Professor Jeanne Jackson, Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy

Jeanne Jackson, Professor of Occupational Therapy

Jeanne Jackson, Professor of Occupational Therapy

College: Medicine & Health

School: Clinical Therapies

Research Interests: Understanding how diverse groups of people who may not fit within the particular social-historical constraints of their communities struggle to live out their personal vision of a meaningful lfe, how living a meaningful existence is essential to both health and life satisfaction, how diverse lifestyles are expressed through occupation

IRIS profile:

What first attracted you to your academic discipline?

Occupational Science is a discipline that emerged from Occupational Therapy Practice.  I was a practising occupational therapist working in rehabilitation hospitals, the school systems and in the community many years before I enrolled for my PhD in Occupational Science from the University of Southern California.  As a therapist, I worked with people who had disabilities assisting them to engage fully in life by gaining the skills to perform desired everyday activities.  I was compelled to study occupational science because I was interested in how ocupations (activities that make up our lives) contributed to health and development.  Likewise, I was interested in how the values and beliefs of individuals and communities become tangible in the "doings of everyday".

How were you drawn to your current research interests?

The overarching theme that drives my research is my belief that people create meangingful lives through their choice of occupations and the symbolic interpretations with which they imbue those occupations.  I am particularly interested in understanding how diverse groups of people who may not fit within the particular social-historical constraints of their communities (i.e. people who are disabled, lesbian, older or poor) struggle to live out their personal vision of a meaningful life.  I have two lines of research.  First, I am interested in LGBTQ+ issues particularly around living authentic lives.  Second, I am interested in exploring how elders adapt their repertoire of occupations when confronted with the changes of aging.  I was drawn to both lines of research by personal preferences although the second eventually came with aging.

What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?

Authoring articles on lesbian issues in healthcare at a period in history when it was not acceptable.  Serving as co-investigator on a large funded clinical trial that provided elderly people with activity-based intervention and was shown to have a positive statistically significant impact on their health and well-being.

Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?

I have had many role models; three in particular shaped my life.  First, Elizabeth Yerxa is my mentor and friend.  Her wisdom and ethics are guiding forces in my life.  She challenged me to think about occupation and well-being in deep ways.  I have witnessed lecturers bully and devalue students (of course never in Ireland).  Betty modelled respectful ways to teach, and to elicit and celebrate opposing opinions.  Betty, also, introduced me to the social model of disability that has influenced my practice and theorising.  Second, I was priviliged to take a course in Feminist Theory from Barrie Thorne and have never read a book or article in the same way again.  I cherish the liberating discussions I had with her.  She taught me how to think about diversity in the most respectful ways.  Third, my mother, who went to extremes to put her values into practice.  (Even though, I must admit, some of them were diametrically opposed to mine.)  From her. I learned tenacity and you need that in academia!

What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

Seeing an "aha" moment on a student's face in the classroom or during office hours when they realised something new; working with colleagues on writing grants; watching an idea on which I have worked alone or collaboratively finally come to fruition; and starting staff meetings with a ridiculous ritual such as singing "Good Morning to You."

Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?

I am female but also lesbian.  Automatically, I fall into the 'other' category.  I have been the subject of a hate crime; I have been discriminated against my entire life simply because people intentionally or unintentionally tell a homophobic joke, don't understand why Helen fell in love with Nikki, won't let children attend my wedding because well 'what do they do at lesbian weddings?', vote for laws that exclude my participation in society and uphold heteronormativity.  As a result, I felt compelled to do my PhD research on Lesbian Identities and the Health Care System.  And yet that very research led to horrifying moments in my academic life such as receiving hate mail and being questioned as professionally unethical.  I fell into the trap of hiding my lesbian research behind my research on the lives of well elders, a much more acceptable topic.  For some colleagues, my career advanced because I became a well-known member of the "Well Elderly Research Team".  However, at conferences, I still receive gratitude, usually in whispers off in a corner, for providing space to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in occupational therapy pedagogy and treatment.  I am proud of both areas of research.

Most disturbing to me were the times that closeted lesbian or gay students came to me to share that they had read one of my articles in class and were upset by the homophobic comments other classmates had made about my work.  For students, an experience such as this can put a lock on a closet door.

Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?

Work/life balance is an endless challenge for almost every person I have met (remember I came from America).  Personally, I think we have posited the wrong question and are looking to achieve a state of mind and body that is impossible.  When I think of balance, I think about flexibility, co-operation, mindfulness, embedded activities, chaos, wonder, rhythms - all of life's experiences that come and go at the most inopportune times.  Yet we manage.

What would I tell my 18-year old self...  Find things (people, ideas, causes) that you are passionate about and weave them throughout your daily activities and lifetime.  Laugh spontaneously every day or change what you are doing.  Balance in terms of time may never happen but maintain an overall sense of dignity and wonder...and don't plan on sleeping!

Athena SWAN

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