Dr. Shawn C. Roll is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, where he also directs the PhD in Occupational Science program. Dr. Roll is a licensed occupational therapist, registered sonographer, and occupational scientist who studies the relationships between musculoskeletal conditions of the arms and hands, people’s ability to perform activities and their health outcomes within the workplace. His specialties include using ultrasound to study carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects an estimated 10 million Americans with annual health care costs of $2 billion, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). He also studies holistic approaches for improving the experience and results of hand therapy. His largest current project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is designing the next generation of intelligent “smart desks” that can automatically learn from, adapt to, and respond to users’ habits and preferences to improve worker health and well-being.
Identify three words that others have used to describe you: Attentive, Strategic, Tenacious
How do you hope to make a difference in the world through research? I hope that my research will support long-term, positive changes in workplace environments, work design, and workers’ engagement in their daily activities resulting in workers who are healthier, happier, and able to flourish in their lives. I strive to support this vision by conducting research that illuminates how physical health and mental well-being are shaped by the intersections among the physical, social, and organizational environments with the individual characteristics of workers’ as they engage in daily occupations in the workplace.
What is one piece of advice you have for individuals considering a career in science and research? Build, maintain, and foster relationships. You should identify what you are most passionate about, be persistent, and be resilient, but a scientist cannot conduct robust research in isolation. Instead, building relationships with other scientists and developing interdisciplinary collaborations will both open more opportunities and broaden the impact of the research.
Beside your own areas of inquiry, what is one research priority that you believe is important for the future of occupational science and occupational therapy? Measuring, understanding, and supporting meaningful engagement. While there has been much exploration of engagement and theories developed regarding the importance of how we engage in daily occupations there is limited direct, quantitative examination of engagement relative to the success of preventive, rehabilitative, and habilitative interventions.
Describe the most important role that mentors played in your professional journey: Seeing my potential and creating opportunities to ensure I was able to thrive as a scholar. I wouldn’t be where I am today with the early vision and support of my career from Dr. Jane Case-Smith and the ongoing opportunities created by Dr. Kevin Evans. Each of my mentors were able to vision all of the potential paths that were ahead of me well before I saw them myself, and they engaged me in activities, introduced me to opportunities, and planted seeds of ideas that allowed me to become a successful scientist.
Identify a favorite occupation that renews you outside of your work: Spending quality time with friends and loved ones over a glass of wine, with good food, watching television or movies, at the theater, on a hike, or just sitting in shared silence with each other.
What has been the most surprising or rewarding aspects of a career in science and research? Without a doubt the most rewarding aspect of my career is witnessing the “lightbulb moments” of my students and mentees. I aim to emulate my own mentors, by visioning the opportunities and paths ahead of my individual mentees, and then proving the necessary scaffolding and support to help them travel forward on their own best path. It gives me great joy to see the moments along the way when mentees reach new levels of thought and clarity regarding their ideas and own work that propels them forward on their path.
How have you been involved with AOTF to date? I have been a strong supporter of AOTF’s mission to advance knowledge that supports the work of our profession to ensure people’s successful participation in life. This support began as a student when I joined Pi Theta Epsilon as a lifetime member, and has continued throughout my career by providing financial support to AOTF, attending AOTF events, and submitting/reviewing manuscripts in OTJR, and serving as a mentor for the Summer Institute for Future Scientists.