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University student mental health care is at the tipping point

 

Mental disorders are treatable, but a key stumbling block towards positive campus responses in health care has been a lack of systematically collected data. (Photo by Miguel Henriques / Unsplash)

As a new crop of students enter university, the sense of hope and promise is tangible. While students are at an exciting developmental stage, as a researcher and practising clinical consultant to university student health services, I know that for some students the associated stress and new pressures will become overwhelming.

Several authoritative reports from Canada and the United Kingdom have drawn attention to increased demand for student mental health care that is straining university resources. Reports also point out that campus mental health services and initiatives are fragmented and inadequate to address the growing breadth and depth of student mental health need.

The tension between need for effective, accessible and engaging student mental care and the status quo in terms of resources has reached a tipping point. Such a state of affairs risks student well-being and academic success and has consequences for the university as evidenced by recent tragedies across different campuses in different countries. A key stumbling block toward change has been a relative lack of systematically collected data to help universities with the development of a coordinated and comprehensive system of student mental health care.

In the face of a seemingly changing university landscape and a relative lack of data, we have launched a new research initiative called “U-Flourish.” In collaboration with colleagues at Queen’s University and Oxford University, we are launching a longitudinal study to evaluate the scope of mental health need among undergraduate students and understand what factors determine different student mental health and academic outcomes.

As a multidisciplinary group of clinicians, academics and students, experienced in developing and evaluating mental health services and studying the onset of mental disorders, we know the importance of the university taking a lead role in the development of a system of student mental health care.

Competition has increased in universities, as enrollment and threshold grades for entry to professional and graduate schools have risen. (Photo by Alexis Brown / Unsplash)

Time of transition, critical period

One of the most important contributors to healthy individual growth and societal development is higher education. Success depends upon health, including mental health. The transition to university coincides with a critical period of accelerated biological, psychological and social development with the peak period of risk for onset of serious and persistent mental illness. The brain is undergoing accelerated growth and has heightened sensitivity to risk exposures commonly encountered by university students, such as stress, recreational drugs, alcohol and sleep problems.

University students are also exposed to a number of unique stresses related to financing their studies and making new social connections. Research finds that in Canada, younger students (under the age of 22) are driving undergraduate growth. Not only a rising number of international students, but also domestic students are studying away from home and their support network.

Competition has increased in Canadian universities and across the western world, as enrolment and threshold grades for entry to professional and graduate schools have risen.

Evidence suggests that not fitting into the predominant demographic at university and constant social media presence may be important psychosocial risk factors associated with mental health problems. Many students experience distress and their ability to cope is overwhelmed.

Serious and persistent mental illness typically emerges over childhood and adolescence. Researcher shows that 75 per cent of all mental disorders onset by the mid-twenties, and typically there is is a substantial delay between illness onset and first treatment contact. This delay is associated with progression to more complex disorders, dropping out of school, addiction and self-harm.

Emerging research underscores the substantial unmet need for screening and effective care of students. A large international study using World Health Organization surveys reported that one-fifth of college students met criteria for a 12-month mental disorder. Yet, treatment rates were exceedingly low and mental disorders were associated with higher rates of drop out.

Absence of evidence-based models

There is limited publicly available information about the outcomes of current student mental health services in Canada or the U.K. From what we as a research collective have observed, most campus mental health services do not have validated quality or outcome indicators embedded in routine care. These circumstances make it difficult to assess how effective current services are.

Student mental health services vary significantly across institutions in how they are organized, integrated and resourced. These variances reflect in part the absence of an evidence-based model guiding the development of student mental health care, and a lack of universal benchmarks for informing standards of care.

There is also a lack of consistency around approaches to determine and monitor the mental fitness of students to continue or return to studies after taking medical leave for a mental health reason.

Unique student needs

University mental health services have typically developed from short-term counselling services which are generally not adequately organized or resourced to systematically assess or respond to the full spectrum of university student mental health need. Compared to community-based care, student mental health services need to be more proactive, expeditious and preventive in nature.

 

University students are particularly disadvantaged in accessing timely and appropriate care as they move between university and home. (Photo by Alexis Brown / Unsplash)

University students are particularly disadvantaged in accessing timely and appropriate care as they move between university and home, and are at an age between child and adult services. Students often struggle with impairing and distressing symptoms that fall short of inclusion criteria for specialized community-based services.

