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Research Prominence

Why employees hesitate to speak up at work – and how to encourage them

The Conversation: Studies consistently show that many employees are reluctant to speak up at work, and are even hardwired to remain silent.

Employees are often reluctant to speak up at work. But if they make efforts to research their ideas and ensure they benefit the organization, it benefits both workers and employers. (Unsplash)

 

Imagine this: You notice a problem that might be disastrous for your company’s reputation, or you have an idea that can save thousands of dollars.

You want to say something but you’re not sure if you should. You’re afraid it might not go over well and not sure it will make a difference. You want to speak up, but you’re uncertain about how to voice your ideas in such a way that people will actually listen.

You’re not alone. Studies consistently show that employees are reluctant to speak up, and are even hardwired to remain silent, with 50 per cent of employees keeping quiet at work. Why is this the case, and how can we help people voice their opinions at work more effectively?

Speak up or zip it?

Employee voice — speaking up with ideas, concerns, opinions or information — is vital for organizational performance and innovation. On the flip side, silence is at the root of many well-known organizational disasters.

For example, Canada’s Phoenix pay system debacle, which has already cost the federal government $1.5 billion, was attributed to a culture that “does not reward those who share negative news.” Employees who sounded alarms were told they weren’t being “team players.”

Employee voice is the antidote to this culture of silence, but it’s not easy to encourage. Employees withhold voice because they think it will not be heard or fear it may backfire by embarrassing their managers or damaging their own reputations. These reservations are reasonable.

Although speaking up is generally linked with positive career outcomes, it can lead to lower social status at the office and lessened performance ratings in some circumstances.

Employees’ proactive personalities and managers’ demonstrated openness are both relevant to overcoming these reservations. Although we can’t change someone’s personality, leaders can create more welcoming environments that support and encourage voice.

Encouraging workers to voice opinions

For example, employees are more likely to speak up when they believe their leader encourages and solicits their opinions. By contrast, when leaders punish employees who dare to speak up with concerns or ideas, such as by publicly reprimanding them, voice dwindles quickly.

Pointing out others’ mistakes or sharing ideas that go against common practice can “rock the boat.” So how can employees still find ways to speak up effectively and have their ideas actually heard, despite these risks?

A woman smiles in an office setting.
Why don’t employees speak up? Often it’s because managers don’t encourage it. Healthy, happy workplaces encourage workers to voice their opinions. (You X Ventures/Unsplash)

Our research sought to answer this question by focusing on the quality of the messages that employees express. We first unpacked the meaning of what we call high-quality voice, uncovering the key ways that employees can improve their messages to gain greater recognition. We investigated these ideas with five studies involving nearly 1,500 participants.

We identified four critical features of employee voice attempts that make them higher-quality:

  1. They have a strong rationale. Their ideas and opinions are logical and based on evidence. Employees should do their homework first and build a compelling case for their ideas by showing they’ve put a lot of thought into them. They shouldn’t speak up if they haven’t gathered information or reflected on the reason behind implementing their ideas first.

  2. They have a high feasibility. Their ideas are practical and have the potential to be implemented. Employees should consider whether their organizations can realistically take action on their suggestions, such as by accounting for time or resource constraints and offering details on how to enact them. Employees shouldn’t ignore the realities and difficulties leaders face in actually doing something with their ideas and concerns.

  3. They have a strong organizational focus. Their opinions are critical to the success of the organization or team, not just personally beneficial to the employee. Workers should emphasize the collective benefits of their voice and link it with the organization’s visions, mission, and/or goals, such as by explaining how it will help the organization overall. They shouldn’t focus on issues that only affect themselves, otherwise it comes across as self-interested.

  4. They have a high novelty. Employees are innovative and account for new perspectives or viewpoints. They should consider whether their organization has tried (or considered) this idea before and clarify what makes it particularly unique, such as by contrasting it from typical conventions or opinions. They shouldn’t just repeat old ideas or approach the situation with the same frame of mind.

    Tips on voice quality are seen in a graph
    Voice quality tips. (Author), 

Putting effort into better ‘voicing’

Putting energy into developing higher-quality voice messages takes effort, but our research shows that it pays off. Employees who regularly presented higher-quality voice were regarded as more worthy of promotion and better all-round performers in their jobs.

These positive outcomes were evaluated from both peers and managers. And these findings held up regardless of how often employees spoke up, whether the evaluator liked them or viewed them as competent. Basically, speaking up with higher-quality messages predicted job performance and promotability above and beyond all of these other factors.

So is there a downside to speaking up? Yes, if you don’t put the time and energy into making your input high-quality.

