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Research Prominence

Rethinking our approach to tackling plastic waste

Researchers, manufacturers, and governments are working toward a new paradigm, where plastics will be made from recycled or biodegradable components. (Unsplash / Erik McLean)

What can genomics teach us about the breakdown of plastic? To answer this question, a multidisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers made up of Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering), David Zechel (Chemistry), George diCenzo (Biology), and James McLellan (Chemical Engineering) have received a $7.9 million grant from Genome Canada for a new project exploring a microbial platform for breaking down and valorizing waste plastic, which can then be repurposed to produce recycled products.

Plastic is a widely used cheap and effective way to store and transport goods. However, its popularity, especially for single-use products, has made it a pervasive environmental contaminant. In Canada, 2.8 million tons of plastic wind up in landfills every year and an additional 29,000 tons leak into our environment and oceans. Waste plastic has devastating environmental impacts, one of which includes the death of 100,000 marine mammals annually, through ingestion or entanglement. Despite this, demand continues to grow and Canadian plastic production is increasing, with an additional 4.8 million tons being produced every year.

Traditional methods of curbing plastic pollution are underutilized and only nine per cent of plastic is currently recycled worldwide. Consequently, academics, manufacturers, and governments are working toward a new paradigm, where plastics will be made from recycled or biodegradable components, facilitating transition from a linear use to a circular use model and better enabling a zero-plastic waste future.

To help drive this paradigm shift, Dr. Yang, his colleagues, and their team consisting of multiple universities, industry and municipal partners are working on an economically-viable innovation that harnesses genomics technologies to recover value from waste plastic. Affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network (CEC-REN) at Queen’s, this project will use metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, whole-genome sequencing, and functional genomics to identify and engineer bacteria and enzymes that can break down plastics into recyclable components or into valuable fine chemicals that can be used for other purposes. A secondary aim of this project involves investigating the impact of these newly-developed plastic biotechnologies on the environment, economy, and society as a whole.

“Our team of 21 investigators from six universities are developing a systems approach to tackling plastic waste: from genomes to new enzymatic processes, fully integrated with environmental, social, economic, and policy research to facilitate uptake,” says Dr. Yang, Principal Investigator on the project. “Our open science framework will allow us to rapidly share knowledge with diverse private and public sector partners, as we collectively innovate toward a zero-waste future where plastics benefit society without causing a negative impact on the environment.”

Plastic biotechnologies could help revolutionize Canadian plastic production and use. It has been estimated that diverting 90 per cent of our national waste plastic from landfills to recycling can reduce 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year in greenhouse gas emissions, save $500 million per year in costs, and create 42,000 jobs in new industries. Globally, a circular economy for plastics is projected to lead to billions of dollars in savings. An environmentally sustainable future may not be one that eliminates the use of plastics altogether, but rather one where plastics are deliberately chosen and circulated as resources, not discarded as waste.

The project funding was announced today as part of an investment of over $60 million from Genome Canada, provincial and federal partners, universities, and industry collaborators for eight large-scale applied research projects across Canada. The projects will harness genomics research and technologies for natural resources conservation, environmental protection, and sustainability. For more on the announcement, visit the website.

The project, titled Open Plastics, is affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network at Queen's
The project, titled Open Plastics, is affiliated with the Contaminants of Emerging Concern - Research Excellence Network at Queen's.

Belief in touch as salvation was stronger than fear of contagion in the Italian Renaissance

A sculpture of two saints meeting and embracing embodies the importance of touch in Renaissance culture as a form of devotion and ultimately a way to access the divine. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database), Author provided


In 1399, a crowd gathered in the Tuscan city of Pisa, even though people understood that a plague ravaging the area was contagious. Devotees travelled from town to town and carried a crucifix — a sculpture of Jesus on the cross — which the crowd longed to touch.

Authorities tried to ban the group but had to bow to public pressure. A witness exclaimed, “Blessed is he who can touch it!” Those who could not reach the sculpture pelted it with offerings, including candles, so that these objects could touch it by proxy.

That year, in the midst of a plague, often hundreds of people gathered and fought to touch and kiss crucifixes. The belief in touch as salvation was stronger than the fear of contagion.

As we are all too aware now, after over a year of social distancing due to COVID-19, touch was and is a much-desired privilege. In the Italian Renaissance, people longed to touch not only each other, but also religious sculptures — touch was a form of devotion.

Accessing the sacred

Statue bust of a woman's head and shoulders.
Sculpture of St. Anastasia with receptacle embedded in the chest that contains a relic of the saint. Made by the workshop of Matteo Civitale in the 1490s, housed in the Museo di Santa Maria Novella. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database)

Renaissance Italy was home to Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.

For Christians in the Renaissance, objects could be holy, and so touching them was a way to access the sacred. The cult of relics illustrates this. Relics are physical remains of a saint, either of the saint’s body (such as bones) or of something the saint touched.

