Vivetha Thambinathan is an Eelam Tamil activist-scholar, community-engaged researcher, and public health professional. Vivetha is a doctoral candidate in the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences program at Western University, where her research project focuses on refugee health justice, historical trauma, and arts-based healing within the Toronto Tamil refugee diaspora. She is the former Research Director at Washington-based PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka), a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for justice and self-determination for the Tamil people in the North-East of Sri Lanka. Driven by her passion for equity and justice in higher education, Vivetha also founded @diversityinacademia – a platform with over 100,000 followers – as a radical space to amplify voices typically excluded from narratives shared within the academy. Vivetha feels most inspired working at the intersections of community mobilization, creative storytelling, & healing justice. We had the pleasure of interviewing here last year, we were in awe of her accomplishments, after the interview we were amazed by her versatility.
Tell me about yourself and your career.
I always had an interest in academia and research, teaching and currently work at the Women’s College Hospital in both capacities. I’m a PhD candidate at Western University, researching epistemic trauma and intergenerational memory in conflict fleeing migrant communities. My true passion and dedication lie within breaking down structural barriers for marginalized populations and ultimately empowering individuals to serve as advocates of their own health. My core professional values are rooted in decolonizing perspectives, social justice, and sustainability. The root of my academic research was learning about the Tamil struggles from my experiences as a Research Director in PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka). I also found that while I was in school, there was a lack of diversity in academia, there needed to be voices heard from historically marginalized communities.
What advice or guidance would you provide to emerging professionals?
Though we may find the need to get experience right away, choose your opportunities wisely and do not say yes to everything that comes your way. Be selective with your time. See if the opportunity will advance your career, align with your short term goals or bring you joy.
What is the best part of your job?
Researching women’s health, teaching students and seeing them reach their critical consciousness and speaking their curiosity.
What does your average daily work / life balance look like?
I have a good balance, especially with my flexible schedule. I set weekly goals and stick to it. There needs to be balance to enjoy life and work.
My ultimate goal is being a part of a driving force that changes the world for the better.
Where do you want to see yourself in 10 years?
I want to explore different interests, ensure they are aligned with my goals, continue to teach and research and work non-profit
How do you spend your time?
I coach figure skating and netflix.
Sorry! Figure skating?
My parents put me in figure skating when we moved here but it wasn’t diverse at that time. It’s slowly changing and it makes me happy to see that small girls from different backgrounds can look up to someone who looks more like them.
Looking back, what is one thing you would have done differently?
I wouldn’t have limited myself to one study in undergraduate, picked various electives.
Interdisciplinary research is a strength especially when everyone is talking to each other to come up with an innovative solution.
How would you state the importance of mentorship?
I feel I experienced mentorship as a community. I didn’t have a formal mentor but I learned from my uncle and parents to learn about the Tamil struggle, and learn from it. The perseverance and advice they have for the younger generation.
Describe yourself in three words?
I hope I am them, I strive to be more,
Why do you do what you do? What inspires you? When do you get most excited?
I’m excited by teaching and research, seeing students opening to new opportunities and that moment when the unknown becomes known. You see the spark.
My work and everything that I do is inspired by my parents, it leads to me being more purposeful in my work
What stops you from giving up when you are frustrated?
By taking action, reacting not responding, having tools to cope with it. Getting fresh air and coming back to it. If it’s a roadblock, it’s healthy to recognize when to end it or it affects your psyche.
What’s your personal mission statement?
Live your purpose. Tap into your potential and push your limits.
Thank you Vivetha for your time and your engagement in our community, we wish you all the very best in your journey to your next accomplishment. We will definitely be seeing you at our future events and hope future Tamil professionals are inspired by willingness to take a chance.
Since this interview, Vivetha has successfully defended her thesis and received her PhD from Western University.