Zubin Austin is a University of Toronto Professor and Academic Director of Pharmacy whose research focuses on the professional and personal development of health professionals. We asked him everything from his long-term love of Shakespeare to his hobby as a choir singer in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.
What do you like most about being a researcher?
Being a researcher means I get to help solve problems. Day-to-day experience shows all of us how much unfairness exists, how many problems go undiscussed, and how so many people have to struggle. My research focuses on internationally-educated health professionals who are simply trying to do the job they were trained for now that they are in Canada.
For me, the most gratifying part of my job is when my work can be used to change policies, influence employers, or help people do what they want to and are trained to do. In the smallest of ways — and, once in a while, in a big way — researchers like me can do so much to help solve problems.
What advice would you give young researchers?
Patience and tenacity are essential. Social science research takes time and does not yield immediate results or instantaneous solutions. It takes time to build your skills and credibility as a researcher, it takes patience to build your networks of colleagues, collaborators and stakeholders, and it takes a long-term vision to help see you through the short term obstacles. Don’t expect quick results or overnight success, but if you stick to it, research is an amazingly interesting and rewarding career option.
What inspired you to become a researcher?
I came to be a researcher relatively late, after having been a university lecturer for close to a decade first. Being in a university teaching environment and observing my colleagues who were researchers really opened my eyes to the potential of research and my interest in it. I had never thought of myself as being a researcher, but being in close proximity to other researchers and seeing how inspiring and inspirational they were was really important to me.
What do you like to do for fun?
Well, of course, the research I do is fun.
Beyond that, I think it’s essential for everyone to have hobbies outside of their job that have nothing to do with what they do for a living. One of my favourite hobbies is singing in a choir. I’m a terrible singer (though I actually really like singing!) and the experience of creating music with a group of other people is fantastic.
Plus, in a choir format, you can always lean on other people who actually can sing and find notes. Beyond the music we make together, there is also the social interaction and the enjoyment of meeting people from so many different walks of life.
What’s your favourite cuisine?
Is it wrong to say “all of them”? One of the things I love about living in Toronto is the abundance of fantastic and interesting cuisine, so picking just one would be difficult. If I had to select, I’d likely say Thai — the subtle spicing and the diversity of cooking styles, the fragrance of the food, and the care that Thai cooks bring to their work make for magical meals.
If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
I’ve always been inspired and intrigued by journalists. They are such an important part of what keeps our society free and open and the work of journalism is absolutely essential, now more than ever. It is a hard and frequently under-appreciated job and in today’s environment one that is sadly needed more than ever. Journalists open our eyes to the world and give us insights to things that are occurring under our noses that we conveniently overlook or ignore.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
William Shakespeare. His influence on culture, society and literature is unparalleled. As a high school student — like everyone else — I remember slogging through his plays and wondering what the point of it all was. As an adult, the wisdom of his insights and the beauty of his language amazes me. The stories he tells are eternal and continue to shine a bright light on the essential character of human beings everywhere.