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Graduate Studies

Chinese delegates and scholars visit Queen’s for collaborative research and training

A series of summer meetings, workshops, and study opportunities strengthen knowledge-sharing relationship.

Officials and scholars from China made Kingston their summer destination of choice this July – with a number of international training and partnership events taking place on the Queen’s campus.

Representatives of China’s Ministry of Natural Resources attended a training program from July 7-20, organized by the Queen’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. A delegation from Shanghai’s Municipal Government Foreign Affairs Office met with Queen’s faculty and staff to discuss their continued collaboration, and the Queen’s Department of Biology welcomed researchers from Shanghai’s Tongji University to the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) for their annual environment and sustainability workshop.

“Queen’s is working to strengthen existing partnerships with China and to develop new opportunities with leading universities,” says Sandra den Otter, Associate Vice-Principal (Research & International). “The recent visits, programs, and workshops highlight the importance of collaborative research and training in several key areas, including the environment and public policy.”

Members of Shanghai's Foreign Affairs Office visiting Queen's.
Members of Shanghai's Municipal Government Foreign Affairs Office visiting Queen's.

Since 1995, Queen’s School of Urban and Rural Planning (SURP) has been hosting two yearly training programs for members of China’s Ministry of Natural Resources (formerly the Ministry of Land and Resources). One program sees up to 50 Chinese delegates partake in a two- or three-week training with presentations from SURP, Canadian federal and provincial representatives, and private sector speakers.

The second program sees five to eight young members of the ministry complete a five-month internship program administered by Queen’s. After an on-campus orientation, SURP places each intern with partner organizations in government, and the non-profit and private sectors, to facilitate the sharing and exchange of knowledge, ideas, and practices. This program is supported by Natural Resources Canada; Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; and the municipalities of Kingston and Hastings.

From July 16-17, the Queen’s Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (International) hosted a delegation from Shanghai’s Foreign Affairs Office, and discussed an ongoing relationship between the group and the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). Since 2001, Shanghai has sent staff to partake in 12-month Master’s Degree programs at Queen’s, within the Department of Political Studies and School of Policy Studies. The delegation and Queen’s groups expressed to continue this relationship and also discussed possible collaborations on professional short-term training in the future.

Participants attend the Sino-Canada Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development workshop
Participants attend the 5th annual Sino-Canada Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development workshop at Queen's.

Between July 18-20, scholars from Tongji University visited Queen’s Department of Biology for the 5th Sino-Canada Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development workshop. Twenty Chinese participants, including scholars, post-doctoral students, PhD candidates and Master's candidates from Tongji; World Wildlife Fund representatives from their Shanghai programs office; Queen’s; and St. Lawrence River Institute. Among topics covered by the group was ongoing research comparing the Yangtze River and St. Lawrence River waterways and ecosystem health, as well as bilateral education and student exchange possibilities.

These recent research and training programs build on Queen’s well-established engagement with China. 

Queen’s was the first Canadian university to open an office in China (2007) and the Queen’s China Liaison Office continues to work closely with Queen’s faculty and staff to support current and new activities.

Learn more about Queen’s University’s research, learning, and other collaborations with China.

Supporting graduate student success

Student Academic Success Services offers numerous collaborative supports for graduate students this summer.

Summer can be a time of rest and relaxation; however, for many graduate students, these months are filled with writing, research, and looming deadlines.

Student Academic Success Services (SASS) in Student Affairs offers a variety of resources to help graduate students stay on track throughout the summer and achieve their academic goals.

Throughout the summer Student Academic Success Services (SASS) in Student Affairs offers a variety of resources to help graduate students stay on track and achieve their academic goals. (Supplied Photo) 

In addition to their May-through-July schedule of one-on-one, in-person, and online writing appointments, this summer SASS engaged in a number of campus-wide partnerships that tailored academic skills and writing resources for graduate student needs.

“Our campus-wide partnerships have been invaluable to the success and outreach of our graduate support programming,” says Susan Korba, Director of SASS. “We are pleased to offer so many collaborative summer programs and workshops, to help ensure the needs of all graduate students are met.”

In May, SASS worked with the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) to offer a four-day Dissertation Bootcamp. The workshop gave 59 graduate students the chance to write in a distraction-free environment with time for breaks and structured group discussions.

