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Graduate Studies

Alice Kelen Soper

Alice Kelen Soper received the 2023 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Alice is completing her PhD in Rehabilitation Science, under supervisor Peter Rosenbaum.

About being a Vanier Scholar.

What does receiving a Vanier Scholarship mean to you?

I am incredibly humbled to receive the Vanier Scholarship and am honoured to be recognized for my research in the field of childhood disability. Receiving the scholarship further validates the importance of the research proposed for my doctoral work. It is a springboard to continue my current and future research endeavours, for which I am very grateful.

Tell us about your Vanier research.

A program called ENVISAGE (ENabling VISions And Growing Expectations) was created in 2018 to increase family centredness of services and empower parents of children with neurodevelopmental (NDD) disabilities. There are two versions of this program – one for parents of children with NDD, and the other for service providers. For my thesis, we will co-develop and evaluate an integrated version (I-ENVISAGE). This version will allow parents and service providers from the same organization to complete the program together. We anticipate that the findings from the study can help us improve the program and provide evidence of the extent to which it works to increase parenting confidence, empowerment, and family centredness of services.

About graduate student life

What inspired you to pursue a postgraduate degree?

I became really interested in research when I completed my undergraduate thesis (2018-19). I had also started working at CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research and got to know other graduate students and researchers who were passionate about their fields of study. I felt inspired by their passion for research and the work they were doing to advance childhood disability research. I began to see myself in my mentors and it became clear how I may be able to pursue my own research interests through a postgraduate degree.

Why did you choose to study at McMaster?

I have been a student at McMaster (BHSc and MSc in Global Health) since 2016 and in 2021 I chose to do my PhD at the School of Rehabilitation Science. There are several reasons why I decided to continue studying at McMaster, one of which being the training environment. This includes my supervisor and mentors who are incredibly supportive and have a wealth of knowledge and experience in my research area. Furthermore, CanChild is a leading research centre for knowledge translation and patient engagement in research, which are both integral components of my doctoral work. Finally, the School of Rehabilitation Science has several areas of research led by international renowned faculty, including knowledge translation and childhood disability (and participation). Both research areas align with my own, so the program was an excellent fit.

What do you love most about your graduate program?

The School of Rehabilitation Science is very invested in their students and I have always felt welcomed and supported by staff, faculty members, and my fellow peers. There is a culture of respect, inclusivity, and belonging, which is one thing I love most about the program. I believe that this culture is crucial to student success because it facilitates co-learning and collaboration across health disciplines.

What is your favourite thing about McMaster and the broader Hamilton community?

I have spent seven years at McMaster, so I think I know it fairly well at this point! My favourite thing about the campus is having Cootes Paradise on the doorstep. When I lived closer to campus I went running through the trails and would go for walks through Cootes Paradise into Westdale – a lively little neighbourhood near McMaster. Hamilton as a city has a lot to offer, and I have gotten to know it better by living downtown over the past year. Walks along the rail trail, visits to Gage Park, and exploring James Street North are some of my favourites since moving downtown.

When you’re not busy being a graduate student, how do you like to spend your free time?

In my free time I enjoy painting and as the weather gets warmer, I am getting back into running outdoors. In the winter, I enjoy Eastern skiing and I would love to try the slopes out West one day! For some added summer fun, I play softball through the McMaster Graduate Students Association intramural league.

Beyond Grad School

What do you see as the next step in your life journey?

After my PhD I would like to do a postdoctoral fellowship to continue my training as an emerging independent researcher. I would like to build a career that integrates my interests in global health with my passion for promoting strengths-based approaches to childhood disability. As I take steps in this direction, I will strive to produce and disseminate research that is meaningful and relevant to children and their families.