These holy physical things are housed in reliquaries, containers to protect and display relics. In the Italian Renaissance, reliquaries took the form of naturalistic sculptures that seemed to bring the saint back to life.

Pilgrims travelled sometimes hundreds of miles on foot to reach these relics — and, for those who could afford it, buy a “contact relic,” which was made by submerging the relic in oil and then dipping a cloth into that oil. By touching that cloth, perhaps wearing it as a talisman, the believer was a part of a chain of physical contact that led to the divine.

Others touched reliquaries. A relic of St. Anastasia is embedded in a glass covered receptacle buried in the chest of a lively, blushing sculpture, so that the faithful could see it. The lucky few could reach forward and touch the jewel-like container, as the martyr would seem to look with heavily lidded eyes, almost bemused at this rather intimate gesture.

Sculptures with joints

Sculpture of Christ on the cross showing arm hinges.
Movable joints can be seen in this crucifix, which allowed devotees to take the figure of Christ down and embrace and kiss it. Sculpted by Donatello, c. 1408, housed in Santa Croce, Florence. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database)

People also longed to touch sculptures that did not have relics, including life-sized crucifixes, which in the Renaissance were sculptures of a muscular Jesus, whose body is covered only by a small loincloth. Before Michelangelo, crucifixes were the public nudes in Renaissance cities. Many crucifixes hung high in churches, and Renaissance writers describe saints miraculously elevated, so that they could embrace and kiss the sculpted body of Christ.

Some sculptures have joints in the shoulders, so that at the annual commemoration of Christ’s death (on Good Friday) devotees could take part in a sacred drama, in which the figure of Christ was taken down from the cross and mourned, wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb.

During this re-enactment, a lucky few believers could embrace and kiss the sculpture and feel as if they had the ultimate privilege of touching Jesus’ body, reciting the prayer: “I, a sinner, am not worthy to touch you.”

In the home

A woman in a headcovering embraces a baby.
Sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, originally kept in a home for private devotion. Made in c. 1400-1450 by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi or Nanni di Banco, and currently housed in the Museo Bandini in Fiesole. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture database)

Wealthy families had sculptures that they could touch at home, such as small crucifixes, which often have feet worn down by repeated touch so that the toes are barely visible.

Young women getting married or becoming nuns were given painted wooden life-sized sculptures of baby Jesus or another infant saint, which they would tend as if they were real infants, dressing them in luxurious clothing.

Meditational handbooks told women to imagine that they were fondling baby Jesus.

Anyone who could afford it would have an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the bedroom. These sculptures place emphasis on touch, as Mary and Jesus’ limbs are gently intertwined.

But wealthy parents rarely touched their children – infants were sent away to live with a wetnurse until about the age of three, and handbooks on child rearing warned parents not to embrace their children when they returned home. So, in some cases, mothers may have touched sculptures of babies more than they touched their own children.

Interacting with sculptures

Though devotional touch was a privilege for the wealthy, practices of interacting with sculptures as if they were bodies of flesh and blood cut across social classes.

A pair of life-sized painted terracotta sculptures of the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph watched over a stone crib at Florence’s orphanage, the Ospedale degli Innocenti. Abandoned infants were placed temporarily in the care of these sculpted parents.

A woman in a simple red dress with hands folded in prayer next to a kneeling man.
Babies abandoned at Florence’s orphanage were placed in a stone crib between these statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Made by Marco della Robbia in c. 1500, and now housed in the Museo degli Innocenti in Florence. (Renaissance Polychrome Sculpture in Tuscany database), Author provided

The figure of Mary was sculpted only with a simple red under dress, with no cloak or veil, and so was likely dressed in fabric clothing, probably donated by a local woman. Women would have also dressed and undressed this sculpture and others like it as an act of devotion, as it would be scandalous to have a man be so intimate with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary.

Sculpted bodies inhabited cities

Sculpted bodies inhabited Renaissance cities along with living people, filling Renaissance churches, watching over the streets and gracing the bedrooms of even moderately wealthy patricians.

In a society that was ambivalent about the proprieties of touching living flesh, touching sculpted bodies could offer comfort or even salvation.

Renaissance philosophers and clergymen argued that touch was sensual and earthy and that supposedly weak-minded women and children were more in need of such physical aids in their devotions than educated men.

But ultimately, touching art was a privilege, a way of touching the divine.The Conversation


Una Roman D'Elia, Professor, Art History and Art Conservation, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Extreme heat waves are putting lakes and rivers in hot water this summer


Trout swim in water
River fish like trout swim close to the river surface as water temperatures rise. (Unsplash / John Werner)

Extreme heat waves have blanketed the Pacific Northwest, Siberia, Greece, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other regions this summer, with temperatures approaching and exceeding 50 C.

As temperatures near outdoor survival thresholds, individuals who do not have easy access to air conditioning or cooling stations, or are unable to flee, may succumb to heat waves.