It is likely that effective reform will mean not only re-organizing and strengthening existing services, but also developing new campus-based services and partnerships with specialty programs in the community based on clinical need.

Key principles for development

With an intent to help universities move forward, our research collective has set out key principles to guide the development of an integrated system of student mental health care moving forward. We propose that university mental health services should:

  1. Be accessible, evidence-based, culturally competent and developmentally appropriate;

  2. Have an engaging clinical triage at the student’s first point of contact that is linked to a properly resourced service, where intensity of care matches complexity of needs (stepped care);

  3. Have facilitated transitions between campus and community-based services;

  4. Have outcome and quality indicators embedded in routine care;

  5. Develop standards-of-care and fitness-to-study guidelines;

  6. Rely upon integrated research to inform development.

Determining risk factors

The U-Flourish research program aims to evaluate the scope of mental health need and identify what factors contribute to poor mental health and academic outcomes in university students and what might be important targets for early intervention and prevention initiatives on campuses.

Preliminary research found that almost one-third of students starting university at Queen’s screened positive for both clinically significant anxiety and depressive symptoms (45 per cent with functional impairment) and 18 per cent had significant sleep problems. Almost one-third of students had serious thoughts of ending their life and 6 per cent reporting having attempted suicide at least once. Mental illness, including having suicidal thoughts and self-harm, are treatable conditions. People can get help. Yet, in this study only 8.5 per cent of students indicated that they were receiving any form of treatment. Collectively, evidence points to a significant unmet need for mental health assessment and targeted intervention at entry to university.

The transition to university represents a critical opportunity for prevention through effective screening for mental health problems including suicide and self-harm, and to deliver appropriate evidence-based interventions at the right time.

To support positive outcomes for all students, researchers, clinicians and universities must work together and use the available evidence to put in place a co-ordinated system of mental health care that meets the needs of our students.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. If your life or someone else’s is in danger, call 911 for emergency services in Canada or the U.S. (or 999 in the U.K.). Or, in Canada, download The LifeLine App to find one-touch hotline crisis call, text and chat options and prevention and awareness tips; or call Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) at 1-833-456-4566.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Anne Duffy is a clinician-researcher in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Student Wellness at 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.

Working towards a sustainable future

Researchers from across Queen’s are making discoveries that help us protect our planet.

Image of Queen's University Biological Station
Queen's University Biological Station (Photo by Allen Tian)

Queen’s recognizes that climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century, and it is helping to create a more sustainable world through the knowledge and innovations that are being produced by researchers in all areas of the university.

Across Queen’s, faculty members have dedicated themselves to researching questions connected to the environment and sustainability. Taking interdisciplinary approaches to topics as wide ranging as water quality, health, economics, and engineering, Queen’s researchers are making discoveries that will help make the future of our planet greener.

Several Queen’s faculty members are actively exploring the effects that human societies are having on the environment. For instance, Dr. Diane Orihel, Assistant Professor in the Biology Department and Queen’s National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology, is working to understand how chemicals effect the environment.  Currently, she is the principal investigator on a project that studies the impact of diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” on fresh water.

Similar to Dr. Orihel, Dr. John P. Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, uses lake sediment samples to unravel the history of environmental change in order to improve understanding of human impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Dr. Smol leads an international program in the field of paleolimnology that tracks long-term trends in climatic change and develops new approaches to studying water-quality problems, among other goals.  

Water quality is also a primary focus of the Beaty Water Research Centre, which investigates a variety of issues related to the environment. Four faculty members affiliated with the centre were recently awarded with the NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. Drs. Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering), Michael Cunningham  (Chemical Engineering, Chemistry), Philip Jessop (Chemistry), and Warren Mabee (Geography and Planning, School of Policy Studies) were recognized with this prestigious award for their work in enhancing the value and sustainability of our natural renewable resources through collaboration. With the funding provided by the award, this team of researchers aims to design solutions, such as green industrial processes, to address problems caused by climate change.

Developing innovative solutions that protect the environment also motivates the research of Dr. Kerry Rowe, Canada Research Chair in Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering. To help guard the environment from contamination by waste, Dr. Rowe is currently developing new guidelines and techniques for building waste-disposal sites.

In order to tackle the problems of climate change, society will need policy solutions as well as scientific innovations. That is where the work of Dr. Kyla S. Tienhaara, Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment, comes in. Dr. Tienhaara studies government interventions in the economy through public policies that aim to achieve environmental sustainability. Through this research, Dr. Tienhaara aims to increase the environmental outcomes of future government spending initiatives.

