Dr. Marjorie Delbaere (PhD) of USask’s Edwards School of Business began her term as new University Council chair in September. (Photo: Natasha Katchuk)
Dr. Marjorie Delbaere (PhD) of USask’s Edwards School of Business began her term as new University Council chair in September. (Photo: Natasha Katchuk)

Delbaere committed to collaboration as new USask council chair

How a tech internship forged a path to university governance at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) for Dr. Marjorie Delbaere (PhD).

By Natasha Katchuk

Following Delbaere’s undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba, she completed an internship at Hewlett-Packard in Germany, which eventually led to a permanent position in health-care marketing. Upon returning to Winnipeg for contract work, she pivoted to academia after being encouraged to pursue a PhD.

Reflecting on her first day of classes in the PhD program, Delbaere said she vividly remembers attending a graduate seminar on the philosophy of science and thinking “I love this. I love thinking like this. This really is my calling.”

From that moment, Delbaere’s academic pursuits delved into pharmaceutical advertising, guided by supportive professors and interdisciplinary collaboration with the Centre for Knowledge Transfer at the University of Alberta. She had the opportunity to learn more about health care and policy, which continues to fascinate her today.

A Prairie girl at heart, Delbaere said “I was drawn to USask, enticed by the prospect of collaborating with esteemed faculty members within the vibrant community of the then College of Commerce. The connection with colleagues such as Barbara Phillips and Maureen Bourassa played a pivotal role in my decision to make Saskatoon home.”

In the years since Delbaere joined USask, she has made many connections around the USask Bowl leading to several individuals encouraging her to stand for election as a member at large on the university council and now beginning in September 2023 as the 16th University Council Chair.

“University Council is the heart of the institution, and I thought it was essential to understand the underlying reasons and checks and balances in place,” said Delbaere, who is a professor of marketing and associate dean of research, faculty relations, and graduate programs in the Edwards School of Business at USask.

“Now I want to move beyond merely hearing about university council activities and actively participate in decision-making processes. I am here to help facilitate all the discussion, questions, and business of council. As chair, I recognize that it is my responsibility to ensure that items are brought forward for discussion and deliberation.”

For her part, Delbaere has been active in contributing to academic governance at the department and college-level, as a member of the Behavioural Research Ethics board, and on the Research Scholarly and Artistic Works (RSAW) committee at USask. With her background in commerce and a penchant for long-term planning, Delbaere believes she can contribute her understanding of strategic planning to the chair role, combining both administrative and faculty perspectives.

This fall, Delbaere introduced a practice allowing council members to submit questions ahead of time, thereby fostering a culture of curiosity and enhancing the comprehensiveness of responses.

“It is my hope that this approach contributes to a more informed and inclusive council discourse by providing members with an opportunity to express themselves more comfortably and receive better-prepared answers,” explained Delbaere.

“My vision is to have an environment that is truly collaborative and engaging, with room for open inquiry. I want to promote an environment that encourages diverse perspectives and constructive discourse and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect. Disagreements are inherent; however, we can express our opinions and concerns and still move forward without hindering progress, working within the framework of majority rules. That means centring on creating a safe space for individuals to freely share opinions, ask questions, and engage in respectful dialogue.”

In addition to her vision for an inclusive environment, Delbaere is also recognized as an engaged educator. She has been acknowledged on several occasions for her teaching at USask, and carries on an active program of research investigating communication and persuasion about complex and controversial topics, primarily in pharmaceutical products and health care. 

The exposure to health-care marketing dates back to Delbaere’s profound experience at Hewlett-Packard, where she underwent a comprehensive training program called the HP medical neophyte training program.

“The program provided foundational knowledge of human physiology, hospital organization, and the intricacies of different medical roles, setting the foundation for my fascination with persuasive communication in the health care industry and how to navigate the challenges of communicating complex products and concepts,” she said. “The exposure to medical procedures, including witnessing open-heart surgery, fuelled my curiosity about the intersection of language, metaphors, and images in health care.”

Delbaere’s ongoing SSHRC project explores the changing landscape of pharmaceutical advertising, notably the increasing focus on social media platforms. She is investigating the intricate dynamics of patient influencers who share health care experiences on platforms like TikTok, emphasizing the organic emergence of these influencers within patient communities.

“What we have found so far, is that there have been two movements. We see pharma companies working with agencies to build connections with patient advocates. But we are also seeing patient advocates or patient influencers building up their own followings independently,” explained Delbaere. “We’ve interviewed 26 patient influencers so far. The next step is to map out the network of followers for a few key influencers in hopes of defining how they're maybe different from other social media influencers based on who is following them.”

Delbaere recognizes the multifaceted challenges of adhering to regulations and the influencers’ dual role as income sources and health care advocates.

“The patient influencers are aware of the tension that exists too, and they do not like to call themselves influencers. In the past you would see messaging only from the brand itself, but now we are seeing it come from the users themselves. There is a need to dissect the intricate relationships between influencers, pharmaceutical companies, and patient communities within the evolving realm of pharmaceutical advertising.”

Shifting from the complexities of pharmaceutical advertising, Delbaere reflects on her 17 years in Saskatoon, where she has discovered more than just an academic home at USask. She has also had the great privilege to nurture a profound sense of belonging alongside her family in Saskatoon.

“The city’s amenities, from the Meewasin Trail to the community centres, have provided us with a true sense of home. The former University Club played a pivotal role in cultivating this feeling for us. We believe Saskatoon is wonderfully set up for a fulfilling lifestyle.”

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