5 Questions with Dr. Blythe Shepard

Blythe Shepard joined the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge in July 2008. She received her doctorate in educational psychology with a specialty in counselling psychology from the University of Victoria in 2002 where she was a faculty member (2002-2008) and graduate advisor (2005-2008) in the Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies. Shepard is completing the first Canadian textbook for Career Practitioners and recently co-authored a national handbook for the supervision of counsellors/psychotherapists. She is the 2011 recipient of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association's (CCPA) Professional Contribution Award in recognition of outstanding promotion of the counselling profession in Canada and is President-Elect of CCPA.

What first piqued your interest in your research discipline?

In many rural areas in Canada, jobs in traditional employment sectors are disappearing while few new jobs in expanding, knowledge-based manufacturing and service industries are being developed. Rural Canadians have expressed concern about the loss of young people through urban migration. When rural communities lose their youth, they lose the creative and innovative ability of young people to find possible solutions to community problems. As a long-time rural resident, I was curious about how rural young women perceived themselves within the context of a rural community, now and in the future. I also wondered how active these young women were in the construction of future plans. A doctoral SSHRC fellowship allowed me to pursue this study. Four years later, I followed up the study with a Standard SSHRC grant that focused on rural youth in three communities in BC.

Dr. Blythe Shepard researches the factors that influence rural youth.

How is your research applicable in "the real world"?

Based on the themes that were identified in interviews with rural youth, a community workshop was designed in collaboration with rural youth. Future Bound: A Lifeworks Expedition Workshop for Rural Youth is an activity-based workshop designed to help youth examine their past, current and projected future life paths. The workshop activities are readily adapted for use by counsellors and teachers. The Possible Selves Mapping Interview is used by practitioners in Wellington, New Zealand (Geoff Plimmer, PhD of FutureSelves Ltd.) while Campus d'Alfred de l'Université de Guelph translated sections of the Future Bound Workshop for use with their rural students.

What is the greatest honour you have received in your career?

From 2000 to 2005, I was involved in a unique experiment in genuinely interdisciplinary research funded by SSHRC and NSERC. A set of carefully constructed complementary case studies on the east and west coasts of Canada were developed to achieve an integrated analysis of the long- and short-term impacts of socio-environmental restructuring on the health of people, their small communities and the environment. A total of 70 natural and social scientists and 167 trainees worked together with local communities to produce leading-edge research. Upon completion of the project, the Coasts Under Stress Research Team was awarded the University of Victoria Craigdarroch Team Award for Societal Contribution.

How important are students to your research endeavours?

I believe in maintaining an active role in supporting and collaborating with graduate students. A mentoring relationship that acknowledges our different worldviews, epistemological understandings, learning styles, etc. is a powerful form of social learning. I encourage and support students to take an active role in all parts of my research program in order for students to develop as researchers and academics. My vision for our work together is that of a facilitator who guides students over their shoulders.

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest?

My research interests would continue to focus on rural women across the lifespan but would expand to include various types of rural communities in several provinces (e.g., remote, near urban centres, resource based, etc). The following questions would guide my research: (1) How do rural women weave work into the tapestry of their lives in communities experiencing social and economic change? (2) What are the work-life issues, supports and challenges for rural women? (3) What are the differences in socio-economic structures in each rural community and how do they affect women?

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This story first appeared in the January 2013 edition of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.