‘How to live in a pandemic’ is the type of university class we need – Jessica Fields and Nicholas Spence co-author a piece in the Conversation

‘How to live in a pandemic’ is the type of university class we need during Covid-19

By Andrea Charise, Ghazal Fazli, Jessica Fields, Laura Bisaillon and Nicholas D. Spence


Newly published piece in the Conversation, co-written by departmental members Professor Jessica Fields and Professor Nicholas Spence looks at how health is taught and communicated at the post-secondary level. Given that health research is interdisciplinary, post secondary education needs to provide students with the tools to critically analyse the methods and assumptions used to investigate the topic of Covid-19. To get a better understanding of Covid-19 a multidisciplinary approach is needed.

Professor Jessica Fields is the Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health & Society and a Professor of Health Studies and Sociology at University of Toronto Scarborough.

Professor Jessica Fields biography

Professor Nicholas Spence is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Center for Health and Society at the University of Toronto.

Professor Nicholas Spence biography

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. The article can be found here.

‘How to live in a pandemic’ is the type of university class we need during COVID-19

Currently, we are all bombarded with headlines on the latest research related to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that health is a deeply interdisciplinary issue, demanding expert responses from a cross-section of fields: the artspublic healthsocial work and K-12 education among them.

As an interdisciplinary collective of academics trained in a range of fields from the arts to social science to clinical sciences, we have witnessed first-hand a crucial problem in how health is taught and communicated at the post-secondary level. What is often missed, but is critical to contextualizing scientific findings, are examinations of the assumptions and methods used to conduct health-related research.

This omission reflects a problem in Canadian colleges and universities, which generally deliver post-secondary curriculum using a single-discipline approach. A single-discipline approach to health education does not engage the full picture nor provides the groundwork for innovative, equitable solutions in the future.

Multidisciplinary approaches

At the post-secondary level, for example, a microbiology course might focus on lab-based methods used to diagnose whether someone has developed antibodies to a disease like COVID-19, while a typical public health course might focus on the mechanics of contact tracing.

Deeper understandings of health require a co-operative investigation of the various frameworks, techniques and assumptions that guide research practices and how they are communicated.

Read the entire article here…


Professor Nicholas Spence’s Connaught-funded research studies intra-group differences among Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Professor Nicholas Spence recently received a Connaught New Researcher Award for his project, “The Impact of Social Context (Income Inequality) on Health Among Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” 

The project begins with the understanding that for some Indigenous Peoples in Canada the standard of living is comparable in many respects to that of developing countries but that there, nonetheless, exists great variation across different communities. Professor Spence’s research will study the intra-group differences among Indigenous Peoples in Canada by assessing the impact of social context (community) on health outcomes. He will explore the role of relative deprivation, as operationalized by income inequality (i.e., the degree to which income is distributed among people in a community), in understanding health among Indigenous Peoples. 

Professor Spence will achieve his goals by analyzing three existing datasets (e.g., surveys and census data) that contain data about both on-reserve and off-reserve Indigenous peoples in Canada. They include the 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS), which is a cross-sectional national survey of 24,220 First Nations people living off-reserve, Métis, and Inuit; the 2016 Census of the Population (CP); and the 2015/16 First Nations Regional Health Survey Phase 3, which is a cross-sectional national survey of 23,167 individuals across First Nations communities in Canada. 

This research will advance understanding of the social determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ health, by focusing on the effect of the social environment within a multilevel framework. It will increase knowledge on the role of relative deprivation and income distributions in health outcomes of Indigenous Peoples and shed light on the pathways that link the social environment with health. Overall, this research will speak to fundamental debates, including the relative importance of individual determinants of health versus contextual determinants of health, the complex interactions between them, as well as psychosocial and behavioural explanations of health. Moreover, this approach will enhance understanding of how health outcomes are created and manifest in marginalized peoples. This novel research may also provide evidence for regional and national policy aimed at reducing inequality, which is sensitive to the heterogeneity of the health outcomes and socioeconomic contexts of Indigenous Peoples, across communities in Canada. 

Professor Spence is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Scarborough (UTSC) Campus. His research focuses on social inequality, health, and well-being. He has published various books and scholarly articles in journals such as theAmerican Journal of Epidemiology, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Cancer, Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, amongst many others.