Meet Zoe Downie-Ross, Graduate Assistant at IHPME
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Our second profile in this series features Zoe Downie-Ross, Graduate Assistant in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME).
Described by one IHPME student as an “unsung heroine,” Zoe is credited both with making students “feel heard and supported,” and with making their transition into graduate school an “effortless” one. How does she do it?
Zoe says that her first priority is ensuring students understand each step they must take in order to fulfill the requirements of their degree. This is no small feat given that, on a daily basis, she is monitoring about 200 students in a variety of programs—from MSc and PhD students in the Clinical Epidemiology and Health Care Research program to MSc Students in Health Informatics.
Having come to U of T with a degree in Fine Arts at the University of Guelph, Zoe says that understanding the world of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation initially presented “a learning curve.” But she was up for the challenge. What’s more, she found she could draw from her own positive (and recent) experiences of being a student in her new role.
“The University of Guelph had a small but very close-knit art program,” Zoe says, adding that she aims to create a similar environment within IHPME. In part, this community-building is a natural extension of her role as “the main connection” between students and faculty. It also happens through her daily communications with prospective and current students: coordinating the application process for the MHI and Clinical Epidemiology programs; making students aware of awards deadlines; providing administrative support around leaves of absence, requests for program transfer, and program extensions; and more.
Zoe addresses student questions to the best of her ability, even if these may lie outside her immediate area of expertise. As one MHI student writes: “[A] particular instance where Zoe was very helpful was when she helped me sort out an issue I was having with student finances. Though the issue had very little to do with the program itself … her prompt replies in answering my questions helped me to resolve the problem.”
Looking ahead, Zoe would like to expand social opportunities for IHPME students, whether through meet-and-greets or through events like Ignite, where practicum students in the MHI program share their practicum learning experience in a unique and social forum. In Zoe’s view, opportunities to socialize with fellow students are especially rare for Clinical Epidemiology students, whose demanding schedule of academic and clinical work often needs to be balanced with family responsibilities.
“It’s really important to create a community event and feeling,” says Zoe. Connecting with the people in your program can, she knows, make all the difference—a lesson learned from her own student days that she is happy to share at U of T.
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