Trainee Spotlight: Q&A with Avery Ohman

Tuesday, September 8, 2020


 Avery is an M.Sc. student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Avery Ohman. I am an M.Sc. student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. I previously completed my undergraduate degree in health sciences with a minor in gerontology at the University of Ottawa. I successfully defended my master’s thesis in June and will be starting in the MD program at the University of Toronto in September. My school and research interests have always surrounded older adults, and this is the population of people I hope to be able to work with and help during my medical career.

What interested you about the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA)?

My lab from my honours thesis (under the supervision of Dr. Vanessa Taler) was right across from a CLSA Data Collection Site, so that is how I first I heard about the great work that the CLSA is doing. I also did a minor in gerontology and all my classes mentioned how wonderful it was that Canada was conducting a population-based, longitudinal study. I ended up contacting my master’s supervisor (Dr. Mark Oremus) at the University of Waterloo, as I heard he was conducting some interesting research with the CLSA data.

What type of research are you doing with CLSA data?

Under the supervision of Dr. Mark Oremus, my master’s thesis was on social support and memory using baseline data from the CLSA’s comprehensive cohort. I had two grandparents with dementia and have worked/volunteered with older adults with varying degrees of cognitive impairment, so factors affecting cognitive function are extremely interesting to me and I think are very important to study.

I have not published my research with CLSA data yet, but I have done several conference presentations and am currently working on a manuscript. My main finding from my thesis was that there is a positive association between social support availability and memory function, and this appears to differ between men and women. Social support is so important to look at, especially with our aging population. If there’s a link with memory function, then this may be a key modifiable factor to look at to help preserve memory or prevent decline. This is particularly evident in this pandemic; the implications that physical distancing and lockdowns have on social support require research to inform policy.

How do you think the CLSA will help you grow as a student or in your future?

I had not worked with such large amounts of data before, so for me I think the most interesting thing I have learned from my work with the CLSA is how to analyze and interpret population-level data. The CLSA will help me grow as a medical student and a physician because I now have the ability to interpret epidemiological data and understand how it can be applied. Evidence-informed practice is a key aspect of medicine and I think all physicians should be able to conduct, interpret and apply research to their practice.

How do you think CLSA findings will be useful to you, or others, in the future?

I think research like the CLSA is so important because it is applicable to people across the country, not just a select group of individuals. For me, I think one of the most interesting aspects of the CLSA is that it focuses on the life course approach to research, including a wide age range (encompassing different age cohorts, 45-85 years) and also the longitudinal nature of the CLSA allows these cohorts to be followed for at least 20 years. You get the best of both worlds and can learn about different groups of people at one point in time, as well as how those groups may change over time.

What kind of job would you like to do when you finish school?

As I mentioned before, I will be starting medical school in the fall. I would like to work as a geriatrician so that I can provide care to older adults who may be marginalized or unequipped to deal with our complicated health care system, especially older adults with cognitive impairment. I would also like to continue doing research so that I can use research to inform my own practice as well as others.

What is a non-career related thing that you are grateful for because of your work with the CLSA?

I am grateful that I have been able to network with other students in my program and at my university who work with the CLSA data. Learning how to use statistical software like SAS, and trying to navigate the CLSA datasets was challenging. I am very thankful that I was able to get help from students who had previously been though this path, and that I am now able to pass on their wisdom to students who are just starting to work with the CLSA data.


The CLSA is dedicated to establishing an innovative, interdisciplinary training environment for the ongoing engagement of new and emerging researchers, as well as maximizing the use of the CLSA platform as a rich resource of data for the next generation of researchers in health and aging.