When people spoke up often with low-quality ideas, their peers reported that they were worse performers and less promotable. So speaking up can backfire if employees consume all of the airtime by frequently expressing low-quality ideas that offer little help to anyone.

The lesson? It’s worthwhile to speak up and share your ideas and concerns — and it may help your career — but if you do so, ensure that you do your homework first, reflect on the feasibility of implementation, connect the benefits to the organization and/or its employees and consider what makes it particularly novel.

How leaders can help

What can organizational leaders do to help employees voice their opinions more effectively? When asking for input, prompt with some questions. For example:

  • What is the logic for this idea and is there evidence to support it?

  • How might we actually implement it and overcome barriers?

  • How does this fit within the organization’s priorities and/or help other employees?

  • What is new about this idea that we haven’t tried before?

These questions can produce higher quality ideas that will benefit employees, leaders and organizations alike.

Ultimately, increasing the quality of employee feedback and opinions will help them be heard. It will also result in ideas that are more likely to be implemented and improve work conditions and performance for the entire organization.The Conversation

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Kyle Brykman, Assistant Professor of Management, University of Windsor and Jana Raver, E. Marie Shantz 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.

IGnite Virtual set for March 4

The IGnite series, hosted by the McDonald Institute and Queen’s University Relations, is returning virtually for 2021. The free online forum showcases stories of discovery from researchers at Queen’s University. Speaker presentations are engaging and geared toward a wide variety of audiences, making IGnite accessible for anyone who is interested in attending.  

The next installment, IGnite Virtual, will be held on Thursday, March 4, 7-8:45 pm on YouTube. Panelists include astroparticle physicist Nahee Park (Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy) and her former student, Emma Ellingwood, who will discuss their work on high energy cosmic accelerators. Biomechanical engineers Kevin Deluzio (also Dean of the Engineering and Applied Science) and Elise Laende, postdoctoral fellow with Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will share their research on motion capture and understanding how people move through time and space. The event will feature behind-the-scenes science tours and an audience question and answer period.

IGnite Virtual is open to all and no registration is required to view the YouTube livestream

To learn more, visit the McDonald Institute website.

[Promotional Graphic: IGnite Virtual - March 4 7 - 8:45 PM EST Streamed on YouTube]

 

COVID-19 leaves youth forced out of foster care even more vulnerable

The Conversation: The Ontario provincial government announced a moratorium on ending foster care at age 18 during the coronavirus pandemic, but this is due to end on March 31.

A homeless youth holds their head while sitting on the ground.
Once they turn 18, youth in foster care are required to fend for themselves. This includes finding shelter and services. (Shutterstock)

During the pandemic, Canadians have been asked to stay home to stay safe, yet thousands of youth are facing homelessness. Each year in Ontario, 800-1,000 youth age out of the child welfare system.

For most of these young people, turning 18 coincides with an abrupt withdrawal of their social supports as they simultaneously have to secure affordable housing, manage finances and finish high school.

Youth exiting the child welfare system are significantly less prepared to face these challenges than their peers, and many fare poorly. In Ontario, 58 per cent of these youth experience homelessness, 46 per cent report coming into conflict with the law and only 44 per cent of youth exiting the system graduate from high school.

In the early months of the pandemic, the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition (OCAC) and allied partners lobbied the Ontario government to stop the practice requiring youth to leave their care placements when they turn 18. In June 2020, the Ontario government placed a moratorium on this policy until March 31, 2021. Yet the pandemic continues and the clock is running out.

We research policy and work with youth and adults who are ensnared in the Canadian criminal justice system — many of whom have had contact with the child welfare system.

Challenging conditions in state care

Children who are deemed by child protective services (CPS) as experiencing abuse or neglect may be removed from their caregivers and placed under the guardianship of the state. Based on 2011 census data, there are 11,375 children in the child welfare system in Ontario. Black and Indigenous children are highly represented, with Indigenous children comprising 30 per cent of kids in care in Ontario.

Many children and youth under state guardianship report moving among multiple homes and sometimes cities. Youth reported to us that they can count on having at least one move for every year that they’re in the child welfare system, and some move multiple times in a year. Frequent moves can disrupt education, resulting in low rates of high school completion. Youth who don’t complete high school face challenges and are more likely to experience poverty and rely on government assistance.

This instability can create low levels of attachment, trust and relationship-building. Many youth contend with mental-health challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that have an impact on their mental, emotional, social, spiritual, physical and occupational wellness and development. It’s unsurprising that many youth describe feeling vulnerable and angry in these circumstances. Often youth are labelled oppositional and criminalized due to the way they behave, but this is in response to trauma and their circumstances.

