Jenny Flagler-George, Manager of Patient Experience at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network

Jenny Flagler-George, Manager of Patient Experience at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network

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A profile picture of Jenny Flagler-George

Jenny Flagler-George graduated with a PhD in Sociology from the University of Waterloo. Her dissertation focused on the experiences of immigrant informal caregivers. She is now a Manager of Patient Experience at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

(April 2019)


Q: What kinds of teaching experience did you get in your program?

I had TAships all the way through. I also taught Sociology 101. I learned a lot through that experience because it was such a large class—it has really helped me with things like presenting in front of boards. During my fifth year, I had two TAs, a research assistantship and taught my own class.

I would say during the semester that I taught Sociology 101, I did not touch my thesis because it was a lot of work.

Q: What kind of financial support did you have in place?

I had the base funding for my first year. Like many other women, I also got the women’s graduate scholarship. I received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship in my second year and then for my third and fourth I had a SSHRC doctoral fellowship. Graduate students say it is like winning the academic lottery.

I was a co-applicant with my supervisor on a Citizenship and Immigration Canada research grant, which was an important part of my funding.

I think without that kind of help, such as scholarships and grants, it is hard for someone who doesn’t have outside support. I can see why a lot of people have to take on full-time employment—you have to keep living.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD? Or that you are still part of a community?

We had a great group of people. Everyone felt very close together. In my cohort, there were only four of us, and I was also close friends with the people who came after me. As much as I can, I still keep in touch with people.

Q: How long did your program take? Did it feel like the right amount of time?

Exactly five years. At the outset I told myself, you get funding for four years, but I will take five because I didn’t want to kill myself working. They always say, if you need funding for a fifth year they’ll find a way to do it with research assistantships, TAs, and options like that. I found that to be the case.

Q: How did you end up in your current position?

My research assistantships were very helpful for charting a non-academic career path: they show that you have abilities outside of just your one large thesis. Out of that research assistantship, I met another woman who was my mentor who got me the job coordinating the Afro Festival in Waterloo and then also as a project coordinator for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

When I graduated, I had a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Manulife Centre for Community Health Research at Wilfrid Laurier University. My intention was to work at the postdoc until I found a permanent role. The MCCHR very much operates as an incubator for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. I initially applied for SSHRC funding with them and it was declined. A friend encouraged me to ask the Manulife Centre if any other project funding would be available for a postdoctoral fellowship. They said yes, and started me on a really interesting research report. From this experience, I would say you don’t get what you don’t ask for sometimes, and it’s worth a shot.

Jenny Flagler-George advises asking for opportunities: “You don’t get what you don’t ask for sometimes, and it’s worth a shot.”

I worked there for eight months and then I got a job at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, and I’ve been there ever since. I started as a Senior Planner, which included strategic planning for the three year strategic plan. After about a year and a half, I was promoted to Manager of Planning. In November, I was promoted to Manager of Patient Experience.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work is relevant to the work you’re doing now?

I would say definitely so. My research was on the experiences of immigrant informal caregivers. The skills associated with strategic planning are also definitely something that I learned in the program. You need to know how to consolidate vast amounts of data into a plan that makes sense.

Q: Is there something that you wish you knew before starting the PhD?

Four things:

First, as much as you think you’re prepared for the questions that will come up during your thesis defense, they are not the questions you will be asked. You can prepare as much as you can if it makes you feel prepared, but you have to be willing to roll with it. I think that the best lesson would be just to be flexible with the unexpected because there will always be a curveball question.

Second, I think students should be aware that they have to plan their timing for each step of the process. For example, prior to defending your thesis, a copy of your dissertation has to sit in the grad studies office for a solid month. Our secretary was so helpful in explaining the final processes—she was so great.

Third, when you are preparing your resume for a non-academic job, list your education as the first thing in your CV because it’s not the only thing you’ve done.

Finally, everybody wants to quit their PhD program at one point. I don’t know if I know of anyone who didn’t feel that way. You just have to keep moving forward with your goal in mind.


Many thanks to Jenny Flagler-George for sharing her PhD narrative! You can read another interview with Jenny about her PhD experience on the Waterloo website and follow her work on LinkedIn.

