Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

The balancing act of mentorship and supervision pays off

Kariym Joachim and Kathy Speechley smiles for the camera.

With an interest in the human condition and sociology, Kathy Speechley, PhD and Kariym Joachim, MSc Candidate, launched their academic careers. Today, as a Professor with the Departments of Paediatrics, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Speechley now serves as Joachim’s supervisor and mentor. Together, through their research, they are creating hope and promise for the future of children living with epilepsy.

Speechley has been a professor at Western since 1989. She is a prolific researcher whose work focuses on quality of life in children with chronic illnesses and their families, as well as social determinants of child health.

She recently completed a multi-centre study following children newly diagnosed with epilepsy for two years to document the course and determinants of their quality of life. She has funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct a long-term follow-up of these children through adolescence and young adulthood.

When she isn’t focused on her own research projects she is supervising or co-supervising four students, three of whom are master’s candidates and one who is pursuing a PhD.

Supervision is a part of the job she loves. “Having grad students is vital to my research; students remind us (faculty) not to make assumptions, they bring fresh ideas to us and help us to see our own work with new eyes,” she said. “In turn, as a supervisor, it is our job to facilitate their learning, helping them to reach their potential and to find their way to their goals.” That’s been her modus operandi working with Joachim.

Speechley and Joachim recall their first meeting together. Chatting by phone, they discussed Joachim’s hope for his research and his academic goals. Speechley believes that when choosing a student, it’s important to identify what the student’s passion is. “I want them to be excited about their research and their goals,” she said.

She also aims to ensure there is a good fit between the student’s interests and goals and the thesis research possible within the supervisor’s program of research. Since that phone call, Speechley has served as Joachim’s mentor and guided him along through his master’s program.

Becoming involved with research was personal for Joachim. He was born with a genetic disorder called Treacher Collins Syndrome, which left him with a facial difference and hearing impaired. As a young child, he underwent numerous surgeries and met many physicians and health care providers who positively impacted his life.

He started giving back early, as a child volunteer at Sick Kids Hospital. As part of the Sick Kids Children’s Council, he helped the hospital to identify ways to improve the young patient experience. For more than 14 years, he has also volunteered with Aboutface, a not-for-profit organization that supports people living with facial differences.

He pursued research as yet another way to give back in thanks for what had been done for him, and to make life better for other children living with severe or chronic illnesses. His research is focused on measuring the application of family-centred care for children with epilepsy.

It’s been an interesting journey for Joachim, who claims to have found it a challenge initially adjusting from undergraduate studies to graduate studies and to finding a good balance. It was a challenge he overcame.

Undoubtedly, support from Speechley has made a difference. She believes that as supervisors, you need to advocate for your students, support them to move forward, and then stand aside as they achieve their goals.

Her support of Joachim has certainly made a difference. Recently, Joachim was awarded a first place award for his poster presentation at London Health Research Day. It was an achievement he considers his greatest so far in his graduate studies. He viewed it as marker that drove home for him how much he has grown academically.

Just a few weeks later, Joachim was chosen as a finalist in the School’s 3MT heat. He represented Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in the Western University finals; another achievement that will propel him forward in his career.

Joachim will complete his MSc in the coming months and is still considering his future. Whatever he does, he wants to continue giving back and making a difference in the world.