Student & ECR Spotlight – Maeghan James, a PhD candidate examining the role of parents in supporting physical activity and health in the early years

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

I graduated from McMaster University with a BScKin in 2016 before beginning a full-time position as a research assistant in the INfant and Child Health (INCH) Lab. During my time at INCH, I fell in love with research and decided to pursue graduate school. I began my Master’s of Science at the University of Toronto in the fall of 2017 with Dr. John Cairney. Currently, I am a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Toronto studying under the supervision of both Dr. Kelly Arbour-Nicitopoulos and Dr. John Cairney.

What is your main research interest?

I am interested and passionate about researching any topic related to physical activity and health in children of all abilities. Specifically, I am interested in exploring how movement plays a role in health and development during the early years. My Master’s work focused on designing and testing a movement-based intervention for preschoolers and their parents that targeted fundamental movement skills and social-emotional learning. Currently, I am working on better understanding the role of parents in supporting preschool children’s physical activity and motor skill development. Outside of my dissertation work, I am also involved in projects related to adapted physical activity, Developmental Coordination Disorder, and inclusive playgrounds.

How do you explain your current research/job to friends and family?

When speaking about my research to family and friends, I highlight that my research focuses on promoting physical activity and movement in the early years. Specifically, I explain that movement is related to multiple developmental domains such as cognitive and social-emotional development and therefore I am investigating ways to promote physical activity and movement in the early years to support healthy development throughout the lifespan.

What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

Thus far, the biggest barrier I have faced conducting research is obtaining diverse participant samples with regard to race/ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status. My research is focused on families and children and developing strategies to promote healthy development in the early years for all children. Therefore, a diverse sample is essential to my work. As we have all surely experienced – those who participate in research studies tend to be mainly White and from middle to high socioeconomic backgrounds. To mitigate this, I continue to try and develop recruitment strategies and procedures that are equitable and allow for participants from all backgrounds to participate.   

Given unlimited funding, what would your dream research project be?

With unlimited funding, my dream project would be to conduct a longitudinal cohort study to examine how physical activity/movement in the early years promote development across physical, psychological and cognitive domains throughout childhood. Within this project I would also want to explore the role of parents and family and how parents/family can support physical activity in the early years to increase healthy development in children.

If you’d like to get in touch with Maeghan, you can do so via email [email protected] or Twitter @MaeghanJames