From a youth we interviewed:

“[Being in the child welfare system] really changed my character. It really just changed who I was as a person.… I’ve been in [at least] 20 different places and you know, it’s just so much [stuff]. And that’s the thing. Like all this stuff, people don’t realize … for somebody like me, I’ve been so thrown around, like [basically] tossed around, like here, there, everywhere.”

Emerging adulthood

When youth under guardianship of the state turn 18, they are required to leave their foster care or group home placements. Some young people may continue to receive financial support after they turn 18 through the Continued Care and Support for Youth (CCYS) program. This financial support stops abruptly when they turn 21.

Psychologist Jeffrey Arnette’s theory of emerging adulthood recognizes a period of prolonged transition between late adolescence and fully independent adulthood. Emerging adulthood helps to explain shifting societal trends in recent decades.

Many emerging adults rely on their families for financial, housing and social support longer than in the past, often well into their 20s. More young people seek post-secondary education, face higher rates of unemployment and rising housing costs, and marry and have children at a later age, on average.

Despite these broader societal trends, currently youth in the child welfare system are required to leave their placements when they turn 18. While other young adults are able to gradually transition to independent adulthood, young people leaving care are abruptly forced into adulthood.

When asked how prepared they were for “independence,” one young person shared: “We all got like a Tupperware container, or a tub full of pots and pans and dishes and stuff like that. But yeah, there wasn’t really any preparation.”

Another added: “I just had to learn how to be a human on my own. Like, I had to learn everything that like a mom or like a parent or guardian is supposed to teach a kid from young.”

After the moratorium

Once the moratorium lifts on March 31, 2021, there will be a flood of young people leaving their homes and heading into a decimated housing and employment market.

Heather O'Keefe, executive director at StepStones for Youth, says:

“The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have created further vulnerability for youth from the child welfare system with the lack of safe housing options, the loss of jobs, the inability to make rental payments and purchase essential items, and increased isolation and seclusion. The toll on the mental health of these youth has been exacerbated with the closure of libraries and schools, reduced services for people living in poverty, fewer opportunities to meet with counsellors and psychotherapists in person, and increased anxiety and suicide ideation.”

Our work with these young people underscores that the moratorium should be extended indefinitely. Rather than maintaining arbitrary age cut-offs for support, the provincial government should implement a readiness model.

This approach would work with every young person from the minute they enter the child welfare system to encourage better outcomes once they decide they are ready to be fully independent rather than being forced to leave care once they turn 18.

Youth leaving state guardianship have always been vulnerable. And with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, youth aging out of care will be in a much more vulnerable position, with potentially more severe impacts.

Cheyanne Ratnam co-authored this article. Cheyanne is the co-founder and executive lead of the OCAC, and an expert in the area of child welfare, homelessness and interconnected systems. Cheyanne also grew up in the child welfare system, experienced youth homelessness and was briefly engaged with the youth justice system.The Conversation

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Marsha Rampersaud, PhD Candidate, Sociology, Queen's University and Linda Mussell, PhD Candidate, Political Studies, 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.

Exploring the future of Blackness

CBC's 21 Black Futures features film by Queen’s assistant professor that imagines a future in which calling the police is not the only option in an emergency.

The Witness Shift film team: Actor Uche Ama, playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, and director Sarah Waisvisz
Queen's assistant professor Sarah Waisvisz directs actor Uche Ama in film adaptation of Donna-Michelle St. Bernard's play Witness Shift for CBC and Obsidian Theatre's 21 Black Futures. (Supplied photo).

Over the past year, shocking killings by law enforcement and waves of activism sparked a mainstream discussion about ‘defunding the police’. At its core, the concept asks us to imagine if calling the police weren’t the only option during a crisis – an idea explored in a new short film called Witness Shift, directed by Queen’s assistant professor Sarah Waisvisz for Obsidian Theatre and CBC’s 21 Black Futures.

The 21 Black Futures is a theatre-film anthology project that united 21 Black directors with 21 Black playwrights, and 21 Black actors to create 21 monodramas exploring the question: What is the future of Blackness?

“This project was so life-giving,” says Dr. Waisvisz, whose scholarly work has explored Afro-Caribbean traditions, community, ritual, and storytelling. “I can’t tell you how amazing it was to work on something in the company of so many Black and BIPOC creators all committed to the same vision of honouring and uplifting the Black-Canadian experience.”

Her film, written by acclaimed Canadian playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, stars Uche Ama as a senior emergency services dispatcher – called a Witness – as they train a new recruit on how to respond to emergency calls. Ama’s character fields calls from people experiencing a range of problems – anything from a request for protection to a lost dog or mental health distress – dispatching social workers, therapists, activists, or community supports as each situation demands.

