Meet Samantha Skinner, PhD candidate

Samantha is the recipient of a four year SSHRC scholarship.

Supervisor: Andrea Willson

Area of research:  My area of research is broad and includes health and health inequality, caregiving, disability, the life course perspective, and policy implications of research. My dissertation aims to focus on the health impacts of caregivers of someone with disabilities across the life course. I hope this research will be useful to policy makers.

What influenced your research path?

Throughout my undergrad I worked as a support worker for families that had adult children with developmental disabilities. Studying sociology at the time, I started to notice stark contrasts in the family’s experiences in regards to life with their disabled child. Families I worked with had some very positive experiences, but also many challenges as a result of structured social relations (class, gender, race/ethnicity etc.). I also observed how recent policy changes to caregiving supports were negatively impacting families. When I reached my master’s program I began to study these types of families for my thesis. I found the topic to be highly important, but vastly understudied in the field of sociology so I wanted to continue the research for my PhD dissertation.

Why did you choose Western for your studies?

I chose Western for a couple of important reasons. The PhD Sociology program offers comprehensive exams and courses in fields that pertain to my research interests. I was also interested in some of the professors' work on health, inequality, policy, and aging. Lastly, I did my undergrad at King’s University College and grew up in London. So, coming back to Western felt like coming home.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone considering applying to your graduate program?

My best advice for someone applying to this grad program (or any grad program) is to research ahead of time what the program offers. Make sure they offer courses and comprehensive exams in your related area. Research the faculty members and their areas of research to get a sense of who could supervise you. It is important that you find someone who will be a good fit for you and your research. Consider faculty members' knowledge of the research area you want to explore, experience with your preferred research methods, and approach to supervising (students and supervisors may have different expectations and needs from each other and it’s important that the two of you are on the same page most of the time). Don’t hesitate to send them an email or set up a meeting to ask questions about them, their research, their availability to supervise, and the program itself. You don’t need to choose your supervisor right away, but it’s good to have a few people in mind.

Where’s your favourite place on campus to work/study/research? Why?

My favourite place to work on campus is my student office. I find it is a good place to focus and be productive. I also have some great office mates whom I enjoy hanging out with.

What is it about your grad program that enables you to thrive and be successful?

Western is a great place to learn and has knowledgeable faculty and staff that are helpful and supportive. I live with mental illness which can make grad school challenging at times. Faculty, staff and peers I have sought support from have been very understanding and helpful. They have worked with me to ensure I continue to make progress and recognize and remind me that I am a capable student where mental illness does not need to define me or my abilities.

What is your "dream" career?

My dream career would be to be a Professor of Sociology where I get to teach and conduct my own research.

What idea, suggestion, or comment would you like to share with the Western graduate community?

Grad school is a lot of fun and rewarding, but it can also be challenging and overwhelming. Finding balance and maintaining your mental well-being can be hard. It is important to take time to care for yourself. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful. All grad students at some point will have imposter syndrome and feel like they are doing everything completely wrong. That’s okay and normal. Be kind to one another as we all face challenges and setbacks in life. Don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges you face. The more we talk about our challenges the more we can break down stigmas around mental health and well-being. The more we talk about our struggles the more supportive and awesome our grad community will become.

Have you worked as a TA or RA? If so, how did this benefit your academic career?

I have worked as a TA. I have enjoyed TAing and believe it will help me if I ever get to be a professor. TAing teaches you many skills including: communication, organization, presentation of information, and grading. It also allows you to learn about topics you might not have otherwise learned about.

Do you engage in volunteer activities? If yes, what activities?

Currently (when time permits) I foster rescue dogs through a local organization. In the past I have volunteered for the Canadian Cancer Society as well as federal and provincial election campaigns. I hope to soon start volunteering for some local disability organizations.

What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about doing research that can have a positive impact on people’s lives. I believe as a sociologist and a researcher I have an important responsibility to draw attention to people’s experiences and demonstrate that learning about these experiences can help us understand and empathize with one another. Through understanding and empathy we can work towards creating positive change for groups who do not benefit from or are oppressed by the current social systems we have in place.

Hobbies, special talent(s), interests outside academia:

I like to cook in my spare time. My special talent would be tripping over non-existent objects. Outside of academia I enjoy learning about human evolution, space and the universe.