Alumni Spotlight

Jeff Vallance

It was serendipity that led Jeff Vallance to the door of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, and it was two great supervisors, a master’s and a doctoral degree and a lifetime of memories that helped carry him on to an established career.
Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Alumni

Dr. Jeff Vallance presents at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Alumni Speaker Series in April 2016

Dr. Jeff Vallance’s resume reads impressively: Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University; Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Oncology at the University of Calgary; current Tier II Canada Research Chair in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Management; a Population Health Investigator Award from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions; and a former Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator Award winner.

If you asked Jeff Vallance of 1996 — a freshman in the School of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) — if he ever thought he would be one of the leading researchers in physical activity, sedentary behavior, and cancer in Canada, working and publishing papers with colleagues across the world, he would say one thing.

“Absolutely not.”

In fact, when the Burnaby, BC native embarked on his academic adventure, he had plans to teach PE and social studies, and perhaps coach high school golf. It wasn’t until he was in his fourth year that he realized teaching high school PE was not the right fit for him.

“I had a real interest in sport psychology (being a young ‘athlete’ myself), and had some really good sport psychology undergraduate course at UBC. I had a bit of exposure to research and graduate school at UBC. I decided then to pursue a master’s degree in sport psychology.”

Jeff began by reaching out to a number of sport psychology researchers/professors across North America. With most of them not replying, and those who did reply not having the appropriate funding to host an international student, an email reply from a young professor at the University of Alberta was the opportunity that Jeff had been waiting for.

Dr. John Dunn replied, showing an interest despite me not having any research or applied experience in the area of sport psychology. I flew to Edmonton over the Christmas break to meet face-to-face with John where he laid out his clear expectations of me. He was also very clear that, if he accepted my application, I was to be his first master’s student.”

The meeting worked in Jeff’s favor as, shortly thereafter, he received an acceptance letter from John.

“We both took a chance on one another, and I have to say it couldn’t have worked out better. I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor or a better master’s thesis experience.”

And so started Jeff’s journey as a Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation student. For the next two years, John and Jeff worked closely to help develop his (Jeff’s) knowledge in the area of sport psychology; to teach him how to think critically; to write, and to help refine his skills to better communicate his research.

“John’s impeccable attention to detail and his high expectations of me really kept me on my toes. And it all paid off as I (or more appropriately, ‘we’) was able to win the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology Master’s Thesis Award.”

During his master’s experience, Jeff took a keen interest in exercise psychology. On the advice of one of his fellow grad students, he approached Dr. Kerry Courneya about pursuing his PhD under Kerry’s supervision. Kerry’s work is focused on physical activity and cancer; a new and exciting area of research that was intriguing to Jeff. After setting up a meeting with Kerry and taking his Exercise Oncology graduate course, Jeff was accepted and began his PhD in August of 2002.

“Kerry taught me how to successfully navigate the academic world, and be successful. Things like how to write a successful grant proposal, craft manuscripts for publication, and work with large teams of collaborators.”

Kerry offers his PhD students opportunities they may not get elsewhere. In his first year as a PhD student, Jeff was the trial coordinator for a large, $600,000 multicenter randomized controlled trial enrolling women on chemotherapy into a supervised exercise training program. This role and Kerry’s supervision was very important on the impressionable PhD student, and shines a light why Jeff has been so successful in his career.

“Words simply can’t describe the impact John and Kerry had on my career. I would not have had the opportunities, experiences, and successes that I have had if it were not for both of them.”

“I think you need people like both John and Kerry. John’s training really builds a foundation or a platform in which to launch your research career. You need the skills he taught me. And Kerry’s training and training environment provides you with the opportunities to use those skills, stretch your limits, and ultimately sets you up for a successful academic career.”

The admiration between Jeff and his two mentors is mutual.

"Jeff was an absolute pleasure to have as a grad student,” says Dr. Kerry Courneya, Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Professor and Tier I Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer. “He coordinated one of my most successful trials and performed incredibly well throughout his training experience. Moreover, Jeff published his PhD study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which is the most prestigious cancer journal with an impact factor over 18. He has gone on to have a very successful independent career which is a great source of pride for any supervisor. Most importantly, Jeff is a fantastic colleague who is well-liked in the field, and I hear positive comments about him where ever I travel in the world".

“I have two distinct memories of Jeff when he was my student,” says John Dunn, Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation Professor. “The first relates to how proficient he was at turning around his work. What I thought would take him two weeks was done in two days, and always to the highest standards. He was highly driven and highly focused. He was the epitome of a skilled independent learner.”

“My other memory of Jeff occurred when he was sitting in my 3rd floor office of the Pavilion, and a female graduate student walked by my office to ask a quick question. Jeff's eyes lit up when he saw her. Little did I know that this graduate student (Lorian Taylor, another faculty PHD graduate) would later become Jeff's wife! As I said, he was driven and focused!” 

Jeff left the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation in 2007, starting out on what has become a very successful career. His research interests have led to over 95 publications and book chapters, as well as the publication of a book Fight Breast Cancer with Exercise, which he co-wrote with Dr. Kerry Courneya, and is now available worldwide.

Jeff recently presented at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation’s PERAlumni Speaker Series where he discussed his research interests. His current research program explores physical activity, sedentary behavior, and related psychosocial health outcomes across the cancer context and other chronic diseases such as renal disease, as well as among older adults.

For more information on Jeff’s research, watch the video recording of his full presentation.


Jeff Vallance PERAlumni Presentation


Needless to say, Jeff’s time with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation has left a lasting mark on the associate professor and researcher, both professionally and personally. For Jeff, the relationships he made in grad school, the opportunities he was presented and the experiences he went through all intertwine and are something he hopes current and aspiring grad students embrace. He has a few great tips to students navigating their way through grad school:

  1. You’ll probably end up somewhere different than you originally planned. Be open to new ideas and areas of exploration and be ready to accept change wherever it may come from.
  2. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from these things and move one. We all have to start somewhere, after all.
  3. When you complete your PhD, don’t necessarily distance yourself from your supervisor. Absolutely make new connections. But stay in touch. Kerry and I still work closely together, and we even ended up co-writing a book together.
  4. In the end, it’s not all about the degree; it’s also about the life lessons and the relationships you make with your colleagues. Your fellow students play the biggest role in your career. My friends and colleagues were so influential, many of them I still work and collaborate with to this very day. Some of them are my closest friends.
  5. Lastly, maintain a good work life balance. For me, my family and children are priority, not getting the next grant or publication. Going to the office every weekend is not a badge of honour. I learned that both from John and Kerry.

As for students who are contemplating taking their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, Jeff’s advice is simple:

“There is simply no better place.”