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From Frosty Learning to Lasting Collaborations: My Canadian Journey as a Biostatistician

27 Jul 2023 9:47 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

At the end of 2019 SSA awarded its inaugural Betty Allan Travel Award to two worthy recipients. Then COVID-19 struck and there were no more thoughts of travel for must of us for a long time.

This year, winner Sharm Thuraisingam was finally able to set off on her incredible trip to Canada. This is her report:

"After three long years (thanks Covid-19), I was finally able to use my 2020 SSA/CSIRO Betty Allan Travel Award to spend time at the Centre for Health Informatics, University of Calgary in Canada. In February this year, my family and I headed off to Calgary, arriving to a chilly -30C! I spent 4 months at the Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) learning from statisticians and data analysts about health data, data linkage practices and prediction modelling using linked electronic medical record data in Alberta. During my time at CHI, I connected with various researchers utilising health data for prediction modelling, including family doctors, nephrologists, cardiologists, epidemiologists, paediatric surgeons, biostatisticians and data analysts. My visit has resulted in 4 ongoing international collaboration projects between the University of Melbourne and University of Calgary, and the development of a 5-year Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) collaboration project grant aimed at harnessing the power of hospital electronic medical record data for clinical prediction model development.  

In May I travelled with the CHI team to Montreal to attend the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research (CAHSPR) Conference where I learnt about the collection and amalgamation of health data across Canada, the effect of the pandemic on the Canadian health workforce and strategies for improving access to healthcare for vulnerable populations. I thoroughly enjoyed the networking opportunity and have returned home with a list of researchers to collaborate with.

Of course it wasn’t all work and no play! My family and I made the most of our weekends in Canada, hiking and skiing in Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and British Columbia. We were also lucky enough to visit Quebec City where we enjoyed indulging in French cuisine and some warmer weather. Highlights of my trip include making lifelong friends at CHI, establishing ongoing collaboration projects with the University of Calgary which will (hopefully) see me return in the near future, the picturesque scenery in Alberta (especially the Icefields Parkway), northern lights, well insulated housing, extremely friendly people, delicious poutine and ketchup chips!

Thank you to the Statistical Society of Australia and CSIRO for such a wonderful learning and development opportunity that has enhanced my career as a biostatistician, enabled me to secure ongoing international research/analysis work and provided lifelong memories that my family and I will treasure forever! It really has been a once in a lifetime experience, living and working in another part of the world!"

If you are interested in applying for the Betty Allan Travel Award, keep an eye out for the next call for applications in the SSA weekly newsletter, or click here.

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