FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Gavin McCormack
March 3, 2015
As we (myself included) get older our needs for a community that works for us, with our limitations and mobility issues is important – good thing smart young people are working on this to learn what works best, what will keep us safe and in better health longer connected with how we use our physical environment at home, at work and as we move around our community.
I kept my appointment – wandered the maze of the TRW [Training, Research and Wellness] building – and The Dr. was in, waiting for me.
My first impression of Dr. Gavin McCormack was – “oh my, this guy could bench-press me”. Actually he could probably bench-press me and someone else at the same time. Young, strong – obviously very buff, athletic. And did I say young?
But he’s not sporting a stethoscope or putting me on a treadmill – he’s a researcher of a special kind, helping industry and municipalities better understand how communities or organized and designed to contribute to healthier lifestyles.
I went to see this doctor at the Medical School, University of Calgary – to interview one of Calgary’s rising stars (one of Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 under 40 last year) – a fellow who was recommended to help me … understand better planning.
Career path in Australia and the move to Canada have been road-forks for Gavin – coming here because he liked the mountains, coming here because of his wife’s interests – changes happen. His original under-grad plans were teaching physical education, being an elite coach. He considered doing a masters degree in physiotherapy. He worked in a sawmill for a while, and then took a job as a research assistant in the School of Public Health at the University of Western Australia – where he got interested in the relationship between the built environment and physical activity. He changed his mindset.
He says Calgary is a great place for his work because we have diversity in community/neighbourhood types to study. I pointed out that things are rather flat here … but he pointed out that mountains nearby, great lifestyle and his Australian Rules Football group were compelling reasons to do his work here at the U of C Medical School. I agree. Local developers agree. The Mayor agrees. Municipal planners agree. Seems to be trending ...
A short history of Gavin’s short history: born in Bedford, UK, moved to Australia with his family [mom was a homemaker/caterer, dad a mechanic, a younger sister] when he was two. “They were in search of a better life”.He says he was a good student. B.Sc. in Human Movement from University of Western Australia, M.Sc. from Edith Cowan University in Perth. Ph.D. from the School of Population Health, University of Western Australia.
What has contributed to your success – substantial success, and at such an early age?
“I’m reliable, dependable. People can count on me. I’m not the most talented or intelligent – but I work hard. I love what I do. Moving to Canada for my post-doctoral work – for more opportunity. I’ve always been interested in science …” [editor’s note .. perhaps modesty should be added to that list].
What has held you back? “Nothing I can think of. I’m probably where I should be in this country.”
Ambitions?“Eventually, I’d like to be a tenured professor. Having a role more involved with administration and management of the University.”
I asked Gavin how he sees his businesses – population health researcher ; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter? … concern over health research funding (provincial and federal) stability due to economic conditions. My current project is funded through to 2018 so this doesn’t impact me, but this is a concern among researchers generally …
Over the next five years? … this is definitely a growing field – increase in age of the demographic. People living longer in a chronic disease state in sedentary lifestyles. Incremental costs.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers? … common interests and differing expertise. Filling in gaps. Knowing someone is easy to work with. People who can work well with different personality types and stakeholders.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Gavin McCormack, why do they do business with you? ... what I’m doing is relevant. Mentor of the proposal and the team. I work hard, have a strong work ethic (from dad!). Goal oriented. I have to complete things – I’m a finisher. I don’t unconsciously stir the pot.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? … I always have students working on my projects – independent mature students. I like to give people their own autonomy, empower them – lets them take ownership. I have a responsibility to give them the best chance to build their own career options. [case in point – check out some of his papers].
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about? … my kids keep me up. Reflections on how I father them. Getting old – not being able to complete my bucket list. I want to travel more internationally and do cycling tours – South America, Asia – Vietnam, Tibet.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point? … my Ph.D. supervisor, Billie Giles-Corti got me interested in research and has been a strong supporter. My kids (6 & 9).
For fun? … I have my kids ½ time (separated/shared custody). Video games! Working out, mountain bike riding, Australian Rules Football (playing, not watching).
What do you read?… non-fiction. Always work related [he added, he would like to write books – not academic ones, but for general public consumption – on healthy lifestyles].
His ride?… Dodge Ram 1500, and a motorcycle – ’96 Kawasaki Ninja
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