“Isn’t there another way to serve and protect our communities so we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable?” reads Dr. Waisvisz’s director’s note on the CBC website. “This play offers us a model to explore the steps we need to take to transform our society so each of us can truly be seen in our full humanity.”

Dr. Waisvisz also directed the entire film via video call – an experience akin to her new role as a faculty member of the Dan School of Drama and Music.

“I am thrilled to be part of a dynamic department and to teach inspiring students, but of course being a pandemic-year new faculty member means my life is all Zoom, all the time,” says Dr. Waisvisz, who joined Queen’s in July 2020. “I am amazed though by how much intimacy is nevertheless possible through video call if trust is built and nurtured – whether it be with actors or students. It’s not simple, but I’m so glad to be able to create meaningful work and engage meaningfully with my students even from afar.”

In addition to her position at Queen’s, Dr. Waisvisz is an accomplished playwright and performer. She continues to tour her solo show Monstrous about mixed-race identity, and her play Heartlines, about fighting white-supremacy and fascism, opened at Ottawa’s Undercurrents Festival to sold-out audiences.

You can view Dr. Waisvisz’s film Witness Shift on CBC Gem as well as the entire 21 Black Futures project.

Health unit using Queen’s-founded staffing software for COVID-19 immunization program

Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry, is being used to handle increased scheduling needs of pandemic response.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health is utilizing a scheduling program, developed by a Queen's-based startup, to help organize its mass immunization effort for COVID-19.

Mesh AI user interface
Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry, removes the need to manually manage staff work schedules. The program automates the process with inputs that balance the needs of both employers and staff members.

Tasked with immunizing residents throughout its coverage area, KFL&A Public Health faces an immense and complex amount of scheduling involving staff, including full-time, part-time, contract, unionized and non-unionized. To meet the increased needs KFL&A Public Health is using Mesh AI, a cloud-based human resource management software for the healthcare industry that removes the need to manually manage staff work schedules. The business venture, led by Queen’s Engineering Associate Dean (Corporate Relations) and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Shahram Yousefi, offered its software free and with no obligation to healthcare administrators in support of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March of 2020 at the initial peak of the pandemic in North America. Earlier this year, Mesh AI extended its free access offer to new qualifying immunization teams.

The software is currently being used in immunization programs, pandemic surge planning, and hospital as well as medical office staff scheduling in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Before the pandemic, normal operations for KFL&A Public Health were primarily Monday to Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm and scheduling was relatively stable, explains Katie Chan, Human Resources Officer for KFLA Public Health. But with the arrival of COVID-19 it became clear that the health unit needed a more sophisticated scheduling system to handle the new requirements.

“Prior to the introduction of Mesh AI scheduling for our organization was a difficult to say the least,” Chan says. “Schedules were being populated manually on Excel and PDF schedules were posted for staff. As you can imagine the upkeep of changes and updates was quite onerous. Mesh AI has provided a seamless system to provide real time data for management and staff.”

Importantly, Chan adds, Mesh AI is user-friendly and public health staff were able to quickly transition into the new system when it was introduced.

“Since then, we have been using Mesh AI for all COVID response units as well as for the on-call schedule for our management team,” she says. “With the upcoming complexity of scheduling the mass immunization clinics given different partners and groups we are grateful to be have access to this new digital tool.”

Introducing new software in healthcare can often take six to 18 months, or more. With a product line designed for COVID-19 immunization staffing, Mesh AI can launch the product for a client in less than two weeks.

“When we launch, the manager presses a button and everybody gets invited to the platform,” Dr. Yousefi explains. “When they come to the platform, they can just input their preferences. This is unique. We allow people to tell the system what they need. If you’re a nurse who is caring for three children, you have specific work-life balance needs. You can put all of that into the system. You might prefer to not have early morning assignments, for example, as you need to help your kids before you can start working. And a single guy who lives as a nurse in downtown Toronto has different needs. So they all log in, put in their requirements, vacation days, off times, on times, and, this is unique to Mesh AI, their preferences. Anything they want. There's no limit. Alternatively, when speed matters, Mesh AI can be launched without the need to on-board all staff. Admins and schedulers, even a single user, can reap the majority of our automation benefits by themselves.”

Once managers receive and approve staffing requests and preferences by their providers or directly add them to Mesh AI themselves, the schedules can be automatically generated. When changes and shift reassignments are required, Mesh AI’s intelligent engine recommends the next best options reducing healthcare administrative times drastically.

Learn more about Mesh AI and MESH Scheduling Inc. at MeshAI.io.

