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Member Highlight: Margo Hilbrecht

Current professional title: Director of Knowledge Management at Gambling Research Exchange (Canada), and Adjunct Faculty, Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies, University of Waterloo (Canada)

Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies.

In 2002, I began working as a Research Assistant to Professors Jiri Zuzanek and Roger Mannell on a large time use study at the University of Waterloo that focused on adolescent time use and well-being. I was fascinated by the patterns in the data and relationships of time use to multiple quality-of-life factors. It was intriguing to see how well they reflected daily life in my own family with three teenagers living at home at that time. For the next two years, I was the Research Coordinator for the study and, when it came to an end, I began PhD studies. My dissertation used nationally representative time use data to examine how non-standard work schedules were related to quality-of-life for women and men who were parents of school-aged children. I was eager to learn more about how gender roles interacted with employment expectations and school routines to either enhance or detract from parents’ feelings of well-being. Based on my thesis research and publications related to time use, non-traditional work schedules, and telework, I was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Excellence at the Doctoral Level.

My Ph.D. was followed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council at the Centre for Families, Work, and Well-Being at the University of Guelph (Canada). In my new role, and working with Professor Donna Lero, an expert in caregiving and work-life integration, I pursued research on parents who were self-employed. My postdoc training expanded my interests to employed parents with caregiving responsibilities for children and older adults, and how their considerable responsibilities influenced their quality-of-life. It was apparent that for caregivers, a sense of community belonging was associated with positive health and well-being outcomes. After my postdoc, this interest in sense of community belonging and the relationship to quality-of-life led me back to the University of Waterloo, where I worked as the Associate Director, Research at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) from 2012 to 2016. The CIW broadened my understanding of quality-of-life research generally, and more specifically in the area of indicators research. I was able to revise the time use domain and indicators to better reflect issues important to Canadians such as work-life integration, time spent commuting, good quality sleep time, the influence of non-standard work schedules, and the contribution of flexible work scheduling and vacations to employed Canadians’ quality-of-life. Even though my career has taken me in a new direction, I remain involved with the CIW as a Research Associate.

In 2016, I returned to my Leisure Studies roots by accepting a position as the Director of Knowledge Management at Gambling Research Exchange. This combined my interests in quality-of-life, with an activity known to seriously undermine well-being among people at risk of or experiencing gambling-related harm. With this new focus, I have been able to expand my research program to the well-being of older adults who gamble and draw upon previous experience with indicators to develop population-level indicators of gambling-related harm. I continue to work with the research community to advance understanding of the complex relationship of gambling to quality-of-life. I also act as a grant administrator in the area of open access publications, seed grants for early career researchers, and secondary data analysis projects.

2.  What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies?

My interest in quality-of-life students was initially based on employment experiences while raising a young family.  Before returning to university, I was a librarian in the community public library. One of the many learnings I took from that job and my ‘anti-social’ work hours schedule was the impact of parents’ shift work and irregular scheduling on quality of family life. Feelings of job satisfaction, well-being, and access to leisure opportunities are often limited by these workplace demands, especially in families such as ours where children’s schedules follow a regular, weekday school-based schedule and parents’ schedules do not. Not only was it challenging to arrange child care during non-standard hours, we struggled to simply find time to be together as a family. It was almost impossible to predict whether our work hours would allow our children to attend weekly extracurricular activities or other events taking place with extended family or in the community. The irregularity and uncertainty of employment scheduling for us, and for many of our co-workers, created challenges to enjoying the kind of family life we had originally envisioned. With almost no literature in this area in the early 2000s, I decided to return to graduate studies to conduct research that might help to inform policy initiatives and, importantly, other parents in our situation. Fortunately for me, there were many opportunities to learn about quality-of-life as it applied to families, communities, and work organizations.

3.       What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers?

There are so many areas where quality-of-life research could be advanced. Of course, I always want to see more related to my own research interests. We need more information about how gambling—both land-based and online—relates to daily time use and quality-of-life. We are at the very tip of understanding how emerging issues, like Internet Gaming Disorder, affect quality-of-life and family dynamics among different population subgroups. For people at risk of gambling problems, it would be especially interesting to use time use research to document which life domains and relationships that contribute to well-being become neglected. We still don’t have enough information on the impact of digital technologies on the quality of family life. For example, under what conditions to they enhance or detract from well-being, and how might this change over time and among different generations?

For future quality-of-life researchers, pay attention to emerging trends. Whether it’s specific issues like partisan politics, challenges faced by migrants, or even cannabis legalization, it’s important to monitor how policy responses can affect well-being. Further, remember that quality-of-life studies is multi-disciplinary. Your contributions may have more impact when researchers with different backgrounds participate on the research team. Finally, work with people who enjoy what they do. It makes the process more fun and, from my experience, helps take the project through to completion.

4.       How long have you been a member of ISQOLS? Why did you choose to be a member of ISQOLS? How has your involvement in ISQOLS impacted your career/research/advancement in your knowledge of QoL studies?

I joined ISQOLS in 2012 when I began working for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. It seemed like a perfect venue to present my research pertaining to indicator development for the time use domain.  I’m pleased to report that I was not mistaken! Feedback at presentations, opportunities to attend pre-conference workshops, and conversations with established quality-of-life scholars are some of the main benefits of being involved. High water in Venice, and high mountains in Innsbruck have been some of the more memorable, local conference experiences. The conferences always stimulate new ideas and it’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with international colleagues and friends. Although I won’t be able to participate in the Rotterdam conference this year, I hope to attend in 2021 and look forward to hearing about the latest advancements in quality-of-life research through the journals and newsletters.


Margo can be contacted at: margo@greo.ca

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