These climate extremes are becoming more frequent. But as tragic as they are to human health, they are only part of a larger climate catastrophe story — the wide-scale damage to the ecosystems that people depend upon, including agriculture, fisheries and freshwater.

Most wildlife cannot seek refuge from extreme heat. An estimated 1 billion marine animals may have perished during the heatwave this past June in the Pacific Northwest alone.

Fisheries in hot water

Many people may perceive lakes and rivers to be refuges from unprecedented heat, but freshwater systems are no less sensitive. Heat waves have killed thousands of fish in Alaska as temperatures exceeded the lethal limit for coldwater fishes.

This year’s hot and dry summer could collapse the salmon fishery in the Sacramento River in California. In British Columbia and Yukon, salmon numbers have declined by as much as 90 per cent and have led the federal government to shut down 60 per cent of the commercial and First Nations communal salmon fishery.

Coldwater fish, such as trout and salmon, are being squeezed out of their cool, well-oxygenated, deep-water habitat. As water contains less oxygen at higher water temperatures, this forces the fish to move into nearshore regions. While these shallower waters may be better oxygenated, they are even warmer and may exceed thermal tolerances of coldwater species.

By the same token, invasive fishes such as smallmouth bass are thriving in warmer temperatures and displacing native Canadian fishes like walleye and lake trout.

The dry bed of an evaporated pond in Arctic Canada.
Beach Ridge Pond, from Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, now completely evaporates in the summer because of accelerated climate warming. (MSV Douglas), Author provided

Water is on the move — too little and too much

The combination of a warming climate, drought and human activities, including irrigation for agriculture, can have drastic consequences for both the quality and quantity of our freshwater supply — ultimately leading to shortages of potable water.

By the end of the century, evaporation is projected to increase by 16 per cent globally. Lakes closer to the equator, which are already experiencing the highest evaporation rates, are expected to experience the greatest increase.

In regions with seasonal ice cover, evaporation rates can increase with warmer air temperatures and when ice cover is shorter or lost completely. This essentially “lifts the lid” on a lake during winter and could potentially lead to year-round evaporation, accelerating the rate at which water is lost. Salts and nutrients are concentrated in the remaining water, leading to further decline in water quality.

Potable water in countries with limited freshwater are seeing their supply dwindle even further, including the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Lake Chad in central Africa. Lake Poopó was once the second-largest lake in Bolivia with an area of 3,000 square kilometres, but dried up completely in 2015. Even in water-rich areas like the Arctic, shallow ponds, including some ponds formed when ice-rich permafrost thaws, are already drying out.

On the other hand, ice-dammed glacial lakes in both polar and alpine regions are sensitive to outburst floods as dams melt, potentially flooding downstream ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, including population-rich areas such as in the Himalayas and Andes. Climate change is a crisis multiplier and threatens to make water scarcity or flooding an impending reality for increasingly more people.

A lake near Parry Sound, Ont., covered in algal bloom.
An algal bloom in a lake near Parry Sound, Ont., located on the Canadian Shield. (Andrew Paterson/Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks), Author provided

Algal blooms on the rise

Warmer summers, coupled with intense storms that deliver large quantities of nutrients and pollutants in bursts, are creating the perfect conditions for earlier, more frequent and intense algal blooms. Harmful toxin-producing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae that frequently form floating surface blooms) can lead to mass mortality of fish and birds, as well as pose a serious health threat for cattle, pets, wildlife and humans.

In 2014, over half a million people could not use their water supply in Toledo, Ohio, because of a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie. Lake Taihu, China, which supplies water to 40 million people often has blooms so large that they can be detected from space and leave millions of people in a drinking water supply crisis.

In Ontario, there are now reports of algal blooms in formerly pristine northern lakes occurring as late as November. Study after study now links warmer conditions and the associated lake changes as important contributing factors to toxic blooms.

Rapid change requires rapid responses

Climatic extremes are now occurring more frequently and with greater intensity than were predicted by even the most pessimistic climate models. We are already crossing ecosystem thresholds and tipping points that were not even projected to occur until the end of this century.

Climatic extremes will not appear gradually, but impacts will be felt quickly and often without warning, leaving little time for adaptation. We need to immediately develop and implement evidence-based climate adaptation plans, so that we are prepared for the inevitable emergencies already underway, including massive wildfires, coastal and local flooding, disruption of food supplies and freshwater shortages.

The apocalyptic future, once portrayed only in books and movies, is becoming our reality and the time for assessing our options is running out. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Human innovation and originality, coupled with a sense of urgency, are required to lessen future impacts.

Without mitigation efforts, we must prepare for the fallout of the developing climate catastrophe and protect our citizens and ecosystems.The Conversation


Sapna Sharma, Associate Professor and York University Research Chair in Global Change Biology, York University, Canada; Iestyn Woolway, Research Fellow, Climate Office, European Space Agency, and John P. Smol, Distinguished University Professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, Queen's University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Queen’s students awarded national scholarships

Eight doctoral students earn prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships for exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills.

