Lighting a spark for research: New rehab science PhD grad leads undergrad daughters by example

Kristine Godziuk, '91 BPE, '19 PhD: Fall Convocation Graduate Spotlight

Rob Curtis - 21 November 2019

Dr. Kristine Godziuk, '91 BPE, '19 PhD, is one of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's newest graduates. Kristine went back to school after more than 20 years working as a clinical exercise physiologist and kinesiologist, coming back to campus as a student at the same time that her oldest daughter was starting her undergraduate degree. Over the course of her studies, she received awards from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine; Alberta Health Services' Strategic Clinical Networks; Obesity Canada; the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the Alberta Centre on Aging. I chatted with Kristine to learn more about her time at the University of Alberta, and what her plans are after graduation.

Why did you choose to study Rehabilitation Science, and what brought you to the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine here at the U of A?

I was working as an exercise specialist in an Edmonton hospital with children, adolescents and families on weight management and health. I enjoyed being part of a multi-disciplinary clinical team and working one-on-one with patients, but I developed an interest in improving patient care on a broader scale. Clinical research can drive change from a wider perspective, and so I decided to return to the U of A for advanced training as a PhD student. I was especially interested in working with Dr. Mary Forhan [the Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy] due to her reputation and expertise in patient-centred bariatric care research; I was fortunate that Mary agreed to be my graduate supervisor.

Tell me a little bit about your research.

My research focuses on sarcopenic obesity (a condition of low skeletal muscle mass with higher fat mass) in adults with osteoarthritis, examining how it influences patient outcomes. I'm also looking at how we can better prevent, identify and treat this condition in clinical practice. For example, we often only measure body mass index (BMI) in patients, but body composition may be more important. I think we need to increase awareness of this condition in osteoarthritis care and engage patients and clinicians in research to influence practice change.

What was it like being in school at the same time as your kids?

I have three daughters, all at the U of A in science, nursing and arts. I tried to keep my studies separate from them, so that they could have their own university experience-that was actually a nice thing about being at Corbett Hall: we were in different corners of campus! Coming back to school after 20 years meant a different experience from my undergrad, with unique challenges, but still, I was able to empathize with my daughters when the crunch time of finals rolled around. I also kept working as an exercise physiologist during part of my studies, which was actually really good for me: it helped to connect me back to patient care and the health care system, plus it was nice to take a step back from my research from time to time to take a breath.

What is one of your fondest memories from your time in the program?

My thesis defence is a really fond memory for me. I was lucky to work with a wonderful committee of scientists: Dr. Mary Forhan, Dr. Linda Woodhouse and Dr. Carla Prado, and they were very supportive and encouraging throughout my entire program. When you come back to school after 20 years, you can't help but ask yourself how things will go, will you be successful, and what will that look like; defending my thesis felt like answering that question.

What's next for you?

I'm planning to continue to expand this area of research. There's a lot of work to be done, and it has really lit a spark in me. I'm still part of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, doing a post-doctoral research fellowship, and I'd like to find a position as a clinician scientist. In the short term-I'll be celebrating convocation with my family over dinner this week; they're all really excited for my graduation!