Meet KPU: Karen Davison

Davison is a nutrition and health researcher

Karen Davison received the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition Informatics grant to fund her research. (submitted)

Dr. Karen Davison is a Kwantlen Polytechnic University researcher and instructor with the Biology and Health Science Department. 

She recently received the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition Informatics tier two grant to support her nutrition and health research “into understanding the role of nutrition-related factors, such as eating behaviours and nutrient-gene interactions, and how they influence different physical, mental, and cognitive health outcomes in diverse populations, particularly those from equity-seeking groups.”

When did you join the KPU community, and why?

I started as a part-time contracted faculty in 2014, and that was when the Health Science degree first started at KPU. I was the first faculty hired, and in that first semester, I had to develop a curriculum, and that’s when the degree started in terms of offering courses. 

When I joined KPU, I was finishing up a postdoctoral at the University of British Columbia and was looking for a faculty position. I really liked that the Health Science program was new and was really excited about being a part of that and how the degree was going to evolve and roll out over the next few years. 

I also chose KPU because of the small class sizes. I’ve taught at Simon Fraser University, and in the big lecture halls, you just don’t get to know your students unless the student actively seeks you out. With smaller classes, you get to know the students. 

What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?

I’ve had a lot of great experiences at KPU. One that stands out to me was in the second year of when the Health Science degree started, and we had a great bunch of students that were so keen about the program and health science. They started this health science and action club that had regular meetings. They had fundraisers for different initiatives like raising money for refugees. They were a really enthusiastic group.

One thing they did was organize a Wellness Fair which was held in the big conference centre at KPU. They had booths set up for people to do health assessment stuff, they had guest speakers, and they got all kinds of sponsors. They had prizes and giveaways. The intent was for students and faculty to get thinking about their health and well-being and how to take action. 

It was one of my favourites because it was very exciting. They did this initiative all on their own, and I thought, “Wow, that is very encouraging for this generation to be that engaged and really want to make a difference.” 

What is something you’d like to say to people new to the community?

When you think about KPU, it’s not a very old institution. So it’s not as entrenched in all these kinds of traditions and policies that have been around for a long, long time. There’s actually quite a bit of freedom for anyone that’s new to the institution because there’s a lot of different programming, and it’s quite varied and dynamic. We have trades, the arts, nursing, music, so I think we have some forward-thinking faculty members who are passionate about what they do. 

I would encourage anyone that’s new to actively engage with the KPU community because you can get so much out of that. Really act on opportunities that are going to expand your knowledge in different disciplines and really get a sense of where your skills and interests are. 

Network with like-minded people, but also those that have different opinions than yourself. I think that helps a person’s growth. It helps them to be collegial to others and gives them that ability to examine different issues that we’re facing today and to generate solutions that are not just from their perspective but integrate different perspectives. 

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on moving our research space from Surrey to Richmond for the fall. We’re hoping to have the Personalized Nutrition Education study going again, which focuses on emerging adults, since it was delayed due to COVID-19. There’s a few hoops to jump through, but the nutrition informatics lab is going to have some digital health applications that are related to health education, like virtual or augmented reality. It’s also going to focus on data analysis, like population data and personalized nutrition intervention. 

I’m also doing a special topics course this fall in global health, which I’m excited about. The special topic cycles each year, and I was asked to do this year’s, and I selected global health. So I’m very excited about it. I have some guest speakers for students, and I want them to look at global health issues and critically evaluate them and how we could work together to improve health equity worldwide. 

What is something you would like people to know about you?

Once you get to know me, people see that I’m very passionate about social justice. More specifically, health equity is something that is very important to me. I see how equity is just like social justice that you apply to health systems. 

Having worked in healthcare and seeing the differences amongst different populations, particularly those that are more disadvantaged and marginalized, you see the effects of the differences in healthcare access and how that impacts their health. 

There’s a difference amongst people who have chronic health conditions and how they may be treated differently within the healthcare system. I’m very passionate about minimizing, or getting rid of, those inequities.