Professional staff from SASS delivered the support for the program, facilitating group discussions and offering individual appointments on topics such as procrastination, organizing information, and editing your own writing.

SASS also worked with the Society of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS) to continue running Grad Writing Lab throughout May and June. This drop-in program, held in the Graduate Student Reading Room in Stauffer Library, provided a weekly communal writing space with an academic writing specialist available to answer questions.

In addition, SASS continues to expand supports for international graduate students through its collaboration with the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC).

Last summer, QUIC and SASS hired Agnieszka Herra into the new shared role of Intercultural Academic Support Coordinator. Over the past year, Herra has worked to enhance the international student experience on campus, and has developed new programming and supports.

In May, Herra facilitated two graduate writing workshops as a part of the English Academic Writing Support series. The workshops helped international and English-as-additional-language (EAL) students prepare for a successful summer of writing and introduced them to two new academic writing resources, the Analyzing Disciplinary Expectations Checklist and the Self-Editing Checklist.

These resources, which are now available online, provide guidance on identifying writing expectations in specific academic fields and how to edit writing, sentence by sentence.

“It’s important to recognize the intersectional experience of international graduate students, and tailor our support to benefit these students in a way that is both intentional and accessible,” Herra says. “Going forward, SASS and QUIC will continue to cultivate partnerships across campus to create more resources and programming for all international students.”

Over the 2019-20 academic year, SASS plans to continue the English Academic Writing Support program at QUIC as well as the weekly Grad Writing Lab with SGPS and Queen’s Library. SASS will also be offering a satellite writing clinic at the Smith School of Business for EAL graduate students and is working with SGS to facilitate workshops in the Expanding Horizons series.

For more information on supports for international graduate students, contact Agnieszka Herra at ah43@queensu.ca.

To learn more about services and upcoming programs, visit the SASS website.

Robots converge on campus

Top minds meet at Queen’s to discuss sector’s emerging research and technology.

  • NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference
    The Aqua Autonomous Amphibious robot from Dr. Gregory Dudek's research group at McGill University emerges from Lake Ontario. (University Communications)
  • NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference
    Members of the Ingenuity Labs team at Queen's University display their robots outside Mitchell Hall on Tuesday, June 4. (University Communications)
  • NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference
    A drone hovers over a field as part of a demonstration during the NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference. (University Communications)
  • NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference
    A conference participant manipulates the robot arms he helped develop to show their versatility as part of the the NSERC Canadian Robot Network Conference. (University Communications)

Queen’s University was a hotbed of innovation during the five-day NSERC Canadian Robotics Network (CRN) annual meeting, during which graduate students, researchers, and industry stakeholders met to discuss the sector’s emerging trends and technology. On Tuesday, June 4, the public had the opportunity for a closer look at some of the many land, water, and aerial robots developed by teams across the country.

The conference, hosted by Queen’s University’s newly launched Ingenuity Labs, welcomed representatives from eight institutions, nine industry partners, and three government partners – totaling more than100 participants.

“This is an important event to showcase some of the exciting research being conducted by CRN members,” says Joshua Marshall, Interim Director of Ingenuity Labs. “Over the last five years, the increasing quality and profile of our work has been attracting the country’s brightest, young students. We are striving to grow Canada’s reputation as a world leader in robotics.”

The conference gives researchers and graduate students opportunities for deeper collaboration, and a chance for teams to demonstrate and test their work together with many of Canada’s leading robotics experts.

For more information on the NSERC Canadian Robotics Network, visit the website.

Castle campus marks 25 years

Queen’s Bader International Study Centre to celebrate milestone with alumni reunion.

Queen's Bader International Study Centre
Queen's Bader International Study Centre (BISC) celebrates 25 years.

Inside the walls of a nearly 600-year-old English castle, Queen’s alumni, faculty, staff, and friends will soon gather to mark the 25th anniversary of the Queen’s Bader International Study Centre (BISC) housed there. Among them: a NASA astronaut, the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, leading academics, Canadian expats, local community members, and those traveling from around the world – all of whom will be on hand from June 29-30, 2019 to celebrate the past, present, and future of the overseas Queen’s campus.

“For a quarter century, the BISC has been a temporary home to Queen’s students looking to further broaden the scope of their learning,” says Hugh Horton, Vice-Provost and BISC Executive Director. “Here, they are able to engage with scholars from across the world, in a close-knit, interdisciplinary academic environment to not only enhance their education, but give it a truly global dimension.”

