Meet Our Graduate: Kimberly Thomson, PhD

Name: Kimberly Thomson
Program: Doctor of Philosophy

What does your research involve?

Existing research suggests that many adult mental health problems begin developing early in life. With an interest in early intervention, my dissertation examined whether early indicators of children’s mental health and well-being could be identified as children enter Kindergarten (at age five). In three different BC birth cohorts, I was able to identify consistent profile patterns of early indicators (including social competence, emotional maturity, and behavior problems) that were associated with physician-assessed mental health conditions and children’s self-reported well-being up to ten years later. These profile patterns were related to children’s social and economic circumstances at school entry, and were also found to relate to future self-reported well-being at least partially through relationships with adults and peers.

Why do you think it is important?

Until recently there has been limited research on the early detection of mental health problems, partly because of the difficulty in recognizing “subclinical” mental health indicators in early childhood. At the same time, due to the rapid pace of brain and biological development in early childhood, we know that this is an optimal period of transition and growth when interventions are more likely to be effective. A contribution of my research was being able to distinguish replicable population-level profile patterns of social-emotional functioning as children enter school that were indicative of clinical mental health conditions and self-reported well-being by early adolescence. Furthermore, the association of these profiles with children’s household income, gender, and English as a Second Language status suggests that interventions for promoting child mental health from an early age should include addressing the social conditions in which children develop, including reducing experiences of stress and discrimination.

What’s next for you?

My doctoral studies inspired me to learn more about intergenerational patterns of mental health and how changes in social circumstances between generations may interrupt cycles of stress and compromised mental health. I will be undertaking this research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia (see: The Australian Temperament Project Generation 3).

What have you enjoyed most about your time at SPPH?

I felt fortunate to be supported by an amazing supervisory team and friends that I met through the SPPH program. I enjoyed working through the courses with a group of like-minded students and getting to learn about all different aspects of population and public health.

What’s your advice to incoming SPPH students?

My advice would be to reach out to fellow students, join study groups, and enjoy the novelty and opportunities that come with being a student. I also found it helpful to join a research unit at SPPH (for me this was the Human Early Learning Partnership) where there were great opportunities to learn and collaborate with other students and faculty on interesting projects.

What are you looking forward to the most after graduation?

Free time, and the chance to see some koalas and kangaroos!