The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport announces Emily Giroux winner of the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation, Master’s alongside Steven Fuhr, Kelowna-Lake Country Member of Parliament. - Contributed

UBC Okanagan alumna earns national research prize

Emily Giroux was given a Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation this week

UBC Okanagan alumna Emily Giroux was recognized on the national stage this week for her innovative work in helping to shape research priorities for those living with spinal cord injury.

Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia, awarded Giroux a prestigious Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation for a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree.

Giroux’s research focuses on how to improve the quality of life for people living with spinal cord injuries. Her goal is to make sure the latest, and possibly game-changing research is put into practice as efficiently and quickly as possible.

“As researchers, we don’t necessarily live with SCI and may not fully understand all of the needs and priorities of this community,” says Giroux. “Our aim is to develop a method that would ensure the voices of people living with SCI are at the table when decisions around future research and implementation are being made.”

RELATED: UBC research helps with spinal cord injury

Giroux came to UBC Okanagan’s applied behaviour change lab to work with Heather Gainforth, assistant professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. Giroux says she was drawn to the idea of developing evidence-based solutions in equal partnership with the individuals they’re meant to benefit—a practice that Gainforth specializes in.

“I like to see how our research is making a difference, locally, nationally and internationally,” says Giroux. “The hope is that by engaging the end-users, the research will be used more effectively and in a timely manner.”

To that end, Giroux and Gainforth secured a MITACS Accelerate Grant, which provides students with an opportunity to work in a non-academic environment. She began working with SCI Ontario, with the goal to connect with the SCI community by designing a survey tool using a system called the Delphi consensus method.

“The Delphi is a formal, systematic and reproducible method of arriving at consensus that has been previously used in other communities,” says Giroux. “But we were among the first to use it for decision-making in the SCI population.”

RELATED: Study: Regular exercise benefits those with spinal cord injuries

Consensus methods such as the Delphi put decisions in the hands of those who are most affected. Additionally, it allows for input from a large number of participants who are geographically dispersed.

Giroux’s survey was sent to more than 2,500 members of the SCI community, with 75 per cent of her responses coming from people with lived experience of an SCI. Her analysis and findings were presented to policymakers at SCI Ontario and Gainforth says they have already been used to shape that organization’s strategic plan for implementing SCI research into practice.

“Emily’s dedication to ensuring research is used in practice is impressive for someone so early in their career,” says Gainforth. “The method developed by Emily and colleagues is a major research achievement and sets forth a process for meaningful engagement of the SCI community in future research.”

Giroux’s success prompted Gainforth and SCI Ontario to nominate her for the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation in the master’s category.

“Emily is an outstanding person and researcher,” says Gainforth. “She possesses a rare combination of interpersonal and academic research skills that will ensure she makes a difference in the lives of people with SCI.”

Giroux received her award on Nov. 27 at a ceremony in Ottawa, Ont.


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