A profile picture of Jenny Flagler-George

Jenny Flagler-George graduated with a PhD in Sociology from the University of Waterloo. Her dissertation focused on the experiences of immigrant informal caregivers. She is now a Manager of Patient Experience at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

(April 2019)


Q: What kinds of teaching experience did you get in your program?

I had TAships all the way through. I also taught Sociology 101. I learned a lot through that experience because it was such a large class—it has really helped me with things like presenting in front of boards. During my fifth year, I had two TAs, a research assistantship and taught my own class.

I would say during the semester that I taught Sociology 101, I did not touch my thesis because it was a lot of work.

Q: What kind of financial support did you have in place?

I had the base funding for my first year. Like many other women, I also got the women’s graduate scholarship. I received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship in my second year and then for my third and fourth I had a SSHRC doctoral fellowship. Graduate students say it is like winning the academic lottery.

I was a co-applicant with my supervisor on a Citizenship and Immigration Canada research grant, which was an important part of my funding.

I think without that kind of help, such as scholarships and grants, it is hard for someone who doesn’t have outside support. I can see why a lot of people have to take on full-time employment—you have to keep living.

Q: Did you feel like you were part of a community during your PhD? Or that you are still part of a community?

We had a great group of people. Everyone felt very close together. In my cohort, there were only four of us, and I was also close friends with the people who came after me. As much as I can, I still keep in touch with people.

Q: How long did your program take? Did it feel like the right amount of time?

Exactly five years. At the outset I told myself, you get funding for four years, but I will take five because I didn’t want to kill myself working. They always say, if you need funding for a fifth year they’ll find a way to do it with research assistantships, TAs, and options like that. I found that to be the case.

Q: How did you end up in your current position?

My research assistantships were very helpful for charting a non-academic career path: they show that you have abilities outside of just your one large thesis. Out of that research assistantship, I met another woman who was my mentor who got me the job coordinating the Afro Festival in Waterloo and then also as a project coordinator for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

When I graduated, I had a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Manulife Centre for Community Health Research at Wilfrid Laurier University. My intention was to work at the postdoc until I found a permanent role. The MCCHR very much operates as an incubator for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. I initially applied for SSHRC funding with them and it was declined. A friend encouraged me to ask the Manulife Centre if any other project funding would be available for a postdoctoral fellowship. They said yes, and started me on a really interesting research report. From this experience, I would say you don’t get what you don’t ask for sometimes, and it’s worth a shot.

Jenny Flagler-George advises asking for opportunities: “You don’t get what you don’t ask for sometimes, and it’s worth a shot.”

I worked there for eight months and then I got a job at the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, and I’ve been there ever since. I started as a Senior Planner, which included strategic planning for the three year strategic plan. After about a year and a half, I was promoted to Manager of Planning. In November, I was promoted to Manager of Patient Experience.

Q: Do you feel like your doctoral work is relevant to the work you’re doing now?

I would say definitely so. My research was on the experiences of immigrant informal caregivers. The skills associated with strategic planning are also definitely something that I learned in the program. You need to know how to consolidate vast amounts of data into a plan that makes sense.

Q: Is there something that you wish you knew before starting the PhD?

Four things:

First, as much as you think you’re prepared for the questions that will come up during your thesis defense, they are not the questions you will be asked. You can prepare as much as you can if it makes you feel prepared, but you have to be willing to roll with it. I think that the best lesson would be just to be flexible with the unexpected because there will always be a curveball question.

Second, I think students should be aware that they have to plan their timing for each step of the process. For example, prior to defending your thesis, a copy of your dissertation has to sit in the grad studies office for a solid month. Our secretary was so helpful in explaining the final processes—she was so great.

Third, when you are preparing your resume for a non-academic job, list your education as the first thing in your CV because it’s not the only thing you’ve done.

Finally, everybody wants to quit their PhD program at one point. I don’t know if I know of anyone who didn’t feel that way. You just have to keep moving forward with your goal in mind.


Many thanks to Jenny Flagler-George for sharing her PhD narrative! You can read another interview with Jenny about her PhD experience on the Waterloo website and follow her work on LinkedIn.

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