Adele Balram – Database Analyst, New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training

Adele Balram, Database Analyst

Adele Balram is a Database Analyst with the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data, and Training. She holds a professional specialization certificate in Population Health Data Analysis from the University of Victoria, Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of New Brunswick and a Master of Public Health from Memorial University in Newfoundland. Adele has several years experience in public health, including working as an epidemiologist on environmental and community health issues across New Brunswick.

What was your first experience with GIS and what attracted you to it?

My first experience with GIS was in 2008, when I was completing my practicum for my Master degree, at the New Brunswick Department of Health. I was asked to examine a cluster of meningitis outbreaks that had occurred in the province. The first thought that came to mind was that I needed to map the cases. However, I had never used GIS software. Eventually, I found a GIS program and taught myself how to use the software and mapped out the meningitis cases.  After the project was completed I was curious to learn more about GIS and its capabilities, which led to my interest in taking formal courses. However, after searching for some time, I could not find an online course that provided me with hands on software experience. Consequently, I stopped my search and did not pursue my interest in GIS for many years.

The subject of GIS did not come up again until I started my position as a Database Analyst with the New Brunswick Institute for Research Data and Training (NB-IRDT).  It was during this time I began working with a colleague who had a Geography background and was looking for research support using spatial methods to investigate/evaluate health outcomes.

Once again, I searched for a course that could provide me with hands on GIS experience that I could take through a distance learning program while working full time. When I found the University of Victoria’s Population Health and Data Analysis program I was excited. This program offered fully online training including two geospatial courses using ArcGIS – one course in Population Health and GIS and another in Spatial Epidemiology and Outbreak Detection.

How has GIS benefitted or influenced your work as a database analyst?

GIS has benefitted and influenced my work as a database analyst. So far, I have used GIS in a few of my projects working for the NB-IRDT. One project was a study that looked at small-area population projections for New Brunswick. GIS software was used for this project to create different boundary files and population counts for the province. We have also used GIS software during a more recent project to calculate the distances from patients’ homes to the hospital nearest to them. This information was used to determine how hospital closures in the province influenced the distance patients drove to the hospital that was now closest to them.

NDVI NB and NS

However, the project that I am the proudest of is my work on a recent publication “Urban greenness and mortality in Canada’s largest cities: a national cohort study.” In this study an NDVI layer was created for the country by downloading thousands of image tiles from NASAs aqua satellite at a spatial resolution of 250m as 16 day averages. Using this information, we calculated the annual maximum greenness values averaged over the summer months for each year from 2002 to 2011, and long-term mean values over the 10-year period. This layer was then used to assign green space exposures to individual postal codes in our study.

 What are some career moments or accomplishments you are proud of?

I have many career moments and accomplishments that I am proud of. However, there are two recent accomplishments that standout. First, is the completion of the Population and Health Data Analysis Program (PHDA) at the University of Victoria. This learning was invaluable to my career and GIS experience. The second accomplishment that I am proud of is the recent publication that I co-authored which investigated the relationship between Greenness and Mortality. A lot of time and effort went into this study which was recently published in the Lancet Planetary Health.

NDVI Gatineau Ottawa

I am also very fortunate to be part of a new team that is studying the associations between residential exposures to water and risk of mortality among urban Canadians. Furthermore, the lead investigator of these two studies and I have recently presented a webinar for The Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) on the two studies above titled “Does living in greener areas and near water affect mortality?”

Who has been your greatest career mentor? How has this person influenced your career?

I have had a few mentors who have influenced my career, however, the most influential GIS mentor that I have had is my collogue Dr. Dan Lawson Crouse. He is a Research Associate at the University of New Brunswick, an Epidemiologist at the NB-IRDT, and holds a PhD in Geography from McGill University. Dr. Crouse has taken the time to assist me with my GIS questions and share new tips and tricks regarding GIS methods. He has also been very supportive and helpful in encouraging me with my career aspirations.

My knowledge of environmental exposures such as air pollution, green space and blue space and their relation to health outcomes was limited before I met Dr. Crouse. However, since I began collaborating with him, he has taken time to train me in this area of research, and has also given me the opportunity to participate in his recent greenspace and blue space studies. After completing my Master’s program, I never thought that I would pursue this area of research.  Nevertheless, I am now engrossed in the study of environmental exposures, and I plan on continuing my education and research in this subject area.

Have you faced any challenges with being a woman in a technical field?

After I graduated from my Master’s program I worked in the government sector and I believed that I would stay there for the rest of my career. I came to realize while working for the government’s health department that women tended to outnumber men, and women occupied many of the managerial and technical positions. However, after a reorganization of government departments I was laid off from my job unexpectedly, and it took a while before I was offered my current position as a Database Analyst at the NB-IRDT.

My current job requires a sound knowledge of statistics and program coding. These types of positions are typically filled by men in the academic environment. I also find that there continues to be push back to accept women into these positions. Many are surprised to learn that I am a woman working in this technical field. However, I am pleased to tell people what I do, and more women should be encouraged to fill these technical positions in the future.