Collage of Vanier scholars
Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients (clockwise from top left): Ryan Kirkpatrick, Emmanuelle LeBlanc, Isabelle Grenier-Pleau, Shannon Clarke, Stephanie Woolridge, Saskia de Wildt, Maram Assi, and Hannah Hunter.

Eight Queen’s students have earned Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. Jointly funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), these scholarships recognize individuals who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly achievement and leadership skills in a variety of fields. Scholars receive $50,000 per year for three years of study and research.

“We are honoured and excited to host this year’s Vanier recipients, scholars who have left their mark on their respective fields by ascending to new heights of academic excellence and leadership achievement,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “Queen’s is delighted to play its part in supporting our Vanier scholars by providing them with new opportunities to refine their research skills, advance their academic and professional goals, and engage with our vast network of researchers spanning the globe. I look forward to getting to know our scholars and learning of their plans to continue working towards the betterment of society during their time with us and beyond.”

This year’s recipients span numerous specialties and departments. They include:

CIHR-Funded Projects:

Emmanuelle LeBlanc (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Developing glycan-based antiviral prophylactics to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections

Ryan Kirkpatrick (Neuroscience) - Detecting eating disorder biomarkers in youth via video-based eye tracking

Stephanie Woolridge (Psychology) - Improving diagnostic accuracy in early psychosis: Differentiating the neuropsychological profiles of cannabis-induced and primary psychotic disorders in a 12-month follow-up study

NSERC-Funded Projects:

Isabelle Grenier-Pleau (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) - Investigating the role of extracellular vesicles in hematopoietic stem cell maintenance

Maram Assi (Computing) - Developing an intelligent bug fix recommender system

SSHRC-Funded Projects:

Saskia de Wildt (Environmental Studies) - Exploring polar bear research as ethical space, practice, and process of engagement

Shannon Clarke (Geography and Planning) - New spaces, new subjectivities: Caribbean women in Canada and Black diasporic productions of space

Hannah Hunter (Geography and Planning) - Listening to birds at the end of the world: A historical geography of bird sound recording and a sound art project for human-avian futures

For more information about the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Program, visit the website.

Four ways companies can avoid post-pandemic employee turnover

Employee wrapping a package at his desk.
Some workers may be thinking of jumping ship once the COVID-19 pandemic ends. Here’s how organizations can build morale and stop valued employees from leaving. (Unsplash / Bench Accounting)

With pandemic-related lockdowns being lifted around the world, businesses are announcing plans to bring employees back into the office.

The Conversation Canada logoConsidering the widespread isolation and Zoom fatigue of the past year, one might expect employees to welcome a return to the office. Instead, they’re resisting. In fact, early reports are suggesting that many employees would rather quit their jobs rather than return to the office. Why?

Reasons for employee resistance

The COVID-19 pandemic has had big implications for the relationship between employees and employers.

For one, it’s revealed how many employers profoundly mistrust their employees’ ability to get their work done without in-person supervision. It’s no wonder that when faced with a hot post-pandemic economic recovery, employees are choosing to find a new employer over returning to a boss and organization that lacked trust in them during the pandemic.

Second, working from home has revealed that employees can have it all and they don’t want to lose this privilege. A recent survey showed that almost half of employees would look for a new employer rather than give up the ability to work from home at least part of the time.

The ability to pop out for a spin class in the middle of the afternoon or pick up the kids from school early reflect the type of flexibility that many employees simply don’t want to give up. They’re resisting a return to the nine-to-five facetime culture of pre-pandemic times.

Third, firms have been inept at maintaining a cohesive workplace culture during the pandemic. Many employees report feeling “left behind” by bosses who did not provide adequate support during the pandemic. A recent survey by an employee engagement company suggests that 46 per cent of employees felt less connected to their employer during the pandemic, while 42 per cent say company culture has become worse during the crisis.

This isn’t surprising because research has shown that, if not managed properly, employees in virtual teams can feel “shunned and left out.” The new “work from anywhere” movement is allowing employees to choose flexibility over allegiance to employers they have become disconnected from over the last year and a half.

A woman slumps on her laptop
Some workers on virtual teams report feeling shunned and left out. (Anna Tarazevich/Pexels)

What can employers do about it?

High employee turnover is unwelcome news for employers. Given the high costs of employee training, keeping a good employee is far cheaper than hiring a new one. Her are four proposals for employers to stave off employee turnover during the return to in-person work:

  1. Offer flexibility The major reason employees want to continue working remotely is flexibility and the ability to improve their work-life balance. While there are undeniable benefits for in-person work like spontaneous interactions, better supervision and more opportunities for mentoring, they don’t negate the advantages of working from home. Employers must consider the possibility of allowing employees to work from home at least part-time, moving towards a hybrid workplace that allows both in-person and remote working opportunities.

