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Research Prominence

Queen’s receives $4M for new Lyme disease research network

New network will generate knowledge for prevention, control, diagnosis, and treatment of the tick-borne illness.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Government of Canada announced a $4 million investment in a new multidisciplinary research network that will bring together scientists, clinicians, and patients to address gaps in the approach to prevention, control, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme disease, on Monday, Oct. 15.

Many Queen’s researchers will be part of the research network, including:
Adrian Baranchuk (Biomedical & Molecular Sciences)
Rob Brison (Emergency Medicine)
Robert Calautti (Biology)
DongMei Chen (Geography & Planning)
Troy Day (Mathematics & Statistics)
Rylan Egan (Health Sciences)
Gerald Evans (Medicine, Biomedical & Molecular Sciences, Pathology & Molecular Medicine)
Katrina Gee (Biomedical & Molecular Sciences)
Michael Green (Family Medicine)
Ana Johnson (Cancer Research Institute, Public Health Sciences)
Kirk Leifso (Pediatrics)
Anna Majury (Biomedical & Molecular Sciences, Environmental Studies)
Bob McGraw (Emergency Medicine)
David Messenger (Emergency Medicine)
Lois Shepherd (Cancer Research Institute)
Prameet Sheth (Pathology & Molecular Medicine)
Marco Sivilotti (Emergency Medicine, Biomedical & Molecular Sciences)
Shakeel Virk (Pathology & Molecular Medicine)
Evan Wilson (Medicine)

Led by Queen’s University Professor of Emergency and Family Medicine Kieran Moore, the Pan-Canadian Research Network on Lyme Disease’s multi-pronged mandate seeks to make a national impact on health outcomes, practice, programs and policy related to Lyme disease. Lyme disease is becoming more prevalent each year, due in part to climate change.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Queen's University
Kieran Moore, Queen's University

“We would like to thank the Government of Canada and CIHR for the opportunity to advance the science of Lyme disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment,” says Dr. Moore, who is also the Medical Officer of Health with Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health. “Our network, based at Queen’s University, will collaborate with patients and our many academic and government partners to protect the health of Canadians from coast to coast. We will provide the national capacity to have a coordinated, integrated, and multidisciplinary response to the emerging infectious disease threat of Lyme disease.”

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria transmitted to people through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person, but most people experience an expanding red rash at the sight of the tick bite, fever, chills and flu-like symptoms while others may have more serious symptoms, such as heart, joint and neurological disorders.

“With the incidence of Lyme disease on the rise in Canada, Dr. Moore and his team will be uniquely positioned to respond to the research gaps related to Lyme disease in Canada,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s.

This federal government’s investment, through CIHR, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, is part of a concerted commitment to support the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The Pan-Canadian Research Network on Lyme Disease also builds on Canada’s ongoing efforts to tackle the illness through surveillance, research, sharing of best practices, laboratory diagnostics and testing, prevention education, and public education and awareness.

“The Government of Canada is proud to support a research network that focuses on collaboration between Lyme disease stakeholders from across the country to improve patient outcomes and access to care,” says Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health for the Government of Canada. “We understand that Lyme disease is emerging in many parts of the country, due in part to climate change, and we are committed to minimizing the public health risk associated with this disease.”

Learn more about Canada’s federal framework for Lyme disease and the CIHR.

A royal honour

Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Richard Reznick receives honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, has been recognized with a major honour from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

[Dr. Richard Reznick RSCE]
Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's, received an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of England on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in Liverpool. (Supplied photo)

At a ceremony in Liverpool on Wednesday, Oct. 10, Dr. Reznick was awarded an honorary fellowship. Reserved for surgeons and other distinguished medical practitioners, it is the highest honour the organization can confer.

“I have had a relationship with the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the British surgical community for 25 years, learning from each other, and sharing many common ideas about a joint vision of what modern surgical training looks like.” Dr. Reznick says. “It is an honour to be recognized by such a highly respected institution as an honorary fellow.”

His work with his colleagues in Britain centers around promoting an acceleration of the training needed to become a specialist; both here in Canada and in Britain. Britain sits at the long end of the time it takes to move through medical school, residency and postgraduate training to become a specialist compared to other countries. Much of Dr. Reznick’s work has been to streamline training where appropriate. 

“I sometimes worry that when I show up to speak at meetings in the UK, that they’ll be throwing rotten tomatoes at me. But they don’t,” Dr. Reznick says. “They embrace the fact that there may be a new way to accomplish training in their country, and that accelerated training may have advantages.”

Dr. Reznick was first appointed Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s in 2010 and was reappointed for a second five-year term in 2016. During his time as dean, Queen’s School of Medicine has embraced new models of teaching and training through the implementation of Competency-Based Medical Education across all of its residency programs.

Dr. Reznick, one of North America’s pre-eminent surgical educators, is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the American College of Surgeons, and in 2011, he was awarded honorary fellowships from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Research rooted in success

Queen's University biologist William Plaxton honoured for his work in the field of plant biology.

Queen’s University researcher William Plaxton (Biology) was recently awarded the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists’ Gold Medal, a lifetime achievement award for outstanding published contributions and distinguished service to plant biology in Canada.

Dr. Plaxton joined Queen’s 33 years ago and enjoys an international reputation for his research in understanding the organization and control of plant carbohydrate and phosphorus metabolism.

His work has significant long-term applications to problems in Canadian and worldwide agriculture including modification of oil and protein levels in oilseeds such as canola, optimizing plant-based conversion of carbon dioxide into renewable energy sources, and the development of phosphorus efficient crops – urgently needed to reduce the use of non-renewable, unsustainable, and polluting phosphate fertilizers.