With files from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

How the ‘robot revolution’ is changing jobs and businesses in Canada

The future of automated labour may not spell the end of human employment. (Shutterstock)

In 2017, I returned to Canada from Sweden, where I had spent a year working on automation in mining. Shortly after my return, the New York Times published a piece called, “The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine,” about Sweden’s embrace of automation while limiting human costs.

Although Swedes are apparently optimistic about their future alongside robots, other countries aren’t as hopeful. One widely cited study estimates that 47 per cent of jobs in the United States are at risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence.

Whether we like it or not, the robot era is already upon us. The question is: Is the Canadian economy poised to flourish or flounder in a world where robots take over the tasks we don’t want to do ourselves? The answer may surprise you.

Robots are everywhere

Modern-day robots are how artificial intelligence (AI) physically interacts with us, and the world around us. Although some robots resemble humans, most do not and are instead specifically designed to autonomously carry out complex tasks.

Over the last few decades, robots have rapidly grown from specialized devices developed for select industry applications to household items. You can buy a robot to vacuum your floors, cut your grass and keep your home secure. Kids play with educational robots at school, where they learn to code, and compete in robot design teams that culminate in exciting international competitions.

Robots are also appearing in our hospitals, promising to help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic and performing other health-care tasks in safer and more efficient ways.

 

The media is abuzz with stories about the latest technical claims, rumours and speculations about the secret developments of major international corporations, including Waymo, Tesla, Apple, Volvo and GM.

And NASA just landed the Perseverance rover on Mars, with an autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity attached to its belly.

Oh, and there are the dancing robots too, of course.

Robots behind the scenes

I have been working on robotics and autonomous vehicles technology in mining since the late 1990s. As such, I have been part of an industry that is undergoing a sea change, with fully autonomous machines steadily replacing workers in dark, dirty and dangerous scenarios.

Autonomous underground mining vehicle
A fully autonomous underground load-haul-dump vehicle developed for Swedish mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc AB and in partnership with Canadian robotics firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates. (Joshua Marshall), Author provided

This robot revolution is happening behind the scenes in other industries too. Robots fill Amazon orders, manufacture stuff in factories, plant and pick crops, assist on construction sites, and the list goes on.

In fact, robots even build other robots. Will we soon run out of jobs for people?

Robots in Canada

There are many who paint a bleak picture of the future, where robots and AI take away all the “good jobs.” Although I fully acknowledge that we must be mindful of possible inequalities and unintended outcomes that might arise as a result of new technologies, I contend that Canadians have the potential to thrive.

But to make it happen, my colleagues and I agree that our country needs a “robotics strategy.”

In 2017, Canada launched the world’s first national AI strategy. Called the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy and costing $125 million, the strategy aims to strengthen Canada’s leadership in AI by funding institutes, universities and hospitals to meet key objectives.

In its 2020 list of future jobs, the World Economic Forum listed “robotics engineers” as No. 10, in close company with “AI and machine learning specialists.” In Canada, I see huge potential for our robotics industry, with companies such as Clearpath Robotics, OTTO Motors, Kinova, Robotiq and Titan Medical already world leaders in the design and manufacture of robots for purposes ranging from materials handling to surgery.

Beyond building robots, Canada’s most significant opportunities may lie in the increased adoption of robots into economically important industry sectors, including mining, agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

And yet, Canada may be the only G7 country without a robotics strategy.

The robot revelation

As it turns out, there is hope. According to a November 2020 report from Statistics Canada, Canadian firms that employed robots have also hired more human workers, contrary to what you may instinctively believe. In fact, they hired 15 per cent more workers!

However, this does not mean that we can all sit back and relax. Along with the increased economic activity that robots bring to businesses comes a shift in the workforce from “workers spending less time performing routine, manual tasks, in favour of non-routine, cognitive tasks.

students in a robotics lab
Mobile robotics researchers from the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute at Queen’s University. (Heshan Fernando), Author provided

The roles of education and research and development — such as new programs to train the next generation of robot-savvy Canadians and collaborative research clusters — are paramount. And they need to be combined with a national robotics strategy and a progressive socioeconomic system that supports a transitioning workforce to ensure the success, well-being and happiness of Canadians, alongside our robot friends.The Conversation

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Joshua A. Marshall is as Associate Professor of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering at Queen's UniversityHe currently serves as Interim Director at the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute at Queen's University and is a founding member of the NSERC Canadian Robotics Network (NCRN). 

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.

Partnering with industry to advance technological innovation

Over $6 million has been awarded to Queen’s researchers through NSERC’s Alliance grants to collaborate with industry partners in areas such as computing, wireless communications, and nuclear power.