Dr. Heather Castleden, Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relationships for Health, Environments, and Communities, is addressing problems created by climate change by bringing together different systems of knowledge. By applying Indigenous and Western knowledge systems to research involving social and environmental justice and health equity, Dr. Castleden’s work aims to reconcile relationships between Indigenous peoples and Settler Canadians as well as society’s relationship with the land, water, and air that sustain us.

Beyond our individual researchers, Queen’s also has a number of research centres and institutes that investigate an array of different issues that bear on the environment and sustainability, such as the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, the GeoEngineering Centre at Queen’s-RMC, and the Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePower).

To learn more about the many Queen’s researchers who are making discoveries that will help lead to a sustainable future, visit the new Queen’s research website.

Nobel Laureates share their thoughts on research success

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative excites sold-out audience at Queen’s University.

  • Acclaimed journalist and author André Picard (left) interviews Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie during the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative event at Queen's University. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
    Acclaimed journalist and author André Picard (left) interviews Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie during the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative event at Queen's University. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Following the one-on-one chat, Picard and Chalfie were joined on stage by Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and Queen's University's own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald.
    Following the one-on-one chat, Picard and Chalfie were joined on stage by Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and Queen's University's own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • The public discussion took place at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen's in front of a sold out audience, and over 2000 online viewers.
    The public discussion took place at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen's in front of a sold out audience, and over 2000 online viewers. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Dr. Chalfie met with groups of excited audience members following the public discussion.
    Dr. Chalfie met with groups of excited audience members following the public discussion. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Earlier in the day, Dr. Chalfie met with students, faculty, and staff at Ingenuity Labs.
    Earlier in the day, Dr. Chalfie met with students, faculty, and staff at Ingenuity Labs. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Students demonstrated various robotics projects for Dr. Chalfie during his tour of the new Ingenuity Labs space in Mitchell Hall.
    Students demonstrated various robotics projects for Dr. Chalfie during his tour of the new Ingenuity Labs space in Mitchell Hall. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Students, faculty, and staff also toured Dr. Chalfie through cutting-edge new laboratory spaces at the Beaty Water Research Centre.
    Students, faculty, and staff also toured Dr. Chalfie through cutting-edge new laboratory spaces at the Beaty Water Research Centre. (Photo by: Bernard Clark)
  • Following the tours, Dr. Chalfie met with a group of Queen's graduate students for an exclusive roundtable discussion on "success and failure at the research frontier".
    Following the tours, Dr. Chalfie met with a group of Queen's graduate students for an exclusive roundtable discussion on "success and failure at the research frontier". (Photo by: Bernard Clark)

A sold-out crowd packed Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts for the rare opportunity to hear two Nobel Laureates discuss their roads to research success, together with Canada’s Chief Science Officer Mona Nemer, and award-winning journalist and author André Picard.

Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie, who was awarded the prize for chemistry in 2008, visited Queen’s as part of the first-ever Canadian tour of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII). Organized by Nobel Media, in partnership with biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, the NPII is an international outreach program striving to connect Nobel Laureates with scientific and student communities at universities and research centres worldwide.

Queen's Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane talking with Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie.
Queen's Principal Patrick Deane in conversation with Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie.

“We are honoured to host the Nobel Inspiration Initiative and I’m excited to know that among our live audience and viewers online, we have potential future Nobel Prize Laureates who will be responsible for discoveries that make our world a better place,” says Patrick Deane, Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, during his opening remarks. “At Queen’s, we believe in the fundamental value of research and want to create an environment where researchers can push boundaries, test limits, fail safely and take risks to achieve the kind of success talked about here today.”

Picard moderated the engaging and often humorous 90-minute dialogue, which touched on the guests’ own research journeys, and topics ranging from basic research, gender imbalance in science fields, commercialization, and public trust in scientists. Richard Reznick, Dean of the Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences, first introduced Picard and Chalfie, who spoke one-on-one before Dr. Nemer and Queen’s own Nobel Laureate, Arthur B. McDonald, joined in for expanded discussion and an audience Q&A session.

“The Nobel Prize doesn’t necessarily go to the smartest scientist or the most productive, or the one with the biggest group or most published papers; it goes, in my opinion, to scientists who do things that change the way we do science or we think about the world,” says Dr. Chalfie. “Furthermore, most people don’t sit up at night thinking, How am I going to win a prize? The reward for many of us is in the discovery.”

