Featured sMAP researcher: Michelle M. Porter, PHD, University of Manitoba

Featured sMAP researcher: Michelle M. Porter, PHD, University of Manitoba

The SMAP CREATE program was fortunate to interview Dr. Michelle Porter, a collaborator for the SMAP CREATE program. Dr. Michelle Porter is the Director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba, a Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management and a leader in the age-friendly university movement and was instrumental in UM becoming one of the world’s first age-friendly universities (Canada’s first).

She holds executive positions with provincial and national organizations, including the Transportation Options Network for Seniors (TONS) in Manitoba. She has also been involved with an international research team studying older drivers. Her aging-related work spans ageism, quality of life in long-term care, WHO’s healthy aging action plan, age-friendly environments, and an international project in artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.

Please describe the mission and main activities at Centre of Aging at UMA?

The Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba was established in 1982. The Centre conducts, stimulates, and promotes research on aging with a national and international reputation for excellence.  The Centre provides an interdisciplinary focus for research activities and teaching students in aging.  The Centre is also a vehicle for knowledge mobilization and strengthening interdisciplinary research in health and aging.

The Centre regularly hosts a speaker series that focuses on research in aging on current and relevant issues. Meetings are held monthly from September to March and the purpose of the series is to promote interdisciplinary research in health and aging. The Centre also focuses on students targeting aging research (STAR). The goal of STAR is to provide students interested in age-related topics opportunities to actively engage and connect with one another and stay up to date using an interdisciplinary perspective. The Centre also has a summer research training institute: a partnership between the college of nursing, kinesiology & recreation management, education, and the Centre on Aging. The training institute provides free workshops and exposure to a wide variety of experiences related to research.

Upcoming events and speakers at the Centre can be found here:

 Centre on Aging biweekly updates for February 19, 2021 (mailchi.mp)

How do you approach interdisciplinary research? How do you engage different communities and stakeholders in your research?

I believe a big part of what we do in aging and research cannot involve just one discipline and we cannot understand research with one discipline. A lot of the issues that are dealt with on aging can be complex, real world issues and require multiple disciplines to solve them. One discipline cannot do it all and working together is important; it’s also important to value all backgrounds and ways of doing research. It is important to avoid disciplinary snobbery to appreciate and respect all the different methodologies used in research. For example, I’ve recently started to complete qualitative research and appreciate the value of these different approaches. I also find it beneficial to collaborate with other researchers who have different backgrounds. I especially found the various backgrounds useful while working on the autonomous vehicle shuttles and similar projects.

I also value engaging with different communities and stakeholders in my research. A recent example is the research I do on “internalizing aging.” There is a big part of the project that involves connecting with community stakeholders. External stakeholders are important for projects because they are in tune with the community. For example, working with an advisory committee and individuals who are in tune with the community are important for the research to include the voice of the community.  I will typically run my interview questions by these advisory members and include them in the analysis process as these are the individuals who have the expertise. I am also involved with Manitoba’s senior coalition, and value being part of their community organization. These stakeholders and communities help me to approach the topics on health and aging using community engagement.

What advice do you have for female students or researchers who aspire for leadership roles such as the one you have?

My favorite role since I completed my Post Doc has been my position as the Director at the Centre on Aging. There are many things I enjoy while being a professor, but I really enjoy my position in leadership because the role is rewarding, and I have so many opportunities to help people. It seems that leadership roles can be viewed as dealing with problem issues or dealing with problematic people as they arise. This is not the case and there are a lot of other opportunities related to academia that can be pursued in leadership.

My advice for female students/researchers who aspire for leadership roles is to get involved in as many committees as you can. Committees can give you an opportunity to learn how the University system works and broadens your network. The committees can also help if you are new in administration and want exposure to new skillsets that allow you to seek more opportunities. People are always looking for committee members and it’s important to take advantage when the opportunities arise. Also take advantage of any educational opportunities such as workshops or seminars and find ways to explore these opportunities. 

What has been your favorite pastime in lockdown during the pandemic?

My favorite pastime in lockdown during the pandemic has been nature photography. I purchased my first camera when I was young and have always been interested in photography. I recently purchased a new camera, allowing me to capture lots of nature preserve photos! It has been a perfect pandemic pastime as I am away from crowds and in nature. I have also shared these photos with my friends and family and made videos with peaceful music to lift people’s spirits. 

For more information on the Cenre of Aging at University of Manitoba please visit the website: https://umanitoba.ca/centres/aging/