The Government of Canada recently announced its investment of $118 million in funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) inaugural Alliance grants program. More than $6 million was secured by 12 Queen’s researchers, with four projects awarded more than $1 million each. Of the 20 projects that received more than $1 million, Queen’s and the University of Calgary tied for attracting the largest individual investments.

The Alliance grants program was established in 2019 to provide resources to support greater collaboration in research and development between researchers and partner organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. The goal is to develop collaborative teams with different skills and perspectives to generate new knowledge in the natural sciences and engineering and accelerate the real-world application of research results.

“My congratulations to our researchers and industry partners on their extraordinary success in the new Alliance program,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice Principal (Research). “Through their work, we will advance knowledge in fields critical to the prosperity and economic growth of Canadians.”

The four Queen’s projects that received more than $1 million in funding are:

Edge Computing

[Group photo with a large cheque]
Researchers Hossam Hassanein and Sameh Sorour (Computing) with partners from Kings Distributed Systems, including President Dan Desjardins (PhD'15). 

Queen’s researcher Hossam Hassanein, Director of the School of Computing, has received $1.2 million to develop “A Framework for Democratized Edge Computing and Intelligence” with industry partner and Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation collaborator, Kings Distributed Systems (KDS). Edge computing is a distributed, open IT architecture that has significant impact on user quality of service and will likely be a necessary component of all digital business by as early as 2022. This project will focus on creating distributed edge computing clusters that will make this technology accessible to all, reduce existing monopoly power of cloud service providers and network operators, and open an entirely new market for Canadian businesses and governments. Working with KDS, Dr. Hassanein also intends to train more than 20 highly qualified personnel to further advance edge computing technologies and applications.

[Photo of Praveen Jain in the ePower centre]
Praveen Jain, Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics

Renewable Nano Power Grid

A team of researchers led by Praveen Jain with Majid Pahlevani and Suzan Eren at the Queen’s Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER) received $1.2 million in funding to partner with Cistel Technology and EION Wireless to develop a “Renewable Nano Power Grid for Wireless Communications.” Modern communications networks employ wireless towers at remote locations where grid power may not be available. Dr. Jain and his team are venturing into the next-generation renewable nano energy grid that will provide “five nines” availability required in the communications networks.

Nuclear Energy

Queen’s researcher Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance, secured funding for two projects related to nuclear energy. The first is a partnership with Bruce Power, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Ontario Power Generation, and UNENE, with $1.4 million in support, to investigate “Corrosion Control and Materials Performance in Nuclear Power Systems.” In collaboration with the University of Toronto, Dr. Persaud will investigate metallic corrosion, in particular the combined effect of irradiation and corrosion on material performance in nuclear power plants and small modular reactors. Application of innovative microscopy methods will be a key component to identify the effects of stress and corrosion on materials degradation at the nanoscale. The team will leverage state-of-art research infrastructure, such as the proton accelerator and microscopy facilities, available at the Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM) in Toronto and the Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL) at Queen’s.

[Photo of Suraj Persaud]
Suraj Persaud, UNENE Research Chair in Corrosion Control and Materials Performance

Dr. Persaud’s second project applies the same focus on nanoscale corrosion and materials degradation to the safe disposal of nuclear waste, an often-cited drawback of nuclear energy. With $1.03 million in funding, Dr. Persaud has partnered with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to collaborate on the “Advanced Characterization and Modelling of Degradation in Nuclear Waste Canister Materials” with an interdisciplinary scientific approach and a diverse team of senior and early-stage researchers. NWMO is the organization mandated to develop a plan for disposal of spent fuel, which is currently focused on design and commission of the deep geological repository (DGR) where spent nuclear fuel is stored in a multi-barrier system. Dr. Persaud and his team will work with NWMO scientists to employ novel microscopy, experimental and modelling methods, and state-of-the-art facilities to study micro-to-atomic scale interactions and the performance of materials proposed for DGR application with the ultimate goal of ensuring Canada’s safe and responsible disposal of nuclear waste.