Queen's University's Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald meets with audience members following the panel discussion.
Queen's University's Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald meets with audience members following the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public discussion.

Dr. McDonald adds: “The Nobel Prize is the icing on the cake. The real victory is in the breakthrough.”

The panelists spoke at length about the formative years of their careers, discussing early obstacles. Dr. Chalfie brought up an early-career project that did not work out and drove him to abandon the field temporarily, which stood in contrast to part of the NPII public event’s title, Failure, persistence and joy: finding the right balance for research success.

“I was very fortunate to get back into it,” he says. “When I experienced this early disappointment… I didn’t feel I should ask people for help. I didn’t have people telling me that the first time you do things, you’re going to fail. Persistence has to be coupled with mentorship and support.”

As part of the day-long NPII event, Dr. Chalfie sat with some of Queen’s most promising graduate and post-doctoral students, and early-career researchers, prior to the public dialogue for an exclusive roundtable discussion about success and failure at the research frontier. He also toured two cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary research and learning spaces on campus – the Beaty Water Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs at newly-opened Mitchell Hall – meeting with graduate and post-doctoral students, staff, and faculty.

During the public conversation, Picard posed the issue of the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields to the panelists for their comments.

Mona Nemer meets with audience members following the NPII public discussion.
Canada's Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer speaks with audience members following the public discussion.

“I’m uplifted when I look at the audience today and see so many young people,” says Dr. Nemer. “I’m looking at the many women in the audience and I want you all to know there is a place for you in these fields. Don’t let anyone stop you.”

Dr. McDonald agreed, stating that his field – physics—“needs a revolution of women in the discipline”. He also urged current students to try a variety of things while in university to discover where their passions may lie.

“Science is fun. It’s an adventure,” he says. “Embrace it!”

The event coincides with the launch of a brand new website highlighting Queen’s University’s vast complement of research pursuits and achievements. The site tells the stories behind research happening right here at Queen’s and highlights how research affects our lives and helps to shape our collective knowledge about the world.

For those who could not be among those present at the event, or among over 2000 viewers who joined our live online broadcast, you can view a video recording of the event now. A captioned version of the video will be available in the coming days.

Disturbing the peace – Meet Luissa Vahedi

[Luissa Vahedi]
Luissa Vahedi has been studying the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti as part of her master's in epidemiology, offered through the Department of Public Health Sciences at Queen's.

When you think of peacekeeping missions you might imagine blue helmeted troops handing out candy to children, and field hospitals helping the sick while distributing food and water.

But there are unseen challenges in introducing a large group of predominantly male soldiers into this type of environment for months or years at a time.

Luissa Vahedi has been studying the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti as part of her masters in epidemiology – a field which focuses on the determinants of public health.

“As the mission wound down in 2017, there were anecdotal reports of sexual interactions between peacekeepers and local women,” she says. “My research aims to understand how these relationships occur and what could be done to support the women that have given birth to children or have been exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation. Examining the legacy of this peace operation in Haiti is very timely and will help us understand how to prevent human rights violations within future peacekeeping operations.”

When she was first considering masters studies two years ago, Vahedi's connected with Susan Bartels, an associate professor of Emergency Medicine with a cross-appointment in Public Health Sciences at Queen’s, who had a funding opportunity to study peacekeeping. The research strongly related to Vahedi's interests, as she previously volunteered at a sexual assault centre and wanted to research more about the intersection of health and gender. Dr. Bartels eventually became Vahedi's supervisor, alongside Heather Stuart, a professor in Public Health Sciences, Psychiatry and Rehabilitation Therapy, as well as the Bell Canada Chair Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research.

The project involved analyzing data gathered from Haitians who voluntarily completed surveys through tablets provided by the research teams. The surveys provided broad prompts, asking the participants to tell the researchers a story about what it was like to live near UN bases. After this, the participants self-interpret their experiences which provided rich qualitative and quantitative data to Vahedi and the team.

“You get to go back to the story and contextualize those numbers with the actual lived experiences of these women and girls,” she says. “Health is comprised of physical, emotional, social, and political factors, and projects like this provide greater understanding as to how those factors affect daily behaviors, population patterns, and who we are as people. Through this degree I have learned practical skills in data analysis that are very transferable to both public health and in policy making.”

