A curious mind and a passion for psychology has seen Foundation Studies alum Dr V Vien Lee dedicate her studies and career to improving people’s health and wellbeing through research and technology.
The pandemic has changed the world in more ways than most of us could have imagined. One significant change is our collective embrace of technology, and the realisation that our already highly digitised pre-pandemic lives could be pushed further into the digital realm. Face-to-face meetings can be replaced by Zoom calls. Gym classes can be streamed online. In-person doctors’ appointments can be held over the phone.
This rapid adoption of new ways of using technology is now driving the work of V Vien Lee (TCFS 2009), a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s N.1 Institute for Health.
V Vien, who has a background in psychology, focuses on digital health – looking at how the use of wearable technology (such as Fitbits) and apps can help improve health outcomes.
V Vien notes that there is a lot of technology out there that lends itself to the health space, but not everything is properly understood or used to its potential. So, as a researcher with an academic background in psychology, V Vien spends time with people, such as those who are pregnant, or suffering from an illness like hypertension or gastrointestinal diseases to try to understand the person holistically and find ways to use technology to help improve their quality of life. This could mean using AI to calibrate someone’s medication dosages or using an app to track their mood.
‘There's a huge uptake of technology right now,’ says V Vien, referencing the pandemic. ‘With Zoom, telehealth and all these kind of things, it's massive. It's good in a way, as it has helped change people's mindsets in that they now see technology as an option for healthcare, because before, there just wasn't a need.’
As part of V Vien’s work, she also considers how a lack of access to digital health can have an adverse impact on some people’s quality of life, particularly those who are marginalised in some way.
‘[Digital health] is a plus and a minus because, for people who have access to technology and who know how to use technology, it's good, because there are so many options and they’re advancing at such a great pace. But for people who currently don't have access, it just alienates them even more because it's at a pace where they just can't keep up.’
Therefore, V Vien works closely with medical professionals from various hospital departments and liaises with patients directly to truly understand the diversity of people’s health journeys. For V Vien, talking to people is the best part of the job.
‘That's why I got into psychology in the first place, to really go in and understand people, understand their stories, understand their experience, and what makes them who they are.’
V Vien has long been curious about people and knew she wanted to study some form of psychology from when she was in high school in her home country of Malaysia. After finishing school, she was drawn to Trinity College when she saw a psychology subject was available, and was also enticed by the prospect of being surrounded by a like-minded group of international students to help her adjust to life abroad. ‘When I was in Trinity, I was 16 so I was really scared of coming out [to Australia] and living by myself,’ she says. ‘I just knew I needed people around me who were in the same head space, wanted similar things … and wanted to pursue their studies in a different environment.’
Upon arriving in Melbourne and beginning her Foundation Studies course at Trinity, V Vien knew she’d made the right choice. ‘I loved [Trinity’s Foundation Studies program] because it was a different way of learning from what I did in high school. It was very student-driven and interest-driven.’
V Vien says it was also the first time she was exposed to academic writing, which would become an integral part of her future career. ‘I didn’t know anything about academic journals and writing before I arrived. And I mean, this ended up being my career in the end, so [Trinity] was sort of like the starting point, where I was exposed to a whole different way of thinking.’
V Vien was given a handbook on academic writing in her English for Academic Purposes (EAP) class, and says she carried it with her for her entire undergraduate course. ‘[Trinity] was really one of the foundations that built the way I write now and the way I think and read as well.’
After leaving Trinity, V Vien studied social psychology at the University of Melbourne, then went on to complete honours and a PhD in psychology. Her PhD looked at the impacts of obstructive sleep apnea – a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes sufferers’ airways to repeatedly block during sleep – on daily functioning. It’s an area V Vien found fascinating, and is something she stumbled into simply by meeting ‘the right people at the right time’ – a trend that has shaped her career since she left Foundation Studies. ‘From Trinity onwards, all the way up until honors, [my study pathway] was just meeting people who were inspirational in the field.’