Graduate Student Profile: Simrit Kaur Deol

Simrit is most interested in understanding how the intersections of the constructs of ethnocultural background, immigration and gender impact high school immigrant girls experiences with health, wellness, and physical activity.

Jocelyn Love - 05 October 2020

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I originally went to school to become a physical educator, but a few months before I graduated with my Bachelors I was approached about the master's program. I was incredibly interested in issues regarding gender and sport, and I took the summer to realize that graduate studies gave me the opportunity to really explore those passions more.

Why did you decide to study at the UofA?

I was very fortunate at the University of Manitoba to be surrounded by members within the faculty that were incredible mentors to me. A couple of those mentors had actually obtained their PhD at the University of Alberta, and only had great things to say about their experiences. Also the university of Alberta recently announced one of its signature areas of research is on research on the intersections of gender, (RIG) which also solidified that I would be attending a university whose priorities of research were compatible with my own.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

I was most attracted for the opportunity to work with Dr. Pirkko Markula. As mentioned before, my mentors had spoken so highly of university of Alberta, and especially of Dr. Markula's work. I was very excited about the opportunity to conduct feminist based research, while be advised and mentored by someone who identifies as a feminist researcher within the field of kinesiology, recreation and sport.

What is the focus of your research and what excites you about your research work?

I conduct research from a critical feminist perspective, where I approach the entirety of my work from an intersectional lens. I am most interested in understanding how the intersections of the constructs of ethnocultural background, immigration and gender impact high school immigrant girls experiences with health, wellness, and physical activity. Far too often, programming, policy, curriculum is developed from the lens of majority population experiences, and I am very dedicated to conducting research for and by populations whose voices are often left on the margins of research.

How did you become interested in this research?

As a Punjabi Canadian woman, the intersections of my own ethnocultural background and gender continue to play a huge role in how my real lived experiences are constructed. For myself, this was especially salient when growing up in a northern community in Manitoba, while playing sports. Through my frontline work experiences, I was having incredible opportunities to work with migrants and refugees, and noticed a massive gap within research that wasn't taking into account the intersections of gender and race when looking at certain populations experiences with physical activity. As a product of two migrants, my parents are truly my heroes, so I guess this research comes back full circle as it's dedicated to the many migrant children and youth I have worked with, as well as a way to give back to my parents for their ongoing demonstration of resiliency.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your research?

The biggest challenge I face, as I’m sure many researcher do, is figuring out a dissemination process that will allow for practical use of my research findings. I am hoping to come into my PhD with some more creative analytical practices and data collection tools, in hopes that multiple stakeholders within and outside of the academia will be able to benefit from my project.


What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

Learning. I really just keep signing up for school because I really enjoy learning from other peers and colleagues, and the students I get to teach, to the various professors I meet along the way.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your University of Alberta graduate program?

I have always prided myself on being able to combine academia with frontline. While I have been in school, I have always worked on the frontline for various grassroot and non profits, such as Fit Kids Healthy Kids, Boys and Girls Club, Rec and Read and GirlForward, that has allowed me to bear witness to real lived experiences of the very populations that I conduct research for. I feel that by putting myself out into real world contexts and working on the frontlines has allowed me to communicate in more accessible ways, while also fueling my activism from within academia and outside of it.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I continue to play sports recreationally, mainly soccer and was able to find a woman's team to be a part of when I moved to Edmonton. I also foster dogs, and this has become very therapeutic especially during these times, as it forces me to get outdoors and explores different parks. Other than that, I participate in fairly standard things like documentary binging, hanging out with other graduate students from our faculty in non academic settings, and creatively writing. I also really love traveling when the circumstances permit it, and usually try to travel to different parts in the world a couple times a year.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Pick a topic that you love, and find an advisor that will be a supportive mentor for that. Keep in mind that the next few years of your life will be dedicated to reading and completely immersing yourself in a specific topic, and if it is something you are truly passionate about, it makes it that much easier to get up every day to read and write. Also, while tough, find the balance between standing up for the topic and your research choices that you are passionate about, but the willingness to be receptive to constructive criticism. And at the end of the day, be compassionate towards yourself. Every small step is a victory, and hurdle that you've overcome to get you closer to the finish line.

What does the future hold for you? What are your long-term goals and aspirations?

The future is one big huge question mark. I don’t like to close doors on myself so as of right now, I am open to teaching at a university level. But my real passion is in research. I am currently interning with the Undergraduate Research Initiative at the University of Alberta, as the program evaluator who will be conducting qualitative research to assess undergraduate research. I am very excited about this opportunity, as it allows me to really put my qualitative research abilities to use. I would hope that one day, I will have a seat at the table that is instrumental in creating inclusive and equitable programming and policy within health for various underserviced populations.