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UNB PhD student to become specialized population analyst

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Sep 10, 2020

Category: UNB Fredericton

James Dunbar

A PhD candidate from the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus has been selected as a trainee for the Consortium on Analytics for Data-Driven Decision-Making (CAnD3) Program: Developing Talent for Population Analytics in Aging Societies.

Spurred by the fact that the population of Canada is aging at an unprecedented rate, CAnD3 is the first Canadian multidisciplinary collaborative research experiential training initiative to address a skills shortage in population analytics on the following three fronts:

  • Substantive knowledge in population research focused on aging societies;
  • Data science skills; and
  • Knowledge mobilization in support of evidence-informed decision-making.

CAnD3 is led by Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, the Canada Research Chair in Policies and Health Inequalities at McGill University, and supported by a $2.5-million SSHRC Partnership Grant. It involves 32 academic and non-academic partner agencies, which includes UNB. Dr. Neeru Gupta, associate professor of sociology at UNB Fredericton, is a CAnD3 co-investigator and UNB’s representative in the consortium.

In this inaugural year, the application process for the program was highly selective based on academic excellence and quantitative research experience among nominated candidates from universities participating in the consortium.

UNB’s trainee, James Dunbar, is a life-course sociologist in the department of sociology in Fredericton with an interest in family structures, life transitions and social determinants of health. His research has drawn on large-scale surveys, such as the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Canadian Census, and Canadian Community Health Survey.

Dunbar’s doctoral dissertation, which is under the superivison Dr. Lucia Tramonte, professor and chair of UNB Fredericton’s department of sociology, explores the nexus between public policy programs, family structures and health and social outcomes for family members. He has taught introductory data analysis for social sciences at UNB and is also a statistical assistant for the Research Data Centre Program at Statistics Canada.

With more senior citizens than there are individuals under the age of 15, there is a strong societal need for trained expertise in population analytics. A demographic shift this significant poses many opportunities, as well as challenges, including potential need for opening more long-term care facilities and developing and supporting a more educated and flexible workforce.

To respond and prepare for the aging transition, the next six years will see 150 CAnD3 trainees from across Canada and internationally who will learn how to provide accurate and impactful insights on social, economic and health issues related to aging societies. They will also learn the skills needed to communicate these insights to a wide range of audiences.

“The CAnD3 Program provides an opportunity to bridge the gap between knowledge-production and knowledge-use,” says Dunbar. “One of the critical learning components of the program is the development of technical skills in conjunction with partnership development skills. Many graduates come out of their programs with the theoretical knowledge and an ability to think critically and problem solve; however, decision-makers in government and non-government organizations often require graduates to have skillsets and experience that they did not acquire in their university programs.”

The CAnD3 program is particulary unique as it will equip trainees with the skills required to influence governments – both provincially and nationally – to make necessary policy changes as they relate to the aging population.

“While Canada as a whole has an aging population, New Brunswick has the second-oldest population in the country behind Newfoundland and Labrador,” he adds. “Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island follow. Having specialized training in data analytics for an aging population is critically important for policy-makers and non-government organizations in our region to adapt to our aging society and respond to the needs of the eldest provincial populations in the country.”

Media contact: Angie Deveau

Photo: James Dunbar