Using the data, Vahedi has built a regression model to try and predict where these interactions were geographically more likely to take place during the peacekeeping mission, and to understand how people's perceptions of these sexual interactions affects the legitimacy of the UN within Haiti.

Preparing for this project involved reading broadly about political science, the history of Haiti, and other related works. While this wasn’t something Vahedi expected as she started her research, she feels the opportunity has helped her to better round out her education and keep her open to new learning opportunities – and, besides, reading is one of her passions.

As she nears the end of her program, Vahedi is preparing for a year off from school to give her time and space to prepare a PhD application. She hopes to continue her studies in epidemiology or public health, while advocating for the use of epidemiological methods to help improve health outcomes for people in fragile states such as Haiti.

“Graduate studies can be stressful, so it has made all the difference for me that I have found a department that is supportive and had the opportunity to work with supervisors who want to see me grow and develop,” she says. “I knew it was a place for me because the campus is beautiful, it is housed in a really great city, and the public health sciences department at Queen’s has been so amazing. Working on a project that I feel very passionate about has been especially gratifying, and I am very privileged and grateful to have this opportunity.”

Hear more from Luissa Vahedi on a recent edition of the Grad Chat podcast on 101.9 CFRC.

Learn more about the Epidemiology program. 

This article was originally published by the School of Graduate Studies.

Queen’s researchers recognized by Governor General

Three academics honoured for their work on bullying, mental health, and the Arctic.

  • John Smol and Governor General Julie Payette
    John Smol (Biology, Environmental Studies) receives the Polar Medal from Governor General Julie Payette. Photo: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall — at Rideau Hall.
  • Wendy Craig and Governor General Julie Payette
    Wendy Craig (Psychology) is congratulated by Governor General Julie Payette after being appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. (Photo: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall)
  • Heather Stuart and Governor General Julie Payette
    Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) is congratulated after being named a Member of the Order of Canada by Governor General Julie Payette. (Photo: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall)

Wendy Craig (Psychology) was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) was named a Member of the Order of Canada, while John Smol was honoured with the Polar Medal. The Polar Medal is awarded to persons who have rendered extraordinary services in the polar regions and Canada’s North.

“Drs. Craig, Stuart and Smol are working in three important research areas that are making a difference to people across the country and around the world,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “These awards show the breadth of Queen’s research and the significance of academic work in addressing real world problems.”

Dr. Smol is one of the world’s foremost experts on environmental change. A Canada Research Chair and professor of biology and environmental studies, Dr. Smol has been at the vanguard of scientific discovery related to lake ecosystems for more than 30 years. By studying sediment cores, he determines how lakes have responded to climate change and other human stressors. His research, which includes studies on the effects of climate change in the Canadian North, has led to tangible policy changes and heightened public awareness.

“I am deeply honoured to receive this medal, although frankly the real credit must go to a very dedicated group of students and colleagues whom I have been honoured to work with over the years” Dr. Smol says. “However, there is much work left to do, as Northern Peoples and the ecosystems on which they depend are on the frontline of climatic and other environmental change.”

The Order of Canada is one of Canada’s highest civilian honours and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Dr. Craig is an anti-bullying champion who promotes healthy relationships. She is recognized internationally for her research on victimization and its impact on youth. She has shown exceptional commitment to translating research into practice, notably as the co-founder of PREVNet, a national network promoting safe and healthy relationships that has engaged in knowledge mobilization projects, reaching many communities across Canada. Her expertise is sought widely, notably by the World Health Organization, the United Nations and UNICEF.

“I am truly overwhelmed by this honour,” Dr. Craig says. “I have always done my work collaboratively with fellow researchers and students and so this recognition belongs to many. I am particularly grateful for my collaboration with Dr. Debra Pepler with whom I co-founded PREVNet.”

Dr. Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair, is a champion of mental health in Canada. She has worked tirelessly to shed light on the stigma surrounding mental illness and its impact on recovery. She is an advocate as well as a researcher, advancing the mental health conversation across the country through her instrumental roles in such national initiatives as Bell Let’s Talk and the Mental Health Commission’s anti-stigma program. Driven by compassion, she is leading the charge for Canadians to become agents of change.

“This is a tremendous honour,” Dr. Stuart says, “and one that shines a light on the importance of mental health advocacy and mental health research — two areas that are often underrepresented in the Canadian consciousness.”

For more information on the Order of Canada awards, visit the website.

