5 Questions with Joanna Mendell, Making It Work Research Project Coordinator

We’re happy to welcome Joanna Mendell, who recently joined the Research and Evaluation department as the Making it Work Research Project Coordinator. Read the Meet the People at PAN series.


What first piqued your interest in the HIV/ hepatitis C  sector?

It’s hard to say what first piqued my interest in HIV as it has been around my whole life and I remember learning about it from a very young age. What piqued my interest to work in HIV was when I was connected with PAN for my practicum during my Masters in Public Health and was captivated with the way that they did this work. While I was no stranger to research, my experience had been more in basic science and it was the first time that I was introduced to community-based research. Community-based research made a lot of sense to me. I liked that you were looking to answer questions that mattered to communities, and that in the process you would highlighting and building on strengths in the community. The solutions-oriented nature of this work along with the dedication to meaningful engagement and leadership by the community brought out the best parts of research. As I learned more about the HIV movement and the leadership that came from communities in the early years the way that community-based research is structured made even more sense. When I finished my practicum with PAN I was left hoping one day I’d be working with the amazing people that make up the HIV sector in BC.


What role do you think HIV and hepatitis C research plays in the “real world”?

A lot of my work in recent years has been trying to make research directly relevant to the “real world” by trying to make research findings useful and usable to solve real world problems. Whether you call it community-based research, knowledge exchange or any of the other many terms that exist, by engaging people who have a stake in the research (people who can use findings in their jobs or personal lives, people who have lived experience of the problems you are researching etc.) you increase the likelihood that the information you end up with at the end of the project is going to be helpful and used to make positive changes. I like to think that by employing these principles research becomes part of the real world.


How do you engage the community in your work?

I think one of the most important parts of engaging community in research is thinking about what the benefits will be to them and their community. The privilege to have people with lived experience guide a research project without a doubt helps research be better, but how does being involved with research benefit the community? Did the research question you are asking come from the community? Do they want you to be doing this work? Will the time you are asking of community be worth it to them? Will they see tangible benefits for themselves or their community? Are you asking for their involvement because that’s what you said you were going to do when you applied for a grant? Thinking hard about how participation will be meaningful and reciprocally beneficial is a really important part of how I engage with community in my work.


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

Is it bad if I say I wouldn’t invest in research if my funds were unlimited? This might be cheating the question, but if I had unlimited funds I would work to eliminate marginalization, discrimination and inequality. We know poverty and discrimination are underlying components that lead to downstream public health problems whether it be HIV, problematic substance use, housing insecurity etc. This would probably look like providing a combination of sufficient income, housing, and other support services along with accompanying changes to discriminatory laws and structural policies.


If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?

I would love to be gifted with the ability to convince people of anything! I would use this talent (along with my unlimited funds from the last question) to change discriminatory laws and policies and squash inequity and injustice.