From music to sickle cell disease, Janine Noorloos’ journey to the Translational Research Program has been far from conventional.
With a Bachelor of Music in Orchestral Performance from Wilfrid Laurier University, Janine Noorloos, a UofT graduate student in the Translational Research Program (TRP), never thought she would be finishing her master’s degree with a capstone project on sickle cell disease.
During her undergraduate studies, Noorloos volunteered and then worked as a supervisor at a men’s shelter in Kitchener, Ontario. “When you start supporting people who are unhoused, you can identify impacts of healthcare, and what the lack of it can do for health and wellness,” Noorloos said. Though she had no background in science or healthcare, this experience showed her she could still recognize health-related challenges people were facing.
This eventually led her to the TRP. “I was looking for something more project-oriented, and I remember stumbling across the program page on the School of Graduate Studies page,” Noorloos explained. Since a science degree was not necessary, she saw this as her pathway into research and made the decision to apply.
Coming from a completely different educational background, she was concerned about succeeding in the program. “I had a lot of insecurities. Am I going to fit in? Nobody is going to want to work with me, I won’t have anything to offer the teams because this isn’t my background,” Noorloos said. But the support of her cohort extinguished those fears quickly. New opportunities gave everyone, not just Noorloos, a chance to work in different areas and constantly learn from others. “It’s so fast-paced. We had so many projects going on simultaneously – you could end up with 7 or 8 projects going on at one time.”
The heavy workload was balanced by the support as she felt the TRP environment was encouraging and welcoming. “Sometimes there are moments where you use your skills and get to excel. Other times, you could be more vulnerable and understand, this is not my area of expertise, but your group is there to support you,” said Noorloos.
Currently a second-year student, Noorloos and her team are working on their capstone project where they are co-designing an intervention to support youth with sickle cell disease when transitioning from pediatric to adult healthcare services. The group was inspired by a guest speaker in the Foundations of Translational Research course, Serena Thompson, who described her experiences in the healthcare system and why she became an advocate for people with sickle cell disease. From there, Noorloos and her team began building their project in one of the many offered modules TRP has to offer and carried it through to their capstone. “A year ago, I never would have thought my capstone would have ended up being on sickle cell disease,” she said. “You get the opportunity to work on so many different projects, to learn and try new things, and you might end up actually finding a new area of interest or developing new skills.”
In addition to her master’s degree, Noorloos is currently working at the Knowledge Development and Exchange Hub (KDE Hub), at Renison University College and affiliated with the University of Waterloo. “Our hub really focuses on merging policy, practice, and research. We support projects funded through the federal government, all focused on mental health promotion,” said Noorloos.
Before working with the KDE Hub, Noorloos gained experience working for an Ontario Health Team in mental health and addictions, in addition to her work at the shelter. “I ended up having a niche in mental health, and on top of that, having an interest in innovation,” she said. “The team I work with supports the promotion of health and well-being for people in Canada, so my skills and interests matched up with this position.”
At the end of February, the KDE Hub Team is hosting their annual symposium. “If you are interested in mental health promotion, it is worth checking out the symposium”, Noorloos said. While also supporting the symposium in a more traditional sense, Noorloos was also given the unexpected opportunity to compose and record the theme music for the promotional video, allowing her to merge her music background with her current professional role.
When describing her job, she expressed her appreciation for the opportunity she’s been given: “I feel like I have one of the coolest jobs because a lot of key decision-makers are part of what we do, so we actually have the ability to influence change on some level.”
Noorloos hopes to continue her work in healthcare and social services by pursuing a PhD in Social Work or Public Health to complement the work experiences she has had in the community. “[This program] has given me the skills to thrive in my professional role, enjoy it and be good at it. Without the TRP, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.”