One-on-One with Mieke Koehoorn

Dr. Mieke Koehoorn first found her academic home at UBC more than 30 years ago when she arrived in Vancouver as a graduate student.

She studied at the Faculty of Medicine’s former Department of Health Care and Epidemiology before going on to work in occupational epidemiology in several cities across Canada.

In 2001, she returned to UBC as a research associate and became a faculty member at the School of Population and Public Health (SPPH) the following year. Over the next two decades, she built a research career focused on current and emerging issues in occupational health. She has served in numerous leadership roles including as a UBC Vancouver senator, Head of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Health, and as Associate Director of Faculty Affairs and of Research for SPPH.

Recently appointed Vice Dean, Academic Affairs, Dr. Koehoorn will provide oversight of academic standards for the administrative functions of the Faculty, offer support and guidance to academic leadership, and oversee the implementation of the Faculty’s strategic plan Building the Future.

Who inspires you and why?

I have always been inspired by my parents who immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands to create a better life for their family. I’m inspired by friends who invite me along for spontaneous adventures. I’m inspired by colleagues who have taken on leadership positions in service to the broader academic community.

What do you hope to achieve as Vice-Dean, Academic Affairs?

Foundational to this job is ensuring that academic affairs run efficiently and effectively from recruitment to appointments, promotions and tenure. I am also always looking for opportunities to evolve best practices with regards to faculty recruitments, mentorship and career pathways.

In this five-year term, I’m hoping to make the academy as strong as possible, which includes helping people find their work home and thrive here at the Faculty of Medicine.

What are your goals and aspirations as Vice-Dean, Academic Affairs?

I feel so privileged to have had incredible opportunities in my career that have shaped my life and I want the same for others.

There’s a lot you can do on a day-to-day level to support individuals, but this position allows me to think about support more broadly in our work environment. I want to support faculty so they can find opportunities, thrive, be innovative and creative, and do good things.

What excites you most about guiding this work in the months to come?

This role is focused on faculty and helping people move forward in their careers, and that excites me. It’s in my nature to be helpful and to be a problem-solver, so this role really aligns with my character.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about myself as an academic leader at the Faculty level. Beyond the roles and responsibilities, it’s exciting to be at this stage of my career. I’ve been at the Faculty of Medicine in a work capacity for over two decades taking on various roles at the academic unit level, so I’m looking forward to the next learnings and challenges. The more I learn about how the university operates and what people in our community do in support of the overall mission, the better I can support them in their work.

For you, what makes UBC different?

UBC as an institution is really working hard on matters related to equity, diversity and inclusion and truth and reconciliation. There’s a very strong commitment as a large organization to advancing goals in those areas. I find that over the time I’ve been here, these commitments have evolved and embedded in our work in a very meaningful way.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

A few things come to mind: Remind yourself to focus on the task at hand, work hard and balance that work with lots of fun, family and friends.

Growing up on a farm, there was an early focus in my family on hard work. I also had an early career advisor who was insistent about balancing work with play. When I moved to Vancouver for graduate school, they suggested I map out my free time each weekend — for example, go hiking, swimming and enjoy time in nature.

How do you like to recharge?

Anything in, on or near the water is very recharging for me. It can take the form of sitting on the beach in Nova Scotia with my family enjoying each other’s company, an early morning swim in the ocean with friends watching the sunrise, or working hard on a sailboat with a crew trying to make the boat go faster.

Do you have a secret talent?

I love to sail. I do a little bit of racing and a little bit of cruising. It’s a complete distraction because you can’t be on your devices while you’re on the water. You have to focus on the task at hand.

What is your favourite spot in B.C.?

That’s so tough in beautiful B.C. One place I’m enjoying these days is Kendrick Island.

I also had a chance to go to Khutzeymateen (K’tzim-a-deen) Park north of Prince Rupert. This area is located within the traditional territories of the Coast Tsimshian. The Park is a protected grizzly bear sanctuary and it is so spectacular. It is everything that is B.C. — mountains, water, greenery and wildlife.

Published: October 2023