July 10, 2020

Doctoral student studies the complexities of caregiving in the age of apps

Carieta Thomas one of 9 winners of the 2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship
Carieta Thomas
Carieta Thomas

If you are a parent of a young child in Calgary, there’s a good chance you are aware, if not a user, of the many online resources for finding quick, convenient childcare. Online services connecting caregivers with clients have proliferated over the last decade, transforming the way people identify and hire caregivers for children and elderly or disabled family members.

Carieta Thomas, a doctoral student in sociology, wants to know what these transformations in caregiving mean for the often vulnerable population of Caribbean women working in that field in Canada and the United States. As one of the University of Calgary’s 2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) winners, Thomas will put her $50,000 scholarship to work in a comparative multi-level qualitative analysis of Caribbean women caregivers.

Technology and transformations in immigration

“I’m interested in how technology impacts the process of immigration, and how it affects these women who are often in a precarious situation,” says Thomas, who is originally from Guyana and has a background in immigration consulting, along with a Juris Doctorate specializing in immigration law and a master’s degree in Pan-African studies. As she explains, “Care work is transforming from an informal to a more formalized part of the labour sector, in part because of things like caregiver apps.”

As Thomas explains, these women fill a crucial labour gap that was once characterized by workers connecting with families through informal networks of personal relationships. As the sector becomes more formalized, many of these much-needed workers find themselves exposed to legal and personal peril by an increasingly complex network of immigration laws that make employers a de facto part of the management of an individual’s immigration status.

Thomas shares the example of background checks: “We may take comfort from the promise of ‘background’ checks offered by these web services, but those same background checks may pose a complication for some women. SIN numbers can reveal a person’s immigration status; background checks that make use of SIN numbers put employers in a position of power over a person’s legal status.”

This power differential becomes even starker in light of increasing numbers of temporary visas that connect a worker’s immigration status to a particular employer, giving rise to a situation that places some caregivers at risk of potential abuses by employers.

“A person’s stay in Canada may be connected to their employer, and some people may not be aware of or do not feel comfortable pursuing avenues to redress unfair employment practices,” says Thomas. “These are people who may be paid less, and are expected to work longer hours doing labour deemed undesirable by others with citizenship or permanent residency status.”

Intersectional theory

To understand how these transformations in the care sector affect women in Caribbean-Canadian and American communities, Thomas must disentangle federal and provincial/state immigration legislation and employer and employment agency practices in both countries, while simultaneously building a picture of what it’s like to experience these issues as a caregiver. Thomas will ground her approach in a context of intersectional theory.

“As a person, each of us has many experiences related to our identities and those aspects cannot be separated out easily,” explains Thomas. “Immigration status might be one aspect alongside education and work skills, economic status, race and more. These aspects cannot be understood in isolation from one another, and intersectional theory provides a framework for understanding how these aspects of identity connect and influence each other.”

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

Thomas, who is working under the supervision of Dr. Pallavi Banerjee, PhD, and co-supervision of Dr. Naomi Lightman, PhD, is one of nine UCalgary graduate students who are receiving the 2020 Vanier CGS, which are worth $50,000 per year for three years. Thomas is also the recipient of the 2018 Dean’s International Doctoral Research Scholarship, and is a 2020 Killam Laureate.

“The Vanier awards are among the most prestigious and significant graduate scholarships in Canada,” says Dr. Robin Yates, vice-provost and dean of graduate studies. “These scholarships recognize and support the game-changing research that makes our graduate students the leaders and creators of tomorrow.”

Learn more about our UCalgary 2020 Vanier CGS Recipients

  • Ali Fatehi Hassanabad, Cardiovacsular and Respiratory Science (supervisor: Dr. Paul Fedak, MD) – The formation of scar tissue following heart surgery can cause major complications, especially in patients who undergo repeat surgeries. Ruptures, tears and excessive bleeding in the heart and lungs resulting from scar-related complications can lead to a greater burden on the health-care system. Hassanabad is researching the use of the protein lubricin to reduce scar tissue formation by using animal studies to investigate the effects of lubricin in preventing scars.
  • Chelsea Moran, Psychology (supervisor: Dr. Tavis Campbell, PhD) — Moran is researching the potential for an intervention in rehabilitation programming for cardiac patients. The goal of this intervention is to improve the rate of medication use among survivors of cardiac episodes, many of whom do not stick to their medication regime. Moran hopes the study will lead to the creation of a training program for health-care providers, ultimately contributing to improved outcomes for cardiac patients.
  • Dion Kelly, Neuroscience (supervisor: Dr. Christopher Adam Kirton, MD) – Kelly is researching brain-computer interface (BCI) applications for children with severe neurological difficulties like quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The promise of BCI applications is in providing a non-invasive solution to facilitate communication for children with these severe difficulties who would normally have little or no ability to communicate. Kelly is looking specifically at how young, developing brains can operate BCI systems.
  • Galina Belolyubsaya, Anthropology (supervisor: Dr. Sabrina Peric, PhD) — Belolyubsaya is researching the ways that Indigenous communities take part in legal discussions of land rights. Focusing on the community of Syuldykar, a small village in the Sakha Republic of the Russian Federation, Belolyubsaya is examining how the resident Evenki people continue to fight for environmental, social, economic and cultural rights against a background of radical change brought about by resource extraction industries — first diamond mining, and now oil and gas.
  • Hannah Dimmick, Kinesiology (supervisor: Dr. Reed Ferber, PhD) — With studies suggesting that 42 per cent of recreational runners sustain a stress fracture each year, Dimmick is making use of advances in wearable technology to better understand patterns of behaviour behind these injuries. Most research on the source of fracture injuries in runners takes place in the lab; now, wearable technology promises to provide real-time data to support research. By establishing baseline, typical gait patterns, Dimmick will test her group’s hypothesis that most injuries occur when gait patterns become atypical. In time, an app may be introduced to alert runners to when they’ve fallen into an atypical gait that may presage injury.
  • Jahanara Rajwani, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (supervisor: Dr. Douglas Mahoney, PhD) — Rajwani is investigating the process by which oncolytic viruses (OVs) function in curing cancer. OVs are viruses that were designed to seek out and kill cancer cells without affecting normal cells. Rajwani hypothesizes that OVs may be effective, not by attacking cancer cells, but by infecting immune cells directly and thereby stimulating an immune response to cancer cells by the body.
  • Kate Bourne, Cardiovascular and Respiratory Science (supervisor: Dr. Satish Ramnaryan Raj, MD) — For individuals suffering from Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), the simple act of standing up can be difficult because the body fails to adapt to the effect of gravity pulling blood from the chest into the abdomen and legs. People living with POTS experience a reduced quality of life, often with economic and social impacts. Bourne will use a large study to understand key impacts of POTS, and of the effectiveness of treatments including use of compression garments.
  • Oluwatomiwa Osin, Chemistry (supervisor: Dr. George Shimizu, PhD) — Osin is researching ways of improving water treatment technologies that utilize solar-energy responsive materials for removing contaminants. Specifically, Osin is looking at how we can extract Vanadium ions from oilsands tailings for reuse in water treatment, which is promising both as a source of solar-responsive materials, and as a means of reducing the amount of these toxic contaminants (i.e., Vanadium) that accumulate in Alberta’s environment as a consequence of oil extraction.