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Editor Spotlight: Sandra Boatemaa Kushitor

For this month’s Editor Spotlight, Dr. Sandra Boatemaa Kushitor discussed her PLOS ONE Editorial Board experience, the importance of transdisciplinary approach in tackling complex population health challenges, and how she promotes inclusive research through community engagement.

During my time as (PLOS ONE Academic Editor), … I have had the privilege to review very good papers and also some poorly written ones. I have learned from both experiences. In particular, I have come to appreciate the value of using clear language and writing without assuming that the reviewers know all about your work.

Sandra Boatemaa Kushito

Dr. Sandra Boatemaa Kushitor is a population scientist at the Ensign Global College, Kpong, Ghana and Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa. She applies theoretical and methodological perspectives from the social sciences to understand population health in her research focusing on three distinct yet related areas of population health: population shifts, public health nutrition and governance.

Sandra is skillful in both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, including transdisciplinary research methods. Her publications have focused on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD) risk factors, hypertension prevalence, treatment and control, health system response to NCDs, and food system governance in Ghana, Eswatini, and South Africa. Sandra was a Queen Elizabeth Scholar through McGill University and the University of Ghana.

Sandra was the PI of Hidden Flows Photograph Exhibition, part of LIRA2030 Africa project on inclusive metabolism in African cities. She worked with Paul Currie and Jehan Bhikoo from ICLEI Africa and Mercy Badu of KNUST on this project between 2020 and 2021. Photography was used as a means for storytelling, to provide different perspectives and explore the lived experience of many Africans and their relationship with the resources that sustain them and let them flourish.

What excites you about your role as PLOS ONE Academic Editor?

I was so excited when I received an invitation from the PLOS team to apply to become an Academic Editor. I felt it was an opportunity to contribute to knowledge dissemination and shape how papers are written. During my time as an editor, I have benefited from knowing the current debates, knowledge and trends in the field of population studies. I have had the privilege to review very good papers and also some poorly written ones. I have learned from both experiences. In particular, I have come to appreciate the value of using clear language and writing without assuming that the reviewers know all about your work. This has really improved my writing skills and informed the comments and suggestions I make to my mentees in my Department, the Post Graduate Writing Hub and peers.

You use both qualitative and quantitative research methods to tackle a wide range of population health topics from food systems to non-communicable diseases. How does using multiple approaches enrich your understanding of transdisciplinary and complex topics?

I believe that population health challenges are complex. Complex problems cannot be solved with discipline-specific tools and methods alone. Such complex problems require mixed method approaches that allow both researchers and study participants a deeper immersion into the subject of study. Using the transdisciplinary approach has given me the opportunity to examine my research questions from different perspectives and points of view. The combination of these different disciplines has provided me with a wider access to various theories, literature, data collection and analysis techniques.

Using the transdisciplinary approach has also broadened my way of thinking. The approach has been critical in pointing out flaws in my research methodology, its feasibility, reliability and validity. Also, expanding this approach has expanded the type, kind and number of stakeholders I invite to participate in my research. Through these interactions, I have been able to strengthen my collaborations and networking avenues with policymakers and implementers who are vital for facilitating system transformations. Most importantly, the focus of my research has changed to give priority to the needs of the stakeholders or communities I study.

In addition to your research, you have also participated in and facilitated outreach activities. Why is community engagement important to you? How does it inform your research?

Diverse legumes presented by community members at a food demonstration (April 2023, Ghana)
Food system expectations of individuals involved in food system transformations (June 2023, Cape Town)

I am currently the co-chair of the community engagement committee of my Department. I co-chair this committee with one of the district directors of health services in the Eastern Region of Ghana. I believe that research must be inclusive. I meet regularly with the members of the committee who are government workers and traditional leaders delivering services to the communities in which I conduct my research. Through these meetings, we brainstorm topics of importance to the communities. Using complex systems tools such as causal loops diagrams and scenario planning, we are able to map the systemic causes of population health problems and identify leverage points for interventions. Identifying the most appropriate interventions through this approach reduces research waste.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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