Nine other projects were funded through the program, including:

Researcher Partner(s) Project Title Amount
Kevin Mumford (Civil Engineering) McMillan-McGee Enhanced in situ thermal treatment of soil and groundwater: high temperature treatment and combined remedies $320,000
Mark Daymond, Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Materials and Mechanics of Materials  Kinectrics Mechanistic understanding of hydrided region overload cracking $292,000
Yan-Fei Liu (Electrical and Computer Engineering)  GaNPower International, Magna International Technology development for high efficiency high power density EV DC – DC converter $259,190
Victoria Friesen (Biology) African Lion Safari, Wildlife Preservation Canada Population management and recovery of the endangered loggerhead shrike $118,632
Carlos Saavedra (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Guildline Instruments Broadband gallium nitride power amplifier for microwave calibration instrumentation $111,000
Laurent Karim Béland (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Development of artificial neural networks to analyze micrographs of zirconium-based alloys and hydrides for nuclear power applications $90,000
Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering) Correctional Service of Canada, Spectra Plasmonics A portable illicit drug detection device for Correctional Service Canada $60,000
Kimberley Mcauley (Chemical Engineering) National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada Variability and uncertainty analysis of wood waste as a feedstock for gasification $40,000
Julian Ortiz (Mining; Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) ArcelorMittal Mining Canada G.P. Geometallurgical modeling of mining complexes: testing causal hypothesis to improve plant performance $40,000

For more information about the Alliance program, visit the NSERC website.

COVID-19 illustrates why Canada needs more – and better – public banks

Cranes work to build large buildings
Public banks around the world are working towards the public good during COVID-19. The Canada Infrastructure Bank, however, seems focused on privatizing critical public services instead of ensuring vital infrastructure across the country is built or maintained. (Unsplash/ C Dustin)

Most Canadians could be forgiven for not knowing what a public bank is. We do have some — the Alberta Treasury Branch, the Business Development Bank, the Export Development Canada and the Canada Infrastructure Bank — but they are relatively low profile and have narrow mandates.

This is a shame. Much more could be done with them. In many parts of the world, public banks play a critical role in addressing major social, economic and environmental challenges (such as Germany’s transition to renewable energy), offering everything from retail services in remote communities to multi-billion-dollar financing for transformative projects.

There are more than 900 public banks around the world, with combined assets of about US$49 trillion. They are typically owned by governments or public agencies, and many have progressive public purpose mandates due to decades of institutional knowledge and expertise.

Public Banks and COVID-19: Combatting the pandemic with public financeThe COVID-19 pandemic has served to underscore the importance of public banks. In our new book, Public Banks and COVID-19: Combatting the Pandemic With Public Finance, we take a rapid-response snapshot of how public banks have responded to the crisis, drawing on case studies in more than 20 countries.

Five key lessons

The findings highlight five key lessons. First, public banks responded quickly to the pandemic. In January 2020, the People’s Bank of China and Chinese public commercial banks moved fast to maintain liquidity in the banking system and to provide low-cost lending. So too in Italy. Less than a week after the first case of COVID-19 was announced, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti set up measures to support enterprises and local authorities.

Second, when public banks had clear public purpose mandates, they were able to respond to the crisis with the full support of political authorities. By July 2020, for example, the Council of Europe Development Bank had provided 15 new loans worth three billion euros to 15 countries in support of health-care service provisions.

Third, many public banks took bold, generous and crisis-facing action by providing new loans and delaying payments on existing debts, often crafting innovative responses to support students, households, businesses, public service providers and local and national governments. Public banks offered time to breathe, time to adjust and time to overcome the worst of the immediate crisis.

Fourth, public banks accomplished these tasks because they had institutional capacity and historical legacies. The German government tasked its development bank, KfW, with expanding domestic financing by 757 billion euros (24 per cent of the country’s GDP) while increasing and co-ordinating its development support programs abroad — an impossible prospect without the experience to do so.

Finally, we see the advantages of solidarity that have emerged between public banks and other public service authorities. For example, Portugal’s Caixa Geral de Depósitos worked closely with the country’s public health management departments.

Elsewhere, the Nordic Investment Bank, the Bank of North Dakota and Costa Rica’s Banco Popular have also demonstrated the socio-economic benefits of co-ordinating their responses with other public entities.

Dr. McDonald and collaborators from more than 20 countries have also written an e-book on the significance of safe, accessible and affordable water for all during COVID-19. Public Water and COVID-19: Dark Clouds and Silver Linings explores why public water matters during a pandemic and presents the latest research on the impact of COVID-19 on public water operators.

What direction for Canada?

Canada’s public banks have also engaged in COVID-19 responses, but nothing on the scale or scope of public banks elsewhere in the world. Their mandates are also much narrower, providing little in the way of broad strategic support for major societal initiatives.

Even more problematic are the actions of the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Rather than advancing public capacity through partnerships with other public organizations, its mandate is to “attract substantial private and institutional investment in new infrastructure.”

Its involvement in a recent attempt to privatize water in Mapleton, Ont., is one example of its aggressive multi-sector incursion into public services. Thankfully, this particular initiative has collapsed, in part because the COVID-19 crisis appears to have given local politicians pause about handing such a critical service over to a private operator.