  2. Reinforce the best of your workplace culture The move towards a hybrid workplace creates the challenge of fostering a workplace culture that is consistent online and in-person. What matters to your organization? If inclusion is a priority, remote work can provide the opportunity to bring in hires from around the world that otherwise would not be available. If training and mentorship are most important, think about how online tools can be used to foster these types of relationships. Whatever it is that makes an organization unique should be fundamental to the practices that underpin the return to work.

  3. Show employees you care The post-pandemic economy is revving up. With many new opportunities for jobs both at home and abroad, employees will be able to choose where they want to work. The time is now for employers to show employees how they appreciate the resilience and flexibility they’ve shown during the pandemic. Supervisors should also meet with their employees and discuss their personal and professional goals. Retaining employees will depend on the ability to keep them motivated and engaged. This can include offering employees financial incentives while also offering the chance to get involved on new projects or on new work teams.

  4. Keep tabs on top performers The most expensive employees to replace (and the most in demand) will be top performers. Employers should hone in on these individuals and make sure that they are being offered the growth opportunities and recognition they desire.

Hopefully, the post-pandemic return to work will provide an opportunity for employers and employees to reconsider their relationships with one another. This is the time for a “new normal” that provides employees with opportunities for respect and empowerment in the workplace.The Conversation


Erica Pimentel, Assistant Professor, Smith School of Business, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

How to create effective, engaged workplace teams after the COVID-19 pandemic

For workplace teams returning to the office post-pandemic, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences. (Pixabay)

Well into the pandemic’s second year, we are beginning to see light on the horizon. We’re not out of the woods here in Canada. As some areas of the country continue to struggle to contain the virus, others are optimistic due to lowering case counts thanks to restrictions and lockdown measures.

Ontario — the country’s largest province by population — is now in the first step of its reopening, and officials have said the majority of those who want to receive a vaccine could be fully immunized by the end of the summer.

The rolling lockdowns and public health restrictions of the pandemic response meant a massive shift to remote and virtual work for many workplaces. As we look towards and plan for the post-pandemic future, businesses and organizations need to thoughtfully consider what the future of work looks like for them.

They will need to reflect on their operations pre-pandemic, consider what they learned from the disruption of the crisis, and ask themselves: How can we build back better?

Structure shift

Recent decades have seen a shift in the structure of businesses and organizations, away from hierarchical models in favour of cross-functional and, at times, self-managing networks of teams. In fact, a 2016 survey found the majority of large corporations rely on interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams. In 2019, 31 per cent of respondents said that most or almost all work is performed in teams.

For many of these organizations, the pandemic saw these teams transition from in-person work to remote interactions via video-conferencing services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

Many appreciated the comfort and autonomy inherent in working from home, but the erosion of work-life balance and social interaction has caused challenges.

As we come out of the pandemic, workplace teams will need an environment that retains the experience of autonomy while also providing a sense of belonging. Employees should be free to decide where they want to work and when they want to work whenever possible. But we must also address the negative impact of isolation — loneliness, fatigue or even depression, all of which have been frequently reported during the pandemic.

Five women at a desk have a conversation.
Effective workplace teams will be critical to building back better. (Piqsels)

Research on workplace teams finds that autonomy can in fact co-exist with a sense of belonging and cohesion. For this to be achieved, organizations need to find a balance, and need to organize teams according to these structural considerations:

• Teams have a strong leader, or they can feature shared leadership.

• Teams have clearly defined task interdependencies and interfaces among team members, or team members can perform their work largely in isolation.

• Teams have the same goals and rewards for all members, or they can offer individualized goals and rewards.

• Teams communicate virtually, or they can communicate so face-to-face.

• Teams have a shared history and aspirations, or they operate for a limited time, after which they disband.

A strong leader, alongside clearly defined task interdependencies, focuses on the team as a whole, whereas virtual teamwork and individual rewards emphasize the individual team member.

Combining features of teamwork that promote autonomy with other features that foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging is likely the best path forward.

Emphasize shared goals

As long as employees continue to operate in a virtual setting, it’s important for leaders to define shared goals and rewards. Teams must share a vision of the future that complements the larger degree of autonomy they’ve experienced through virtual teamwork.

Focusing on elements of teamwork that bring team members closer together should not be left to chance. As some organizations learned during the pandemic, scheduling social hours can replace the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler. A book club can replace the informal learning over a lunch chat. A fireside Zoom chat on company values and goals can replace an in-person town hall.

But post-pandemic, few organizations will maintain an all-virtual presence. Many will move towards a hybrid model. For those teams returning to the office, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences.

The pandemic has also almost eliminated a troublesome feature of organizational life: presenteeism, or showing up to work when sick. We must not go backwards in this regard. Workers must protect themselves and their team members from the consequences of illness.

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.The Conversation


Matthias Spitzmuller, Associate Professor and Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behaviour, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Advancing the research agenda

Kimberly Woodhouse reflects on her time as Vice-Principal (Research) and how Queen’s has changed since she arrived.