What personal strengths do you feel are key to working in the field of geospatial analytics?

Some of the personal strengths (skills) that I believe are key to working in the field of geospatial analytics are having a strong statistical background, excellent data management and programming skills, patience and having great attention to detail.

What inspires you in your personal and professional life?

What inspires me in my personal life is my family. I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick with my husband and 9-year-old son. They inspire me every day to continue in my field and to advance my technical skill set and career. They have also been very supportive of me continuing my education and I am very grateful for that. What inspires me in my professional life is the drive to be a leading woman in the area of geospatial analytics and eventually pass this experience along to other women who want to do the same

If you had three wishes for the future, what would they be?

My three wishes for the future would be health and happiness for my family and friends. The second would be to attend an excellent Canadian university to complete my PhD in Epidemiology/Health Geography and the third would be to hold an academic position in my field, preferably a Canadian Research Chair in a health discipline.

Short Survey!

Thousands of women around the world are aspiring to be, or are, GIS professionals. Women in GIS (WiGIS), a soon-to-be nonprofit organization, serves as a safe place for women from all geospatial fields to come together. Two of its primary goals include:
  • Working to overcome job discrimination, lower pay, professional isolation, and other common barriers women might face, and
  • Fostering relationships and resource-sharing among members and institutions.
We are researching which membership benefits and services would be most valuable to you…. a potential paying member. Your participation in this survey will help inform WiGIS organizers as to what you would like to get out of membership at this organization should you choose to join.

The survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete, and all of your individual responses will be kept confidential. Thank you for your participation. Your feedback is very important to us!

We’re Out There

If you’ve never been to an ESRI User Conference, then you might be surprised by the size of it.

I was. (Okay okay, nothing like ComicCon, but still.)

It’s been years (okay, decades) since the last UC I attended, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the San Diego Convention Center – nor the amount of people (an introvert’s nightmare). But I suffered through and came out, in the end, better for it.

Geogeeks Flex Their Muscles banner at the ESRI 2017 UC

I did not attend the UC alone!

WiGIS also attended ESRI’s 2017 UC. That is to say, I, along with Danielle Bram, Christina Boggs, Andrea Regalado, Olivia ,DeSimone Miriam Olivares, and many others among our volunteer ranks, attended one of the biggest congregations of GIS professionals on this side of the planet.

And there were a ton of other women at the conference! They were everywhere; listening to talks, presenting talks, demonstrating software, and just being the awesome mapsters we all are.

Special Interest Lunch Meeting

Attendance at the WiGIS lunch meeting at the ESRI 2017 UC

On Tuesday, over 110 Women in GIS gathered for a WiGIS lunch meeting where our fearless leaders talked about our efforts to form a non-profit. We also solicited ideas from the audience on how best we can serve our community of talented women. Some of the items presented were:

  • Create an online job center
  • Sponsor UC attendance for young women/students
  • Increase outreach to girls
  • Rant board on Facebook (it’s coming!)
  • Develop awards for diversity (for municipalities and/or companies)
  • Create a YouTube channel (what would you want to see?)
  • Translate the website to several languages
  • Find volunteer opportunities on women-specific issues

Our all-volunteer staff are working on implementing or, at the very least, exploring these suggestions. Thanks to all who attended and made it such an awesome meeting!

And special thanks to Andrea for providing the very popular WiGIS buttons handed out during the meeting. If you attended the meeting and missed out on the buttons, email outreach@womeningis.org to get one.

Social Gathering

A group of roughly 40 women gathered on Wednesday night at Indigo Hotel’s rooftop bar. While WiGIS couldn’t afford to buy anyone a drink, we mixed and mingled, hatched grand plans, swapped business cards, and had a good time in the lovely San Diego weather.

Thanks again to Andrea for arranging such a great venue. Let’s do it again soon!

Map Gallery

We also made our presence known in the map gallery. Andrea Regalado, Christina Boggs-Chavira, and myself submitted maps, each focused on our growing organization. Andrea focused on some stats from our Women in GIS Story Map. Christina’s map highlighted ways women can advocate for themselves. And my map was a compilation of last year’s identity survey.

It was also great to see Washington Women in GIS and Technology (WWGT) submit an informative and detailed map/poster on the gender wage gap in the state of Washington. If you don’t want to read the map image below, the information is also presented in Story Map format here.

WWGT’s map shows there’s still a need for women to speak out for equality. The wage gap *does* exist, and though there are more women working in the tech sector every day, we do not occupy the number of positions we should based on other work force statistics.

Super Women

Though we still have yet to reach full parity with men, we’ve come a long way. Together, with our male allies, we’ll find our super power.

Thanks for reading.

We love to hear from you! Did you attend the ESRI’s 2017 UC? If so, tell us about it in the comment section below. What’s your super power?