Visionary philanthropists and Queen’s alumni Alfred and Isabel Bader gifted the BISC, located on the Herstmonceux Castle estate in East Sussex, UK, to Queen’s University in 1993, and it opened doors to students in 1994. It has since provided innovative, international undergraduate and graduate programs to over 7,000 Queen’s students, across disciplines as diverse as archaeology, music, international law and politics, global health, international project management, and astronomy. Program offerings continue to grow.

In 2017, the BISC accepted its first group of students from the Queen’s Concurrent Education Program, which prepares undergraduates to become educators. Students enrolled in this program complete local practicums at primary and secondary schools nearby the BISC campus, providing a hands-on comparative learning experience.

This year, programming for science students is set to expand with the opening of the BISC’s brand-new teaching science laboratory and innovation design space, allowing the campus to offer practical science subjects on campus for the very first time. The facility will be officially unveiled during the 25th anniversary celebrations.

The Bader International Study Centre
Queen's Bader International Study Centre.

“The Baders envisaged a learning facility that could take the Queen’s educational experience Alfred deeply cherished, and extend its reach internationally,” says Dr. Horton. “With 25-years of BISC alumni now living and working in countries across the world—many of whom are set to join us in celebration of this incredible milestone—and our ever-growing complement of programs, I think their vision has truly taken shape. In honour of their vision, and of Alfred, who passed away late last year, I look forward to continuing our momentum forward into the next 25 years.”

On June 29, 2019, BISC alumni and their families are invited to the first day of 25th anniversary celebrations. There, they will have a chance to reminisce during castle tours, have tea in the Elizabethan gardens, mingle with professors, and attend the unveiling of a commemorative garden honouring the Baders. NASA astronaut and Queen’s alumnus Drew Feustel, who returned from the International Space Station last October following a six-month mission, will also deliver a keynote address.

On June 30, the celebration will open to the public and take on a Canadian theme in recognition of the Canada Day weekend. Canadians living in England are encouraged to join alumni on the castle grounds for street hockey, tastes from home such as poutine and Nanaimo bars, falconry and archery demonstrations, and a symphonova performance by the BISC Musicians in Residence, featuring works by Dan School of Drama and Music Professor John Burge.

Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf, Chancellor Jim Leech, and Vice-Principal (Advancement) Karen Bertrand will be among senior leaders there to help mark the milestone.

“In 1993, the Baders bestowed Queen’s with the BISC; an amazing gift that went on to play a foundational role in extending our university’s global horizons,” says Principal Woolf. “The unique, experiential learning prospects that the facility provides helped inspire us to chart educational linkages with many other institutions and organizations internationally – opening a world of opportunities for our students.”

Those interested in attending the festivities can register on the website.

Queen’s PhD candidate chasing 3MT national title

The national competition for the Three Minute Thesis is currently underway and Amanda Brissenden is representing Queen’s University.

[Amanda Brissenden]
Amanda Brissenden won first prize at the Queen's Three Minute Thesis competition.

After taking top spot in the Queen’s 3MT and then earning a national berth with a third-place finish at the Ontario competition, Brissenden, a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering, who specializes in Biomedical Engineering, is one of 12 contestants from across the country.

The national competition is conducted via videos from the regional events. The videos are currently available on the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) 3MT website. The winner will be selected by a team of judges and announced in the first week of June.

At the same time, the People’s Choice Award is decided through online votes and the Queen’s community can help Brissenden by viewing her video and casting a ballot online.

The voting period for the People’s Choice Award is currently open and concludes on Sunday, May 26.

“The 3MT is an excellent opportunity for graduate students to hone their communications skills and share the impact of their work with the local, national and global communities”, says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “Amanda has done a remarkable job of explaining her interdisciplinary research in a concise yet engaging manner. We are very proud that she represents Queen’s at the national 3MT and we wish her the best for her participation in this competition.”

Brissenden’s presentation, “Building Blocks for a Healthier Spine,” delves into her research which involves using polymers to augment the human spine and help alleviate pain.

To learn more about the Three Minute Thesis, visit the Queen’s 3MT webpage.

University conditionally approves JDUC redevelopment project

Student-led effort to improve John Deutsch University Centre gains Board of Trustees support.

