By Sharday Mosurinjohn
Brian Beaudette’s academic path has been shaped by seeking a balance between his talent for pure sciences and the enthusiasm roused by finding the human element in a research project. “Originally,” says Beaudette, “it was a toss up between something on the science or history side. I love history. It’s my passion. But I felt a pull toward the sciences, and toward a doctoral or medical education that would allow me to do hospital work, rehab, sports management, etcetera.” From a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick, a Master’s in Exercise and Sport Sciences at the same university, and now to a PhD at Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies in the Biomechanics and Ergonomics Laboratory, Beaudette has judged each move by the number of forks in the road; “I like to keep as many options open as possible,” he smiles.
Now, midway through the first year of his doctoral studies in Biomechanics under Dr. Pat Costigan, Beaudette is starting to think of gearing himself toward a career in sports biomechanics. “Specifically, I’m interested in dissecting how people play baseball or swim, and I’d love to work with elite athletes and their coaches.” It was actually the lure of an excellent varsity swimming team and an enthusiastic coach that drew Beaudette to Fredericton’s University of New Brunswick in the first place. He loved the beauty of Fredericton and the personal feel of the small UNB campus.
In addition to swimming and becoming head recruiter for the team, Beaudette served as a residence don. “UNB residence is organized around a very traditional allegiance to your ‘house,’” he grins, offering a Harry Potter analogy: “You sit at a table under your house crest at mealtimes and the rivalries can be as intense as Gryffindor and Slytherin.”
As it turns out, Queen’s happens to have a strong UNB connection that has given Beaudette a sense of common ground as he’s made the transition from out East back to Ontario. Having applied to a few graduate programs, the prospective PhD student knew by the end of his Master’s degree under Dr. Victoria Chester that a connection with a future supervisor would be the most important factor in his decision. “I loved my supervisor,” he recalls, because she was as “funny and blunt” as Beaudette himself. They worked together so well that he chose her lab, specializing in Biomechanics, “even though Physiology would probably have made more sense for me.” Among the Queen’s faculty, Beaudette has found fellow UNB alumni and a strong connection with his new supervisor, Dr. Costigan. “It’s been easy to fit in,” he says with appreciation.
Now Beaudette is part of the fifth cohort of the Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) in Bone and Joint Health Technologies, an initiative of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) that was first launched at Queen's in 2009. Hosted in the Human Mobility Research Centre (HMRC), and affiliated with Kingston General Hospital, the program brings together healthcare professionals graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and a smaller contingent of undergraduates in an interdisciplinary research team working on issues in human mobility. Beaudette’s contribution to the project is developing a set of criteria for a comprehensive examination that will enable people who have undergone reconstructive surgery of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, a part of the knee) to decide when is the optimal time for them to return to activity.
Beaudette’s component falls on what he calls “the functional side of things.” “I’ll be using physical tests developed by a current Master’s student in the lab – basically, I’m going to be asking participants to perform actions including lunges, eccentric loading (a step-up-and-over task), and proprioceptive tasks (activities which assess participants’ awareness of the position of their bodies).” Pre- and post-op these tests, including an extensive strength test, are designed to measure kinetics (the actions of forces in producing or changing the motion of participants’ bodies) and kinematics (which has to do with the angle of the joints).
The larger context of the project involves figuring out when surgery represents the right choice for people with ACL trauma and, for those who do choose the surgical route, assessing rehabilitative progress not only through strength and functional tests, but also through psychological tests. Beaudette’s team is “partnering with the Psychology Department to find out what other factors might affect readiness to return to activity. For example, are participants catastrophizing about the bad things that could happen if they resume their normal activities, or if they sustain impact?” Beaudette recalls an example of a football player who appeared physically healed and self-reported his readiness to get back in the game, but whose movement told a different story. “Observing his game, it was clear to see from the way he would hesitate in front of an opponent that some part of him was still reluctant to tackle.”
While Beaudette’s own work is still in its early stages, his team is starting to get results back from participants who had ACL surgery a year ago. So far, the study includes over 40 people in various stages, but “if we can tap into the military population,” he says, “where there are on average 60 ACL surgeries per base per year” the work could really take off.
The wide range of applications for the resulting data – including “of course, military contexts, sports scenarios, and even making HR decisions about transitioning employees between active jobs and desk jobs” – is appealing to the new PhD student. Ever open to novel opportunities to apply his knowledge and skills, Beaudette also feels fortunate to be part of a unique Queen’s initiative, the Ergonomic Consulting Program (QECP), which was pioneered Dr. Joan Stevenson. With QECP, Beaudette and other graduate students can gain hands-on experience and a modest stipend by performing ergonomics assessments for on-campus Queen’s employees.
If his time at UNB is any indication, Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies has much to look forward to from Beaudette in the coming years as he develops his research and seeks new applications for his biomechanical skills and his problem-solving ambitions.