an associate professor in McMaster’s School of Labour Studies and Department of Health, Aging and Society, who is partnering with Access Alliance,* the Toronto-based non-profit organization that developed the Immigrant Insight Scholar initiative. “My role is to involve Momtaz in my projects, provide her with mentorship and help identify professional development opportunities.”

Begum is working with Premji and co-investigator Agnieszka Kosny from the Institute for Work and Health on two research projects; one on barriers faced by people from linguistic minority communities trying to access workers’ compensation, the second focused on employment preparation and work safety for newcomers to Canada.

Begum, now two months into her fellowship, will be involved in all aspects of both projects from recruiting research participants and conducting interviews, to data analysis and writing recommendations. She will also participate or lead in publications and have the opportunity to present research findings at conferences.

Premji says the projects are already benefitting from Begum’s training and personal insights.

“She has great ideas on how to recruit participants from different communities,” she says. “That comes from her own experience as a newcomer and her own ability to navigate these networks. It’s challenging to recruit individuals who are vulnerable and have difficulties communicating in English. She has already come up with ideas to reach out using social media and to tap into networks of non-English speakers.”

As part of the initiative, Begum also sets aside one day a week for professional development, which includes a range of activities from self-learning to workshops, training and networking opportunities identified by Premji or Kony, and Yogendra Shakya, a mentor at Access Alliance.

“What we’re really trying to do is provide lots of mentorship,” says Premji. “The goal is to introduce Momtaz to other researchers, send her to conferences, to help her build her resume to demonstrate that she has worked on these projects and has this Canadian experience.”

Begum says so far, the experience has been resoundingly positive and is confident that the Immigrant Insight Scholar initiative will lay the groundwork for future career opportunities.

“I’m doing all the work I am passionate about,” she says “My career was all about research and now I am practicing, as well as sharpening my research skills, while working on these two projects.”

“It’s challenging,” she adds. “But I love challenges. This position gives me so much exposure and so many networking opportunities. I believe this opportunity will facilitate me building my research career in Canada.”

Access Alliance provides services and addresses system inequities to improve health outcomes for the most vulnerable immigrants, refugees, and their communities.

This article originally appeared on the McMaster University Brighter World website.

Photo Credit: Sarah Janes

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