Queen's University's John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC)
The proposed project would modernize the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC), with modernized spaces for undergraduate and graduate students.

Queen’s students are making headway in their pursuit of a revitalized John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC) – a facility that has been central to student life on campus for over 70 years.

On March 1, the Queen’s University Board of Trustees conditionally agreed to support the proposed redevelopment project that would serve to modernize the facility, creating a fully accessible, sustainable, and inclusive location for students to learn, socialize, and study. Recent student referendums affirmed their funding commitment to the project.

“The Board’s decision to support the JDUC redevelopment keeps this effort on track to become an important and exciting project for the university,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Provided conditions are met, the student community will gain a vibrant new facility to call home, that will further strengthen the student learning experience at Queen’s.”

Under the plan, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) will contribute $50.5 million over 25 years, through a student fee levy. These contributions to the project were confirmed during graduate and undergraduate referendums in February 2018 and January 2019.

In turn, the university will support with a contribution of $11.8 million. This includes $1.8 million from the university’s operating funds, and $10 million in donor funds that are expected to be in place by Fall 2020 to continue advancing the project. Queen’s will also provide the project financing.

“While the fundraising campaign has just begun, the vision for the JDUC renovations will be exciting to alumni who know the building and share the enthusiasm of current students for its possibilities,” says Karen Bertrand, Vice-Principal (Advancement).

The redevelopment could save significant costs too, as the current facility will require an estimated $6 million in deferred maintenance and $8 million in system replacement over the next five to 10 years.

“It’s been a pleasure working with students to bring this project forward,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “This is a project that will have a lasting impact on campus life for future students, and our current students are to be commended for their leadership that has culminated in the Board’s conditional approval. I look forward to working with student leadership and all stakeholders to advance this project.”

In preliminary concept work with architects, students included in their proposal a vision for a facility with additional study and social areas for undergraduate students, rooms for campus clubs to form and flourish, and expanded mental health services among other services. The proposed plans were assembled after a year-long period of student consultation, and align with the university’s Campus Master Plan.

“We are excited that students and university stakeholders have come together to recognize the importance of the JDUC project,” says AMS President, Miguel Martinez. “As we take the next steps toward a new JDUC, we will continue to engage the Queen’s community so its members can inform the important decisions that lie ahead, and so we can best improve the Queen’s experience through this project.”

Plans also feature new and enhanced spaces for graduate students to socialize, study, host professional development programs, and more.

“The support from Queen’s and the approval by the Board of Trustees once again signals that Queen’s is actively engaged in strengthening the graduate community,” says Tyler Morrison, SGPS President.

For more about the AMS' proposed plan for the JDUC revitalization project, visit myJDUC.com.

Minister Bains tours Mitchell Hall ahead of opening

  • Navdeep Bains meets SpectraPlasmonics
    Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen speaks with two members of Spectra Plasmonics.
  • Navdeep Bains at Beaty Water Research Centre
    Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, and Principal Daniel Woolf listen to Pascale Champagne, Director of the Beaty Water Research Centre.
  • Navdeep Bains, Kevin Deluzio, Kimberly Woodhouse
    Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio speak with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains during his tour of Mitchell Hall.
  • Navdeep Bains and students
    Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains stops for a photo with a pair of Queen's students during his tour of Mitchell Hall.
  • Navdeep Bains and tour group
    From left: Vice-Principal (University Relations) Michael Fraser; Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney; Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen; Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains; Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio; and Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse.

Principal Daniel Woolf welcomed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen for a tour of the newly-renovated Mitchell Hall, on Thursday March 28.

Joined by Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, Kim Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research), Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations), and Kevin Deluzio Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, the tour included stops at the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, the Côté Sharp Student Wellness Centre, and the facility’s Technology-Enabled Active Learning Spaces.

Minister Bains also visited the Beaty Water Research Centre, touring the lab spaces alongside director Pascale Champagne and some of her students. The tour wrapped up with a brief visit to the future home of Ingenuity Labs.

The construction of Mitchell Hall was supported in part by an investment from the Government of Canada under the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (PSI-SIF). Queen’s will host the grand opening of Mitchell Hall on Saturday, March 30.

