Kate Bassil 1995

Two decisions Kate Bassil made while at Havergal indicate what did, and still does, motivate her. In Grade 10, Kate volunteered to look after Meg, who visited the school once a week. Meg spent most of her time in a wheelchair, could not speak and relied on others completely for her care. Every Wednesday after school, Kate and Meg could be seen listening to the choir practice in the Hall, wandering the grounds on nice days and eating dinner with the boarders. Most teenagers need affirmation that their help is appreciated. Meg was not able to give that, and Kate did not need it. Gradually, the two became firm friends and learned to communicate with each other to some extent.

Before the announcement of the results of elections for leaders in Grade 12, Kate was presented with a dilemma. She had been elected to two positions: Ludemus editor and Interact club head. Interact is Rotary International’s service club for young people aged 12 to 18. Although the former position had a higher profile in the school, which would have made the decision easy for most students, Kate saw opportunities to strengthen the club’s voice in the school and to encourage more students to become more active. She chose the club head position and helped to set Havergal students on a new course of involvement in the community beyond the ivy. In her final year, Kate was elected school captain.

After graduation, she headed to Oxford University where she earned her honours BA in biological sciences and became fascinated with the subject of epidemiology. She returned to Canada, where she successfully completed her M.Sc. and then her PhD in epidemiology at the University of Toronto. While at U of T, she also completed an external minor in geography; she was a residence don for the first three years and deputy dean at New College for the last three years. Her role as deputy dean was primarily to co-ordinate residence life and, in particular, to respond to crises in the residence, both students’ ongoing personal issues and more acute issues (middle-of-the-night emergencies). During this time, she also gained considerable practical public health experience, having worked at local public health units in Ontario, both in communicable diseases during the SARS outbreak and then later, in environmental protection. She was also a graduate teaching assistant, attended conferences and successfully submitted proposals for grants to support her academic work.

Dr. Donald Cole, who was Kate’s advisor during the research and writing of her thesis, notes that he has never had a student with such outstanding research skills, creativity and thoroughness as Kate. Her PhD research used a novel data source, 911 emergency calls, to estimate the effect of severe heat events in the Toronto area. For this, she was awarded the Canadian Public Health Association John Hastings Award. He also notes that Kate has superb human relationship, organizational and practical problem-solving skills, great initiative, and writes easily. He and Kate have co-authored several research papers that have been published in leading journals in their field.

Upon conclusion of her doctoral degree, Kate was approached by researchers in the U .S., England and Montreal to complete post-doctoral studies. However, she had already received grants to continue her research and had decided on a tenure-stream position in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, at the assistant professor level. At SFU, she had a heavy teaching load, continued her research (the results of which continue to be published) and won her first grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, in a competitive, peer-reviewed, extramural grants competition.

Kate’s passion for health research focuses on vulnerable populations and ways to apply her findings to public health practice, particularly in the development of interventions to improve health. Her PhD thesis looked at the way in which research data can be used to develop temporal and spatial maps of Toronto neighbourhoods in order to determine where people are most vulnerable in severe heat events, so that interventions can be targeted at these areas. She is currently working as a consultant to the city to develop these maps as part of its hot weather response plan. Kate is also the principal investigator for a large project, funded by the grant from SSHRC, to develop the Canadian Environmental Health Atlas and is under contract with McGill/Queen’s University Press to publish this as a book.

During their two years in B.C., Kate and her husband Brian Eaton somehow found time to volunteer with PADS (Pacific Assistance Dog Society), a non-profit organization that trains dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness. They are currently house-hunting, as they are returning to Toronto this summer with their son Liam, who was born on New Year’s Day this year. Kate will be taking up a new position at Mt. Sinai Hospital, with a cross appointment at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health Sciences at U of T as an epidemiologist and assistant professor. Brian, who is a high school math teacher, has a position teaching at the York School.

Written by Brenda Robson