Q&A with our 2021 Academy of Research Inductees
Established in 1983, the AOTF Academy of Research in Occupational Therapy recognizes individuals who have made exemplary, distinguished, and sustained contributions toward the science of occupational therapy.
Congratulations to our 2021 AOR Inductees Kathleen Doyle Lyons, ScD, OTR/L and Shawn C. Roll, PhD, OTR/L, RMSKS, FAOTA, FAIUM!
Kathleen Lyons, ScD, OTR/L, is a Senior Scientist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. Her research is focused on building the evidence base for occupational therapists working in oncology. She is trained in experimental design, mixed methods and implementation science. Her research program is designed to answer the following question: How can we support people living with cancer to fully participate in meaningful activities, life roles, and society through theory-driven and evidence-based rehabilitation? She designs and tests pragmatic interventions that blend occupational therapy with behavioral therapies. Her research is primarily community-based as she has developed both telehealth and home-based interventions.
Identify three words that others have used to describe you: careful, practical, and resilient
How do you hope to make a difference in the world through research? I have the heart of a practitioner, so my goal is to build our evidence base so that we can make good choices with our clients and provide the most potent therapy. The question that guides my applied research program is “How can we support people living with cancer to fully participate in meaningful activities and roles through theory-driven and evidence-based rehabilitation?”
What is one piece of advice you have for individuals considering a career in science and research? Be brave and be humble. It takes courage to do research that matters, to formulate a hypothesis and rigorously test it. And it takes humility to let the data and the participants teach and lead you.
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? I’m really interested in what makes an occupation therapeutic for a given person and what makes one occupation more therapeutic than another in any given moment. I think we need to understand how people naturally use occupation to foster recovery and healing outside of or in the absence of therapy.
Describe the most important role that mentors played in your professional journey. I learned a lot from my mentors, but the best gift they gave me was showing me the joy they got from their work. I went on to doctoral work because I enjoyed every minute of my qualitative research thesis with Betty Crepeau. In my doctoral training, Linda Tickle-Degnen showed me her limitless passion for words, numbers, ideas and elegant research designs. And it was from Marty Bruce that I (finally) learned how pleasurable it can be to write a tight and compelling grant application. I feel lucky to have had mentors that showed me how much they love science.
Identify a favorite occupation that renews you outside of your work: My top three favorites are traveling, watching live theater, and hiking.
What has been the most surprising or rewarding aspects of a career in science and research? Being part of team science is incredibly rewarding. I love writing and I could do that all day, but being in a room with people from all different disciplines and playing with ideas to solve clinical problems is highly rewarding. When I was just starting out, I don’t think I realized that science is a very social activity and that has been a happy surprise.
How have you been involved with AOTF to date? I received two grants from AOTF, one as a doctoral student and one more recently. But the biggest blessing was being asked to chair the Planning Grant Collective focused on cancer rehabilitation. It was an absolutely amazing experience to bring together scientists from different disciplines and parts of the country to brainstorm ways to advance research to reduce participation restrictions experienced by cancer survivors. It was a really energizing and productive event and I’m so grateful to AOTF for investing in the Planning Grant Collectives!
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.
Both will be presenting at our Research Excellence Symposium, April 14, 2021 and on demand.