Queen’s hosts Nobel Prize Laureates for sold-out public talk

International initiative will connect Nobel Laureates with students, researchers, and Queen’s community, during first Canadian tour.

Nobel Prize replica
The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public dialogue, featuring Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie, will also be broadcast live on the Queen's University Facebook page.
WATCH LIVE ONLINE: Tickets to the event are sold out; however you can watch our live online broadcast on the Queen’s University Facebook page or on the Queen’s Livestream site.

For early- and mid-career scientists, the ascent toward research success is a rewarding but at times daunting climb. On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the Queen’s community will hear from two researchers who have reached one of the world’s highest academic peaks: receiving the Nobel Prize.

As part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII), Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie will visit Queen’s to engage and inspire students, staff, and faculty. Dr. Chalfie shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on Green Fluorescent Protein. He will share thoughts and insights on research success during a sold-out public discussion with Canada’s Chief Science Advisor Mona Nemer, and Queen’s own Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald (Physics, 2015).

Award-winning journalist and author, André Picard, will moderate the dialogue, which will be held at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts from 2-3:30 pm that day. Open to the public, the talk is the signature event of the daylong NPII visit to Queen’s – which is one of four universities hosting the initiative on its first-ever Canadian tour.

The NPII is an international outreach program that strives to connect Nobel Laureates with scientific and student communities at universities and research centres worldwide. Organized by Nobel Media, in partnership with biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, the effort allows laureates to shed light on topics of interest to young scientists and the research community at large; including anything from career choices to work-life balance, or how best to communicate their research. Since 2010, the NPII has visited over 30 cities in 14 countries around the globe.

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative
Nobel Prize Laureate Martin Chalfie.

“We are delighted to be visiting Canada with Dr. Martin Chalfie as part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative. Having already taken the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative to the next generation of scientists on five continents we know that each event brings a new sense of excitement,” says Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer, Nobel Media. “We look forward to a fascinating discussion at Queen’s University, where a wonderful group of panellists will be exploring the questions of critical importance to the future of science, including the correct balance between fundamental and applied research, and the factors which influence scientific success.”

Along with the public discussion, Dr. Chalfie will engage in an exclusive, roundtable talk with some of Queen’s most promising graduate and post-doctoral students, and early-career researchers.

“The Nobel Prize has been considered the highest honour for academics, so it’s truly a privilege for the Queen’s community, and particularly our student researchers, to host Dr. Chalfie and the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative here on campus,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University.

While on campus, Dr. Chalfie will also tour two cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary research and learning spaces on campus – the Beaty Water Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs at newly-opened Mitchell Hall – meeting with graduate and post-doctoral students, staff, and faculty.

Queen’s University is recognized nationally for its research and graduate studies, including attracting and retaining accomplished academics and research mentors. Among them, Nobel Laureate Arthur B. McDonald, who, together with Japanese scientist Takaaki Kajita, received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for demonstrating that neutrinos have mass. Stemming from this achievement, Queen’s University, alongside university and institutional partners, launched the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute in 2018. Supported by a $63.7 million investment from the Canadian government, the Queen’s-based institute unites researchers, theorists, technical experts, and students in an effort to understand some of the universe’s deepest mysteries.

“Queen’s demonstrates marked leadership and excellence in the area of fundamental and applied science, a reputation that has been shaped by researchers like Dr. McDonald,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “In sharing their career trials and triumphs, especially in open conversation with students and faculty, Drs. McDonald, Chalfie, and Nemer, will surely help aspiring researchers in charting their own paths to success.”

The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative public discussion takes place at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, Sept. 25 from 2-3:30 pm EST. Tickets are sold out. However, you can still experience the event by watching our live online broadcast on the Queen’s University Facebook page or on the Queen’s Livestream site. To join the event’s wait list or receive a reminder about the livestream, register for tickets on our Eventbrite. Don’t forget to like our Facebook page or bookmark the livestream link for additional notifications when the event goes live. 

Health Sciences creates a brand-new orientation

The first on-campus health sciences students have arrived on campus, and have already made new orientation traditions.

Photo of Health Sciences orientation event
First-year Bachelor of Health Sciences students celebrating orientation week.

Queen’s is known for its colourful and proud orientation week. Each faculty or program has its own set of colours, chants, and traditions that welcome new students to the university every fall. But one group of students this year is experiencing a brand-new orientation: the incoming Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) students.