Three minutes of fame

  • Amanda Brissenden presents during the Queen's Three Minute Thesis final
    Amanda Brissenden's Three Minute Thesis presentation delved into her research which involves using polymers to augment the human spine and help alleviate pain.
  • Amanda Brissenden receives the winner's cheque
    Amanda Brissenden receives the $1,000 winner's cheque from Fahim Quadir, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies, And Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
  • The final of the Queen's Three Minute Thesis was held in Mitchell Hall on Wednesday, March 27.
    The finalists and judges of the Queen's Three Minute Thesis gather for a photo at Mitchell Hall on Wednesday, March 27.

A PhD thesis can be as long as 80,000 words – which could take more than nine hours for its writer to recite aloud.

The Three Minute Thesis competition, meanwhile, asks graduate students to compress months and years of research into just three minutes.

Over the last few days, faculty alongside staff from the School of Graduate Studies determined who would represent Queen’s at the 2019 Three Minute Thesis provincial competition.

After whittling down 28 competitors to just 12, dozens of students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in Mitchell Hall on Wednesday, March 27 to hear the final presentations.

Listening in attentively were four judges, including Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf. The judges evaluated the presenters based on how well they engaged the audience, how clearly they have translated the research for a non-technical audience, and how well they communicated their message.

Following much deliberation, Amanda Brissenden, a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering, who specializes in Biomedical Engineering, was selected as the overall winner.

“I feel a little overwhelmed, but I am really excited,” she says. “A number of people have already offered to support me in preparing for the Ontario level and I am looking forward to their feedback.”

3MT Judges
Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor
Mara Shaw, Executive Director, Loving Spoonful
Craig Desjardins, City of Kingston
Sophie Kiwala, former MPP

Brissenden’s presentation entitled, “Building Blocks for a Healthier Spine” delved into her research which involves using polymers to augment the human spine and help alleviate pain. In addition to representing Queen’s provincially, Brissenden was awarded $1,000.

“Congratulations to Amanda Brissenden and to all our participants on excellent efforts in this year’s Three Minute Thesis competition,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean (School of Graduate Studies). “Queen’s has a long tradition of unmistakable discovery and innovation, and these presentations offer our graduate students a chance to both showcase and communicate how their research and their own discoveries are making a difference in engaging and thought-provoking ways.”

Nevena Martinović, a PhD candidate in English Language and Literature was the runner up, taking home a $500 prize. Martinović’s thesis looks at how 18th-century actresses dealt with ageism as they approached and passed middle age.

Hannah Dies, a PhD candidate in Chemical Engineering, whose research focuses on detection of biochemical molecules in fluid samples, received a duffle bag full of Queen’s merchandise as the People’s Choice award winner.

In all, the 12 competitors represented nine departments across the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Faculty of Arts and Science, and Faculty of Health Sciences. For Brissenden, the multidisciplinary nature of the event is a big part of what makes it interesting.

“Last year, I watched the finals to support some friends and it was awesome – so I decided this year was the year to participate,” she says. “You can get a bit siloed in graduate school where you keep hanging around people in your department and see projects focused on similar topics. I really enjoyed tonight’s presentations on art history and English literature – it’s not something you hear much about in engineering.”

The 2019 Ontario Three Minute Thesis Competition will be held at McMaster University on Wednesday, April 17 beginning at 9:30 a.m. For more information, visit McMaster University’s website. That competition will decide who represents Ontario at the national competition.

The Three Minute Thesis competition was first conceptualized at an Australian university, and was first held at Queen’s seven years ago. To learn more about the Three Minute Thesis Competition at Queen’s, visit queensu.ca/3mt.

PSAC Local 901 and University reach tentative agreement

The University and PSAC, Local 901, reached a tentative agreement on the terms of a first agreement for Graduate Students employed as Research Assistants. Read more...

Taking the initiative

[PhD Community Initiative]
Five graduate student teams from the PhD Community Initiative presented the results of their work to the wider community at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (Supplied Photo)

How could the City of Kingston better harness the power of post-secondary institutions like Queen’s University to ensure the local labour force is skilled and competitive?

What are the ways the city could be more welcoming to refugees?

Is there a way to reach more clients in a wider area without spending more money?

These are just a few of the challenges tackled by this year’s PhD Community Initiative participants. The annual program, organized by the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies, unites interdisciplinary teams of PhD candidates with local organizations who could benefit from their knowledge, skills, and time to address strategic planning or research needs.

