The Hub Q&A with Dr. Jeff Vallance

Q&A with Dr. Jeff Vallance

Dr. Jeff Vallance, a researcher with Athabasca University’s Faculty of Health Disciplines, is also a Canada Research Chair in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Management. We sat down with him to ask about his background and his research into the role of physical activity in improving the health of cancer survivors.

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What is your post-secondary schooling history?

My plan was to be a phys. ed teacher, so I did my undergrad in Human Kinetics at UBC. I got interested in sport and exercise psychology in my final year and decided to apply to graduate school. I ended up at the University of Alberta and did my master’s thesis with Dr. John Dunn, and then doctoral studies with Dr. Kerry Courneya (also at the U of A), a leading researcher in the field of exercise and cancer. John and Kerry shaped my career path, and I’m in the spot I’m in because of them.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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When did you become a Canada Research Chair with AU? 

I started as an assistant professor at AU in 2007, and became a CRC in 2013 (my first term).

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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It is not an easy or quick process to become a CRC, so why did you want to go through with it all?

Indeed, it is not an easy process, and it is not a quick process either! The position seemed like a natural fit for my research program and areas of interest. I also believe that you don’t get anything unless you ask. Always up for a challenge, I decided to apply. Funny story: a few days prior to my interview, my dean, Dr. Margaret Edwards, told me that I was now an adult and needed to show up to the interview in a suit!  

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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What are the duties and expectations in your role as an AU CRC?

The duties are not all that different than any other faculty member. There is an increased expectation for research because the CRC position protects 75 per cent of my time for research. One of the best parts of being a CRC has been the opportunity to work with others in my faculty that I normally may not have worked with. With the CRC, there is certainly a role there that involves research mentorship.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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In layman’s terms, what is your current research about?

I’m interested in two things: first, I’m interested in how to get cancer survivors physically active. Physical activity is very powerful for survivors and helps to reduce many cancer-related symptoms, such as fatigue. More importantly, active survivors live longer and have a reduced risk of their cancer coming back. Secondly, I’m interested in how we measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour (i.e., sitting) in different chronic disease populations (e.g., cancer, kidney transplant recipients, ulcerative colitis). We have excellent technology called accelerometers, that give us a more precise picture of people’s daily activity patterns. We are finding these methods are much better than a pencil and paper questionnaire.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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When did you start studying this and why?

I started studying the role of physical activity in the cancer context during my PhD. It was a very new area of research, so being in on the ground floor with Dr. Kerry Courneya was very exciting. He provided me with incredible opportunities to be involved with large-scale research studies, as well as working with cancer survivors. It’s very powerful to witness firsthand the role of physical activity in a person diagnosed with cancer who’s going through cancer treatments. I got interested in the activity measurement angle while on research leave at The University of Queenlsand in Brisbane, Australia. I was fortunate to work with outstanding people there that got me hooked on studying sedentary behaviour, and later applying that to the cancer context. I still work with those people today.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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If you were to speak to someone who knows nothing about your research and expertise, can you summarize in a few sentences why they should be interested in your work?

More and more people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Cancer affects everyone either directly or indirectly. We need to find ways to support cancer survivors in their journey. Physical activity is a cheap and effective method to improve a plethora of health outcomes. Everyone can walk, everyone can put one foot in front of another. Simply doing this can change cancer survivors’ lives.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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Does your research affect or involve AU students? How?

Absolutely. I’ve graduated several thesis students. My most recent graduate is Adrijana D’Silva. She examined physical activity prevalence among lung cancer survivors: a very underrepresented tumor group in the research literature. Adrijana published several research papers from her thesis, and she then won the Governor General’s Gold Medal a few years back at convocation. She’s now doing a PhD in the same area at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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What does an average week look like for you? 

Well, after I drop off my three kids at school and before I pick them up, my time inbetween is consumed by writing. Either writing grant applications or research manuscripts to be submitted for publication. I enjoy the writing aspect of my job the most. Sometimes there is some data analysis involved. But most of the time, time is spent keeping the ship moving in the right direction.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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What are your short-term goals or intended research findings over the five years as research chair?

I have several studies that are currently ongoing, so my short-term goals are to see those projects through to completion. I have a new masters thesis student who is a practitioner and works in an Indigenous healthcare clinic. She’s very interested in the role of traditional healers in Western medicine. So, I’m learning and immense number of new things and really stretching my view of the world and how I operationalize my research. I’ve found graduate students can really open new doors for the supervisor. I love teaching about research, and getting people involved in research. In the next few years, my goal is to graduate more students that win the Governor General’s Gold Medal! 

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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How will your intended research impact any, or all, of the following: AU students? AU as a university? Your community/Canada?

This is a tough question. I’m not sure how my intended research impacts AU students. I like to think that my/our research has an impact in our field both nationally and internationally. I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible students and even post doctoral students overseas in the Netherlands and Sweden. Through them, I have had the opportunity to lead and supervise some incredible initiatives, so you can’t underestimate the fact that the research being done has an impact on me.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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Is your research locally focused to your city or province? Or are you taking a national or international approach?

My research is focused on the overall population of cancer survivors. The studies we have done here obviously involve cancer survivors from Alberta. But I work with international colleagues and we have collected data in other countries as well. And recently, a colleague of mine in the Netherlands has harmonised all of the data so that we can get a more conclusive idea of what our research is telling us.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

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How does being an AU CRC help your research?

It allows me more time to focus on research. But if I did not have a CRC Chair position, I would still be researching the same things.

Dr. Jeff Vallance

Published:
  • September 23, 2019