Q & A with Dr. Nichole Austin, 2019 Governor General’s Medal

Live 2019
A native of Massachusetts, Dr. Nichole Austin recently completed her PhD in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Austin, who officially received her degree during the 2019 Spring Health Sciences Convocation was also selected as the recipient of Governor General’s Medal, given to the top doctoral thesis across McGill. “I’m beyond thrilled for Nichole,” said Dr. Sam Harper, Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill, and Dr. Austin’s doctoral supervisor. “She’s a tremendous scholar, an incredible collaborator, and a wonderful human being. I’m excited to see where her future work will lead.”
Dr. Austin took some time to answer some questions for us on her time at McGill and her work.

 

 

What was your path to starting your PhD?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Mount Holyoke College (2004), and I hold an MSc in Epidemiology from McGill (2014). I took quite a bit of time off between my BA and my MSc to work (and pay off some of those U.S. student loans…), but I’m glad I did – the work experience was invaluable as a grad student. I started my PhD in 2014, right after I completed the MSc.

Why did you choose McGill?

McGill obviously has a great reputation, so that was certainly a factor. I was also really excited by the work coming out of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health (EBOH) as a prospective student – my research interests aligned with the interests of many of the faculty members, so I figured it would be a good fit. And I was right!

Can you briefly explain the focus of your PhD thesis?

My thesis examined the impact of a specific class of abortion restrictions in the U.S. – namely, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. TRAP laws are interesting because they target abortion providers directly, which may make abortion inaccessible for some women by physically closing facilities (this had just happened in Texas when I first proposed this work). I was primarily interested in whether these laws contributed to the decline in the U.S. abortion rate, which is currently at an all-time low.

What does being selected for the Governor General’s Medal mean to you?

I am completely honoured and humbled to receive this award. Writing a dissertation is a tricky thing – you want to be as scientifically rigorous as possible, but it’s also vital to “tell a story” and make readers care about, and connect with, the questions you’re asking. This recognition gives me hope that my work does both things effectively, which is really important given the current political climate.

Now that you’ve graduated, what are your reflections on your McGill experience?

I had an excellent experience at McGill. My PhD cohort was fantastic, which really helped when things got challenging. I was also very lucky to have an incredible supervisor, Dr. Sam Harper, and I think the quality of this relationship shaped my overall experience. The biggest challenge was climbing the icy McTavish hill for 6 years, hands down.

What’s next for you?

I started a postdoc earlier this year, so that’s keeping me busy. I’m taking this opportunity to expand my network and think more about the questions I want to ask in the future – for example, I’ve recently become very interested in the impact of shifts in assisted reproduction funding here in Quebec, so I’m looking forward to digging into that in the coming months.

 

Congratulations Dr. Austin!

 

May 30, 2019

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