Photograph of Kimberly Woodhouse
Kimberly Woodhouse's term as Vice-Principal (Research) ends on June 30 after three years in the role.

Queen’s is home to a dynamic community of researchers spanning all faculties and disciplines, and the  Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio helps support and connect them while also seeking to enhance Queen’s profile as one of Canada’s top research-intensive universities. Since 2018, Kimberly Woodhouse has served as Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research). On June 30, her term ends, and she returns full-time to her role as professor of chemical engineering. As Vice-Principal Woodhouse prepares for the transition, the Queen’s Gazette connected with her to hear her thoughts on her time in that role and what’s next in her career.

What are you most proud of during your time overseeing the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio for the past three years?

First of all, I’d like to say it’s been a privilege to serve the Queen’s community the past three years. And I want to thank all the different teams I’ve worked with across the university to move the research agenda forward.

There are many things that I am proud of, but a few specifically come to mind. One is the way in which the research portfolio has engaged with early-career researchers. We have restructured to support our new hires in their research programs and to get them up and running as quickly as possible.  Their performance has been exceptional, and I believe the portfolio has contributed to the excellent success in the New Frontiers granting competition, which emphasizes interdisciplinary research.

The second initiative of particular note is the increase in the number of startups, new companies, and partnerships through the many FedDev programs, in particular the WE-CAN program. WE-CAN has done outstanding work in reaching out to the Kingston and eastern Ontario entrepreneurial community, particularly women, Indigenous women, and BIPOC entrepreneurs. This programming has rapidly accelerated over the last few years.

What advice do you have for early-career researchers who are starting down their own paths?

My advice is to engage as quickly as possible with the support systems in place in the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio as they start to write their grant proposals. I also suggest they reach out to senior faculty members, particularly those who have been successful in receiving external funding, for mentorship and guidance. Along those lines, I want to thank the senior researchers across the university who have given so generously of their time to mentor our new researchers and to take part in our internal grants programs. We have hired many new faculty members over the past several years, and our senior faculty members have been instrumental in getting them up to speed.

As early-career researchers get more experience, I also suggest they find opportunities to get involved in grants panels so they can see examples of outstanding proposals.

They should also think about the broader research community around the world and who they would like to get to know and how they might want to work with them. Attending international conferences and seeking international funding opportunities are great ways to make these connections. It’s important to consciously network.

How has Queen’s changed in the time you’ve been here?

Since I came here in 2007, I would say that Queen’s has more strongly embraced research. Queen’s has always been a very strong research institution with very strong researchers, but there’s a greater recognition now that it’s part of the fabric of the university, particularly in the last few years.

Queen’s has also begun to understand the need to break down some institutional barriers in order to facilitate interdisciplinary research. There are now more opportunities for people to meet others from across the university and have more inter-faculty conversations around research.

Queen’s has also become less insular and more aware of the opportunities for the university to make strong positive impacts both nationally and internationally.

Now that your term as Vice-Principal (Research) is coming to an end, what’s next for you?

I’ll be on administrative leave, and I’ll be going back to the lab as a professor of chemical engineering. I’m looking forward to working more closely with graduate students and other faculty members.

I have two areas of research I’ll be focusing on. I’ll be working on projects in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. I’m also working with an interdisciplinary group on health quality research.

Again it has been a great privilege to serve the research community over these last three years and a special thanks to all the members of the portfolio and across the research community who have worked so hard to move the research agenda of the university during these last three years.

Queen’s experts provide insight into our post-pandemic future

On June 29, multimedia journalist and Queen’s alumnus Elamin Abdelmahmoud will moderate a candid discussion on how we can move beyond COVID.

[Road to Recovery: Reintegration - Queen's Virtual Event]

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our health, economy, and society. It has challenged individuals and institutions to think creatively about how they can harness their resources to help confront the crisis, politically, economically, and socially. As vaccination rates rise, cases drop, and businesses reopen, Canadians and global citizens are attempting to return to so-called “normal life.” This has led to myriad questions related to reintegration and reconnection – What does integration back to the classroom and office look like? What are the implications for our physical and mental health and how can we address them? How has society changed over the past 18 months and what have we learned about ourselves and each other?

To help answer some of these questions, University Relations, Advancement, and the Faculty of Health Sciences have joined forces to host Road to Recovery: Reintegration. This free, open-to-the-public event will be held virtually on Tuesday, June 29 at 11 a.m. EDT and will feature a panel of Queen’s alumni and research experts who will share their views on work, social norms, and life in a post-pandemic world.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Elamin Abdelmahmoud (Artsci’11) and host of CBC’s weekly pop culture podcast Pop Chat, co-host of CBC’s political podcast Party Lines, and culture editor for BuzzFeed news. In a recent interview about the series, Abdelmahmoud explained some of his reasons for hosting the event, saying, “When it comes to reintegration, I have a lot of questions. I am anxious to return to some semblance of normality but I don’t know what that looks like anymore. I would love to get some answers from people who study these questions for a living.”    

