Dr. Jacqueline Pei, known as Jacquie to her friends and colleagues, has been involved with the Canada FASD Research Network now for about 10 years.
Jacquie wears multiple hats with the CanFASD team. Not only does she lead the Intervention Network Action Team (INAT), she is also the Senior Research Lead with our organization.
“I feel as though I currently have dual identities. I’ve been a part of the Intervention Network Action Team now for about 10 years, so it is something that I feel like I eat, breathe, sleep. The role with the senior research lead is new since March and is something that I’m still trying to figure out and understand.”
The Senior Research Lead is a relatively new position within CanFASD. It is the main link between the research leads and the remainder of the CanFASD staff. Jacquie’s role on the Intervention Network Action Team involves research and knowledge translation of FASD interventions.
But Jacquie has another identity separate from her roles as Senior Research Lead and lead of INAT: Jacquie is first and foremost, a researcher.
Her research centres on intervention. Her work doesn’t just focus on improving the lives of individuals with FASD, but she researches how we can best apply programs and supports improve outcomes for everyone.
“I’m really interested in what it means to inform healthy outcomes and shift trajectories in populations so they can experience success and achievement and whatever is appropriate for who they are and their life context.”
Jacquie’s research informs supports and approaches to help individuals with FASD succeed. She recognizes that individuals with FASD have the same potential as those without disabilities, but they are faced with a number of barriers that impede their success. Her work seeks to overcome these barriers.
“Individuals with FASD can experience success in their lives and they can contribute to the world around them. Sometimes the pathway isn’t what we expect. We just need to keep working to figure out what pathways work.”
Jacquie was first exposed to FASD working as a forensic counsellor in a corrections facility. Her degree in criminology had prepared her for this role, but she found the more she continued with this work, the more questions she had. Her biggest challenge was that she found intervention supports she was providing were not always appropriate for the individuals she was working with.
“I really questioned approaches, I felt that I didn’t know enough. I kind of felt like we were putting a band-aid on something where there was far more beneath the surface.”
Her experience with the criminal justice system prompted her to go back to school where she perused a degree in psychology. Her main interest lay in brains, and understanding how brains grow and develop to influence behaviour in different ways.
She did practical work as a psychologist with an FASD clinic in Alberta and started learning about FASD diagnosis. It was her curiosity as a researcher and her interactions with individuals with FASD that really solidified her interest in this field.
“I just found myself really drawn in by the people and by the individuals and by the disconnect between what I would hear and the challenges that they face day to day, and my interaction with them, which was always so positive and so pleasant, and so motivating.”
Like any researcher, Jacquie never stops asking questions. She readily admits that her close friends often tease her because she always searches for exceptions to a rule. When presented with a fact she’ll always come at it from another angle.
In her practice, Jacquie focuses on asking questions that imply the possibility of a positive, healthy outcome. She says, “every question we ask is predicated on the expectation that we can find success, it just might be a bit of a search.” So rather than asking, ‘Can we get this kid through school?’ Jacquie will ask, ‘How can we get this kid through school?’
One of Jacquie’s most recent publications is a collaboration between CanFASD and the University of Alberta, entitled Towards Healthy Outcomes for Individuals with FASD. It outlines an intervention model that can be applied to help individuals with disabilities achieve meaningful life experiences. This research is useful for anyone that wants to learn more about FASD and associated interventions.
Jacquie believes that in the field of FASD, research needs to be collaborative. It’s important to connect with other researchers, medical practitioners, organizations, friends and families, and individuals with FASD in order to get accurate research that is truly representative of the populations you’re working with. Plus, she finds collaboration incredibly rewarding.
“I learn so much working with kids with FASD. They help me think differently than I could ever imagine thinking.”
To anyone looking at a career in FASD research, Jacquie gives the following advice: “Get in the field, it’s a great field to work in. It’s complicated, it’s messy research, but it’s richly rewarding.”