In return, the students develop meaningful professional connections, gain valuable experiences for their portfolios, and receive the satisfaction of a job well done in support of a meaningful cause.

City of Kingston, Supportive Housing Needs

Gianmarco D’Alessandro - Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Atm Shaifullah Mehedi - Sociology
Sirikul Hutasavi - Geography
Surajo Sulaiman - Rehabilitation Science
Mentor Jane Johnston
Community Partner Ruth Noordegraaf

Kingston Community Health Centres, Pathways to Education
Golam Rabbani - Cultural Studies
Jiahui Shen - Chemistry
Isabel Luce - Art History
Reshma Parvin Nuri - Rehabilitation Science
Mentor Margot Paterson
Community Partner Ellyn Clost-Lambert

Kingston Community Health Centre, Immigrant Services Kingston and Area, Transcultural Mental Health Consultation Service
Matt Drabenstott - Education
Ftoon Kedwan - Computing
Victoria Cosby - History
Yaoting Zhang - Chemistry
Mentor Jo-Anne Brady
Community Partner Rasha Fahim

KEYS Job Centre Team
Patricia Ackah-Baidoo - Political Studies
Matthias Hermann - Chemistry
Sazia Mahfuz - Computing
Mentor George Brandie
Community Partner Amr Elsharkawy

City of Kingston, Micro-Skills Credentialing Program – Team KCert
Shannon Hill - Rehabilitation Science
Katelyn Arac - History
Kathryn McIntosh - Neuroscience
Mentor Sandra Olney
Community Partner Craig Desjardins

“The PhD-Community Initiative, now in its third year, is a unique and transformative opportunity for our doctoral students,” says Marta Straznicky, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “The program pairs small teams of PhD students from different disciplines with a community organization to tackle a research or strategic planning challenge. Students develop skills in project management, leadership, teamwork, and community engagement, while community organizations benefit from the students’ expertise and advanced research skills. The success of this program is difficult to overestimate.”

KEYS Job Centre, Kingston Community Health Centres Immigrant Services Kingston and Area, Kingston Community Health Centres Pathways to Education, and the City of Kingston each participated in this year’s program, with the City sponsoring two projects. Each team featured three or four PhD candidates, one mentor, and a community partner – a representative from the organization that initiated the project.

“This is a great platform for new ideas and thinking,” says Mayor Bryan Paterson (PhD’06), who opened up the event. “The PhD Community Initiative is an example of Kingston at its best.”

On March 12, the graduate student teams presented the results of their work to the wider community at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Their challenge: to distill six months of work into an impactful and thorough six-minute presentation.

“The project was really rewarding for us,” says Sazia Mahfuz, who was part of the team working with KEYS Job Centre to understand the needs of young adult immigrants to Kingston. “The support that we received from the organizers and community partners was amazing, and was crucial to the success of our projects.”

A Project Highlight

Mental health across community boundaries

Fleeing war zones, persecution, and other challenges, many refugees and newcomers arrive in Canada ready to start a new life.

There is help available to resettle these individuals and provide for their physical needs. However, the trauma of their experiences and the culture shock they experience upon arriving is more difficult to address – particularly when these migrants may be hesitant to vocalize the issues they are experiencing.

To explore this challenge, the team of Matt Drabenstott, Ftoon Kedwan, Victoria Cosby, and Yaoting Zhang researched programs in other cities as well as existing services in Kingston.

“Based on our conversations, and our deep dive into local resources, we put together a framework of recommendations for Kingston which would put newcomer mental health at the centre of their experience, and ensuring newcomers are able to access wrap-around services they need,” says Mr. Drabenstott.

Behind the Scenes

The students had plenty of help in preparing for their projects, and their time on the big stage. Throughout the PhD Community Initiative program, the participants were invited to a series of workshops which taught them about design thinking, team building, and presentation skills.

“The workshops were neat in that we all got to use different skills and see the progression from the very beginning to the end where we pulled it all together into our presentation,” says Katelyn Arac from the City of Kingston’s ‘microskills’ team.

They also received guided support from the Experiential Learning Hub in form of regular workshops to help students reflect on and formulate the new skills they develop and to learn about community-engaged learning.

Now that the presentations are concluded, the students will participate in one final workshop to help them articulate how their skills have developed through the course of this initiative.

To learn more about the PhD Community Initiative and this year’s projects, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.


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