During Tuesday’s discussion, Abdelmahmoud will be joined by a number of experts in health care, education, research, and policy-making at the local, national, and international levels. They are:

  • Tina Dacin – Stephen J.R. Smith Chaired Professor of Strategy and Organizational Behaviour and the Director of the Community Impact Research Program in the Smith School of Business
  • Gerald Evans – Chair, Division of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University and Attending Physician in Infectious Diseases at Kingston Health Sciences Centre
  • Allyson G. Harrison – Clinical Neuropsychologist and the Clinical Director of the Regional Assessment and Resource Center at Queen’s
  • Scott McFarlane, BA/BPHE’97, BEd’98, MEd’07 is a Vice-Principal with the Limestone District School Board 

To register for the event and join the discussion, visit the website.

Exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on newcomers to Canada

Queen’s researcher helps conduct study to determine how the novel coronavirus has affected newcomers’ food security, employment opportunities, and general health.

[Photo of Setareh Ghahari]
Setareh Ghahari, Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, is leading study to collect information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Canada’s newcomers’ food security, employment prospects, and general health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge for individuals and families, both in Canada and around the world. Over the past 15 months, the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on the general Canadian population have been well studied and documented. However, the immediate and long-term effects of the novel coronavirus on newcomers to Canada are less clear.   

Dr. Setareh Ghahari, an Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, is working to fill this gap. An immigrant herself, Dr. Ghahari knows how difficult moving to a new country can be and how important it is to feel understood and supported. Consequently, when an international group of researchers developed a survey tool to investigate impacts of COVID-19 on undocumented migrants in Switzerland, she saw an opportunity to implement a similar project in Canada.

To learn more about the work of settlement organizations in Kingston, visit the websites below:
KEYS Job Centre
Immigrants Services Kingston and Area program
Kingston Immigrants Partnership

Dr. Ghahari’s study uses the Swiss-developed survey tool to collect information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Canada’s newcomers’ food security, employment prospects, and general health. Once complete, Dr. Ghahari will be able to compare results between different groups of newcomers in Canada and between countries.

“My research is about accessing health and services for marginalized populations, including immigrants and refugees,” says Dr. Ghahari. “Over the past year, numerous initiatives have attempted to understand the extent to which COVID-19 has impacted Canadians, and many have called for increased services and support for vulnerable populations. Yet, often missing from these statements and reports, are the struggles unique to marginalized groups, notably for newcomer populations in Canada.”

Newcomers face three major challenges. First, “housing insecurity is a prominent concern,” Dr. Ghahari says. When survey participants were asked “If you lost your house today, do you have a family member or a close friend that you could go and live with?,” most respondents answered “No.” This barrier reflects employment and financial instability that, when paired with reduced family ties and acute isolation, results in few social supports in a new country.  

A second major factor often impacting newcomers is a significant language barrier and its impact on their access to news and updates. “Reading or listening to news stories in a new language is a skill that takes time to develop,” explains Dr. Ghahari. Those who are new to a language may struggle to receive daily updates that are often critical for health, safety, and community engagement.

Finally, many immigrants leave behind loved ones in their countries of origin, introducing feelings of helplessness caused by struggles to aid them from afar. “Newcomers often worry, in part for themselves, but also for those who are back home,” says Dr. Ghahari.

There are several trends that Dr. Ghahari expects to see emerge based on the initial data that she has reviewed. Like many Canadians, newcomers have lost jobs and income during the pandemic. Early results indicate that food insecurity, employment insecurity, and high levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic are more common among this group. In addition to exploring how newcomers compare to the general population in coping with these challenges, Dr. Ghahari will explore how different groups of newcomers, including immigrants, refugees, undocumented peoples, and international students compare to each other.

Dr. Ghahari’s research could present a major opportunity to inform policy and increase support for newcomers to Canada. “I’m hopeful that this study will help us open up public discourse to better understand how to bring forth tangible support for newcomers amidst the wake of COVID-19, and the aftermath that is yet to come. My first goal once this is completed will be to present my findings to the general public and to policymakers to improve funding for settlement organizations,” says Dr. Ghahari.

One in five Canadians is an immigrant, yet their stories are not part of the dominant narrative in Canada. Dr. Ghahari’s research is positioned to change this by providing concrete evidence of the needs of newcomers, and with it, a voice to call for change.

Pride and prejudice: With only nine LGBTQ criminal record expungements, what's to celebrate?

The Conversation: The government needs to expand the Expungement Act to move toward a more meaningful response to historical and ongoing policing of queer people in Canada.

[Photograph of Pride flag and Canadian flag]
The Expungement Act was a centrepiece of the federal government's apology LGBTQ2+ Canadians in 2017. (David Tran/Adobe Stock.)