Ironically, at a time when many other countries in the world are bringing services back into public ownership after decades of failed privatization, Canada appears to be heading the other way, with our public banks leading the charge.

Instead, we should listen to the advice of a group of UN Special Rapporteurs who recently published an op-ed arguing that “COVID-19 has exposed the catastrophic impact of privatizing vital services.”

Strong, democratic and accountable public banks in Canada could help reverse this trend.The Conversation

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David McDonald, Professor, Global Development, Queen's University and Thomas Marois, Senior Research Fellow Patient Finance and Banking, Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UCL.

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.

Tracking COVID immunity

Researcher Anne Ellis, along with co-investigators Stephen Vanner and Prameet Sheth, receive federal funding to study COVID transmission and immunity among students and staff working in healthcare.

Researcher, clinician, and chair in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Queen’s University, Anne Ellis (Medicine) is perhaps best known for her role as Director of the Allergy Research Unit at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre. Now, her internationally recognized expertise in allergies and allergy treatment testing is being applied to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Pivot

Through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), the Government of Canada recently announced over $220,000 in funding for Dr. Ellis to advance a new research study that will examine SARS-CoV-2 transmission and immunity among students and staff in clinical placements. The research goal is to test for SARS-CoV-2 and monitor the seroprevalence of health professional students returning to Queen’s campus, on arrival and throughout their studies.  

“A study of this size and nature is completely in our wheelhouse,” says Dr. Ellis. “The Research Unit routinely performs large-scale pharmaceutical or investigator-sponsored clinical trials featuring hundreds of research participants with significant logistics and safety measures at play. With allergy studies temporarily on hold due to COVID-19, our multidisciplinary team, including nurses, phlebotomists, technical and research staff, and graduate students, efficiently pivoted to develop this study in two short months.”

[Photo of healthcare workers]
Ellis' internationally recognized expertise in allergies and allergy treatment testing is being applied to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the support from the CITF, Dr. Ellis, along with co-Investigators Stephen Vanner (Medicine) and Prameet Sheth (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), will recruit 500 asymptomatic students from the Faculty of Health Sciences. Through their placements, students will have direct interactions routinely with each other, the general public, and ambulatory and in-patient populations at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the virus. With guidance from Gerald Evans, the Chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases, researchers will test the students for active COVID-19 infection. They will also test their blood for the presence of antibodies, which would suggest they had a previous infection. Participants will also complete a questionnaire to establish associations between their test results and other factors such as demographics, physical health measurements, mental health, lifestyle factors, medical history, travel history, COVID-19-related history, COVID-19 prevention practices, exposure, and testing.

Both types of tests will be repeated on all participants three more times over eight-months to capture any changes in infection rates and antibody levels.

Measuring Antibodies

“Our study will evaluate the likelihood of the students becoming infected with the virus and developing antibodies following infection,” says Dr. Ellis. Antibodies are protective proteins produced by our immune system upon exposure to a specific threat, such as a virus or pathogen, that help our body fight off the infection. They stick around in the blood after the body has cleared the infection, providing us with some immunological protection against reinfection. “If participants previously had COVID-19 but have no detectable antibodies in their blood, this might indicate that they are not protected against future reinfection of the virus. The presence of antibodies or lack thereof is equally exciting to determine."

[Photo of a healthcare worker]

Given the recent developments and vaccine approvals, the team has made some changes to the research. “We recently added several recovered COVID-19 patients from the local community into the study to measure their antibody levels as controls to further inform this study,” says Dr. Ellis.

Dr. Ellis plans to share the questionnaire findings with epidemiologist Kathie Doliszny to gain a ‘bigger picture’ understanding of COVID-19 infection and long-term immunological impacts. The results from this research study are also expected to help shape pandemic management policies and procedures instigated by universities and public health units across the country.

COVID Immunity Task Force

In late April 2020, the Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force a representative set of volunteer experts, including Chief Public Health Officer and Head of Public Health h Agency of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, from across the country who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and its prevalence in the general population, specific communities, and priority populations.

For more information on the COVID Immunity Task Force, please visit the website.

Share your passion for International Day of Women and Girls in Science

On Feb. 11, Queen’s will recognize the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science by encouraging the campus community to share their passion for STEM by sharing their research contributions on Twitter and tagging @queensuResearch.

This year marks the sixth anniversary of the international recognition day, which promotes full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. According to UNESCO’s Science Report, only 33 per cent of researchers globally are women. International Day of Women and Girls in Science is meant to celebrate and inspire present and future women in STEM disciplines.

Share your content and follow @queensuResearch as we retweet and highlight some of our Queen’s researchers and their contributions to groundbreaking STEM research.

[International Day of Women and Girls in Science]

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