The BHSc launched as an online program in 2016, and this fall has started offering a full-time on-campus program as well. The program received over 4,000 applications for its first cohort and has admitted approximately 125 students. Housed in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), the BHSc is a course of study that prepares undergraduate students to pursue a career in health professions, such as medicine, physical therapy, and pharmacy.

As it prepared for this new group of students, FHS needed to create a new orientation to usher them into life at Queen’s.

This situation, however, presented an obstacle. Normally, faculty orientations at Queen’s are led by upper-year students in those programs. Each orientation has an orientation chair, a student who oversees the organization of all activities. But, as a new program, the on-campus BHSc did not have any upper-year students to choose from to be their orientation chair.

To fill this role, the program put out a call to upper year students interested in leading this initiative. Elle Mackenzie, a fourth-year Life Sciences student who had served as an executive for the NEWTS orientation in 2018, was selected and has provided exemplary leadership.  While her prior experience had taught Mackenzie about the work that goes into organizing a series of events, the BHSc posed a new challenge: figuring out how to build an orientation from scratch.

Early on, Mackenzie ran into questions that no one at Queen’s had needed to ask for over a decade. How do you set up a bank account for an orientation group? How do you order tams with a new colour scheme? What name do you choose for orientation leaders?

As Mackenzie started to deal with these issues, she found that she had a large support network to rely on. The members of the Orientation Roundtable, the group that coordinates orientation activities across the university, were especially helpful. She also had the help of administrators in the BHSc program as well as the rest of the team of student organizers, which includes the Health Sciences Executive Committee and the orientation leaders.   

Working together, the Health Sciences Orientation team has developed a program that introduces new health sciences students to academics, social life, and community outreach at Queen’s. The new orientation also mixes some traditional Queen’s events, like coverall painting, with innovative activities. Let’s Get Scrambled, for example, mixed the students into different teams to take part in a game of capture the flag where the flags are eggs.

To introduce students to the innovative format of classes in the BHSc program, the orientation featured a mock lecture. The on-campus Bachelor of Health Sciences program is taught in an innovative flipped classroom format, in which students are asked to actively engage with concepts in class. The mock lecture, then, was an opportunity for students to get used to the kinds of activities they will be doing in their courses.

Getting involved in the Queen’s spirit of community outreach, the new health sciences students also ran a charity fashion show for Supporting Diabetes Canada. The students brought clothes from home to donate for a fashion show, in which they mixed and matched all the garments to create entertaining outfits, which they then modeled for the group. Representatives from Supporting Diabetes Canada attended the fashion show, taught the students about their organization, and then accepted the donated garments after the event.

Despite all the work that they have put into this year’s program, the organizers have also been keeping in mind that the Health Sciences Orientation will need room to evolve as students from the BHSc program gradually take it over in the coming years.

“We wanted to give health sciences students a solid foundation to build on, but we also wanted to make them feel a sense of ownership over their orientation,” says Mackenzie. “I think we’re all looking forward to seeing how these students put their own stamp on things in the future.”

Getting to know the Class of 2023

This group of incoming students come from across Canada and around the world.

[Queen's students take part in  orientation]
Incoming first-year students share a laugh during the Queen's Welcomes U event on Saturday, Aug. 31. (Photo by Bernard Clark / Queen's University)

The undergraduate Class of 2023 is now on campus, and they are already adding vibrancy and diversity to Queen’s. In this new class, there are more than 4,600 students from all 10 provinces and three territories in Canada as well as students from 49 countries around the world. Queen’s and Kingston continue to be a destination of choice for international students who this year will make up more than 14% of incoming undergraduates.

The overall average of the incoming class is 89.5 per cent and students are entering a wide range of programs; two-thirds are in the Faculty of Arts and Science; 17 per cent are in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science; 10 per cent of students are in the Smith School of Business and five per cent in the Faculty of Health Sciences, which is welcoming its first on-campus cohort to the Bachelor of Health Sciences program.

Additionally, more than 100 Arts and Science students will be spending their first year at the Bader International Study Centre in East Sussex, England. This group will be joining their classmates in Kingston next September to complete the remainder of their studies.

Grant supports research into pain-relieving drugs for bowel disease

Three-year research project to determine effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

[Dr. Stephen Vanner by Matthew Manor]
Dr. Stephen Vanner has received funding  to lead a three-year research project to determine the effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (Photo by Matthew Manor)

Stephen Vanner, a clinician-scientist with Queen’s University and the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, has received funding to lead a three-year research project to determine the effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

One of the greatest unmet needs of patients with IBD is abdominal pain. Current opioid drugs are the most effective treatment, but they have serious side effects. However, new opioid drugs now in development offer longer-lasting pain relief with minimal side effects.