This Pride Month marks the third anniversary of the “Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act,” which allows people to clear their record of past offences involving consensual same-sex activity, convictions now considered unjust.

The act was a centrepiece of the federal government’s apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians in 2017. But figures obtained from the Parole Board of Canada via e-mail indicate that in the three years since the act came into effect, only 41 applications have been received and, of those, only nine people have successfully had their convictions cleared. 

The small handful of expungements falls far short of the act’s intent and calls into question the apology’s substance.

Problems with the legislation

In November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons he was proud to introduce the Expungement Act as a remedy for past wrongs, including the government’s purge of queer people from the Canadian military and public service.

The prime minister also said the act was meant to address the ways “discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities was quickly codified in criminal offences like ‘buggery,’ ‘gross indecency,’ and bawdy house provisions.”

There were over 6,000 Canadians with convictions for “buggery” and “gross indecency” in RCMP databases as of 2016 - so why such a slow uptake of the expungement process?

Back when the bill was before parliamentary committee, I was part of a group of historians who pointed to serious problems that persist in the legislation, including onerous requirements for documentation, an unequal age of consent and an overly restrictive schedule of eligible offences. These help explain the low number of expungements to date.

In the archives

The act requires an applicant to obtain, at their own expense, a copy of the court and police records of their conviction, an often-daunting research process. The case of Everett Klippert, the trigger for Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 partial decriminalization of buggery and gross indecency, speaks to the challenges.

In 1965, during an investigation by police in the Northwest Territories into a supposed arson, Klippert was asked about and admitted to homosexual relations. Homosexuality was illegal in Canada at the time and Klippert found himself charged with gross indecency, convicted and declared a “dangerous sexual offender.” In 1967 he unsuccessfully appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Like many others with unjust same-sex convictions, Klippert died before benefiting from the Expungement Act. Brian Crane, the lawyer who represented Klippert during his unsuccessful appeal, applied last year on behalf of Klippert’s family for an expungement.

Crane points out in an interview with me, that because Klippert’s case went to the Supreme Court, it generated a thick case file, the contents of which were integral to the successful expungement application.

Most historical convictions for same-sex offences, however, have been dealt with by lower-level courts, the records for which, if they still exist, may or may not have made their way into a public archive. If they have, the backlog of unprocessed court records in many archives would make it very difficult to locate a record. If the documents cannot be found, applicants must produce a letter from the court explaining why.

Even in Klippert’s case, Crane says it took considerable effort, including a second lawyer assigned to the case, to research and assemble the required documentation and to advocate on Klippert’s behalf to the Parole Board.

The ever-shifting age of consent

Even after partial decriminalization in 1969, the age of consent for homosexual sex was set seven years higher than for heterosexuals – 21 instead of 14 (it was later lowered to 18 in 1988).

This was a lesson Cliff Everton told me he learned the hard way.

In 1979, Winnipeg police showed up at Everton’s door, claiming to be conducting a survey of the gay community. Everton, in his 20s, answered police questions, including intimate details about his relationship with his 18-year-old live-in boyfriend. Because the boyfriend was under 21, police charged Everton with buggery.

In the subsequent trial, the judge gave Everton a two-year suspended sentence and criticized the methods used by the police in their investigation.

Four decades after his ordeal, Everton began the expungement process by searching for his record in court archives, but nothing turned up. He eventually found a copy of the court decision in the University of Manitoba Archives and his expungement was granted.

Had the age of consent for homosexuals been made equal to heterosexuals, something that only happened two years ago, Everton would not have been charged with this offence in the first place.

When it comes to age, the Expungement Act perpetuates queer injustice. Although concerned with historical convictions, the Act uses the current age of consent of 16 established in 2008. This means that anyone whose same-sex offence occurred before 2008 will be held to a different standard than straight people for whom the age of consent before 2008 was 14.

Found-ins and vagrants

The act allows for the expungement of only a small fraction of offences used historically to police same-sex relations.

Toronto resident Ron Rosenes explained to me that he remembers the night in February of 1981 when police raided the city’s bathhouses and charged him with being a “found-in,” meaning he was arrested in a common bawdy house.

Rosenes applied for an expungement but can’t get one because the act does not include bawdy house offences — despite Trudeau’s explicit reference to them during his apology.

The act does allow for other offences deemed unjust or unconstitutional to be added. And yet, even though bawdy house laws were repealed in 2019, they still haven’t been added to the list of expungable offences. Neither has vagrancy, which has been used to police lesbians, sex workers and transgender people.

Historically, police have made liberal use of Criminal Code provisions to police same-sex relations and gender expression. The government needs to expand the list of expungable offences while easing the documentary requirements and fixing the unequal age of consent. Only then will Trudeau’s apology and the Expungement Act move beyond mere words to a more meaningful response to the historical and ongoing policing of queer people in Canada.

_______________________________________________________The Conversation

Steven Maynard, Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of History, Queen's University, Ontario.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.


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