Meet Elizabeth Wall-Wieler, the new UM Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Population Data Analytics and Data Duration.
Elizabeth Wall-Wieler, the new UM Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Population Data Analytics and Data Curation, an alumna of the UM, recently joined UM as an assistant professor, community health sciences, Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, working at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. She was awarded a Tier 2 CRC, which comes with $500,00 in funding over five years, from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. UM Today caught up with her to learn a bit about her and the research she is undertaking.
Tell us about your research.
In my research, I use health and social data sources to look at maternal and child health. Most of the data I use was collected for administrative purposes, like medical claims, pharmacy dispensation records, and foster care case files. In my work around data curation, I am interested in making these data sources easier to use for research purposes, and bringing in new data to complement data that we already housed at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. These population-level data can then be analyzed to gain insights into people’s lives, and to understand how we can improve their health and social outcomes. My research is significant to Canadians in several ways. First, the applied work that I do aims to improve outcomes for moms and kids, which make up a large part of our population. Second, I am working to make the population-based data that I use easier to use for other researchers, so that even more researchers can use these data to look at how we can improve the health and social circumstances of all Canadians.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I started my position at UM in September of this year. My journey to this new CRC role started more than a decade ago. I began working on data analysis during my undergrad at the U of W, where I majored in Statistics. I then did my MSc and PhD at UM, where I conducted my research using the whole-population data housed at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy to examine a wide range of health and social research questions. During my PhD, I had the opportunity to work with the population data in Sweden, and during my postdoc, I worked with population-based data in the United States. Through these experiences, I not only developed a strong appreciation for population data analytics and data curation, but also came to understand just how incredible the data is that we have here in Manitoba. I was doing my postdoc in California when I saw the posting for this position, and jumped at the chance to come back to Manitoba and continue working with the incredible data and amazing people at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and in the department of community health sciences.
What does CRC funding mean to you as a researcher?
Having CRC funding means that I can spend more time building my lab and my program of research in these critical first few years of my faculty position. It allows me to hire students, access data, and buy equipment that I need for my lab to be successful.
How did you feel when you learned you were awarded your Canada Research Chair?
I was very excited and honored when I learned that I had been nominated by UM for the CRC position; these feelings were even stronger when I found out earlier this year that the nomination was successful.
What inspires you?
I was inspired to do the work that I do by a many different teachers and mentors that I’ve had along the way. I became really interested in data analytics and epidemiology through professors I had during my undergrad. But without a doubt, the most influential person in my work has been Dr. Leslie Roos. I started working with him as a research assistant when I was finishing my undergrad, and continued to do my MSc and PhD under his supervision. Dr. Roos is one of the founders of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, and has been working with population-based data for a long time. His enthusiasm for the work and his consistent encouragement to follow my interests were critical in me finding my passion for population data analytics and data curation.
What about you would people find surprising?
Many people may not know that I am an immigrant – my family moved to Canada when I was seven. I grew up in a conservative Mennonite household; low German was my first language and continues to be the primary language spoken in my parent’s home.
Do you have any advice for students/young grad students starting their career?
I would advise students starting graduate school to work with people you like and who are invested in your success, and to work on a project that you really care about. There are a lot of hurdles along the way – papers and funding applications get rejected, the data you are working with has limitations you didn’t anticipate, events in your personal life take up a lot more time than you had anticipated, etc. Without supportive advisors, these setbacks can feel bigger than they are.