Dr. Vanner, Director of the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Kingston Health Sciences Centre and a professor of the Queen’s School of Medicine, has been awarded $375,000 from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada to support early-stage laboratory research that will look at delivering these opioids to specific targets in pain-sensing nerves to reduce pain while mitigating side effects of opioids.

One of the drugs inhibits these pain-sensing nerves in a unique way that leads to sustained pain relief. Another targets these nerves only in inflamed tissues.

“These particular drugs should have no effect on normal tissues, so they could limit or even prevent side effects,” Dr. Vanner says.

This research builds on a large body of earlier IBD work by Dr. Vanner’s group into pain-signalling pathways that suggest these strategies will be effective.

“If these approaches work, the next step could be clinical trials in patients,” he says.

Approximately 1,100 Kingstonians live with IBD, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, and the number of Canadians with this disease is expected to jump from 270,000 to more than 400,000 by 2030. Canada has the highest rate of IBD in the world.

This article was first published on the KGH Research Institute website

Mobilizing international academics

Program at Queen’s University welcomes scholars from around the world to work in collaboration with local researchers.

Top row left to right: Lévis Kahandukya Nyavanda, Nuworza Kugbey, Ryenchindorj Erkhembayar. Bottom row left to right: Phidelia Doegah, Munkhzaya Mandakh, Masauso Chirwa, Gantuya Dorj

Seven international scholars travelled to Canada this summer to participate in the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program and work with researchers based at Queen’s University. Hailing from Mongolia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Ghana the team is working to address factors that contribute to maternal and child health inequities among disadvantaged groups within the Kingston area.

Their work will result in new research dedicated to understanding barriers to accessing maternal and child health among equity-seeking groups; strategies for addressing these barriers; development of a network focused on equity, and improved research capacity and strengthened relationships in and across all partner institutions.

The aim of the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program is to mobilize a community of young global researchers through inter-cultural exchanges comprising international education, discovery and inquiry, and professional experiences so they can bring those experiences back to their home countries.

Ryenchindorj Erkhembayar (l) and Lévis Kahandukya Nyavanda work together on a project.

“The program is very useful and for me as a lecturer and researcher,” says Munkzaya Mandakh, a PhD candidate from Mongolia. “First off, I have strengthened my command of the English language, then I have enhanced my knowledge studying in a developed country like Canada. For me it was the personalized approach of training and responsiveness of all staff to the needs of each trainee which I think are unique characteristics of Queen’s.”

At Queen’s, the QE Scholars are hosted by ARCH -  A Research Collaborative for Global Health Equity  which includes Queen’s professors Heather Aldersey, Eva Purkey, Colleen Davison, and Susan Bartels.

 “The QES project has presented amazing opportunities for collaboration with international partners,” Dr. Purkey says. “It has built my own research capabilities and allowed me to practice mentoring colleagues across cultures and geographic locations. It is my hope that this will produce ongoing partnerships not only with existing scholars, but with their institutions, as well as possibilities for further network development.”

The group has been working with the Street Health Centre in Kingston. The facility is a 365-days-a-year harm reduction health centre that specializes in providing accessible, responsive, health services to communities that are marginalized from mainstream healthcare services. 

Along with academic work (l to r) Phidelia Doegah, Nuworza Kugbey, Masauso Chirwa, Lévis Kahandukya Nyavanda enjoyed their first strawberry picking trip.

“Having QES scholars and mentors has been an amazing opportunity for Street Health Centre,” says Meredith MacKenzie, who works at the centre. “This has given us a chance to have resources to investigate some growing areas of practice that may influence policy and program development for clients in Kingston.”

Leaving at the end of August, the scholars have received a number of benefits from their time at Queen’s and in Kingston.

“Most importantly I have gained the knowledge of writing winnable grant proposals and the professional networks I have formed will definitely be very important for my career development,” says Masauso Chirwa, a scholar from Zambia. “I have received tremendous support from Queen’s, an ideal place for professional development through seminars and paper presentations. I’m the coordinator for postgraduate studies in my home country, thus, this will give me a platform to share the acquired knowledge not only with the academic staff but also postgraduate students.”

Learn more about the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program.

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