“We have a first-rate team of researchers here in the Department of Biology at Queen’s that have been conducting excellent research in the area of plants and plant biology since the 1960s” says Dr. Plaxton.

In order to achieve the results that he’s had, Dr. Plaxton gives full credit to the students and post-doctoral fellows he has mentored.

“It’s been an honour and privilege to work with the students and post-docs that I have supervised,” he says. “My focus is to help my current students to be successful and to go on to productive careers – just like my students before them. I tell them to keep their eyes open and follow their passion. They need to follow their research and they will be a success.”

He also credits the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Queen’s Research Chairs program for providing key funding for his research program.

“We are immensely proud of Bill’s accomplishments in plant biology,” says Brian Cumming, Head of Biology. “His expertise in the organization and control of plant metabolism have established him as an international expert, and not surprisingly an integral part of plant research in our department. It is no surprise to me that he has received such a distinguished award.”

Queen’s receives more than $15.5 million for discovery science

The Government of Canada invests $558 million in NSERC’s Discovery Grants programs, including $15.5 million in support of Queen’s researchers.

Chemistry research
 More than 70  faculty and students across disciplines at Queen’s are receiving a combined $15.5 million in discovery research funding from the Government of Canada. (University Communications)

Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced an historic investment of $558 million in discovery research funding on Tuesday, Oct. 9, as part of the Government of Canada’s plan to attract global talent, promote diversity, and fuel discovery and innovation in science.

• The 70+ Queen’s researchers (faculty and students) have been funded through NSERC’s Discovery Grants, Discovery Accelerator Supplements, Research Tools and Instruments Grants, and Discovery Grant Northern Research Supplements, as well as Canada Graduate Scholarships, NSERC Postgraduate Scholarships and Postdoctoral Fellowships
• The $558 million research investment announced Oct. 9 includes $70 million in new funding from Budget 2018. The grants go toward NSERC discovery programs, graduate and postgraduate scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, and research tools and instruments
• This investment also includes $5.4 million in funding to more than 400 Early Career Researchers in the first year of their Discovery Grants to help them launch their careers
• Investments in science are essential to innovation and to the economic strength of a country

Supported through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Discovery Grant programs, the funding will provide over 4,000 researchers and students across the country with the means to pursue world-leading scientific work. This includes the more than 70  faculty and students across disciplines at Queen’s whose funding amounts to more than $15.5 million.

“Through this historic investment, Queen’s researchers will have the resources and tools to tackle questions of critical importance to Canada – from food safety to protecting the nation’s coastal waters,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  

According to NSERC, this is the largest investment in research from the funding agency this year and it includes $70 million in new funding announced in Budget 2018. With this investment, the Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to science by giving more support to researchers and students

“Canada supports science and our talented researchers. Today, we are delivering on our historic investment in research and in the next generation of scientists. These remarkable researchers and students we are celebrating are working to make the world a better place and to secure a brighter future for all Canadians,” says Minister Duncan.

For more information on the Discovery Grants programs, visit the NSERC website.

Considering careers

Four days of workshops and advice are being planned to help graduate students and post-doctoral fellows find work.

[Queen's University Gordon Hall Graduate Studies]
Gordon Hall. (Photo by Greg Black)

Writing a resume, perfecting your presentation, and looking like a LinkedIn pro are a few of the topics in focus for the School of Graduate Studies’ (SGS’) 2018 Career Week.

Each year, SGS hosts a multi-day program aimed at supporting students as they prepare to finish their studies and transition to the working world, while also giving them useful skills to help them complete their dissertation and communicate the value of their research.

“Career Week is an important time for our students to both equip themselves for the remainder of their studies, and prepare themselves to transition to the workforce – whether that is in academia, government, or private industry,” says Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean (School of Graduate Studies). “We encourage all of our graduate and post-doctoral fellows to take advantage of our programming this week.”

Career Week 2018 began on Tuesday with a session, hosted by Mitacs, focused on presentation skills. The daylong workshop will provide a number of valuable tips and tricks and will also offer participants the opportunity for on-site practice.

On Wednesday, a presenter from Queen’s Career Services will review how to use LinkedIn and, in particular, how to research the career paths of alumni from a variety of disciplines to help inform job searches.

Thursday and Friday are the busiest days, with sessions designed to help graduate students and post-doctoral fellows articulate the value of their experience, prepare their CV, resume and cover letter, and practice mock interviews. These sessions will speak to those who are pursuing graduate degrees and work inside and out of the academy.

The capstone for the week will be a presentation on Friday, Oct. 19 from Shari Graydon, an award-winning author, advocate, and educator. Ms. Graydon will be giving a presentation designed to help graduate students and post-doctoral fellows how to communicate their research to increase their impact.

"Brilliance, without the capacity to communicate it, is often wasted," she says. "Scholars who've mastered the basic skills needed to translate their evidence-based knowledge into accessible and engaging analysis are better equipped to achieve impact beyond academia. Jettisoning the jargon, making clear why people should care, and complementing data with stories -- these are among the practical strategies we'll cover to help students amplify their voices." 

Also on the Friday, a reception at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre will bring together 100 graduate students and post-docs to mingle with community members from local organizations, businesses, and alumni.

For the full program and other details, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.

The Conversation: Sex-ed is crucial to the rights of children

Young people need to get the most comprehensive and contemporary information about relationships and sexual activity.

[Sex-ed in the classroom]
Sex-ed in schools can help teach the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. (NeONBRAND/Unsplash)

Young people today live in a complex, fast-paced and perpetually connected world and face issues and pressures that were not even anticipated two decades ago.

They need a brand of sex education that is responsive to current realities, behaviours and pressures so they can get the most comprehensive and contemporary information about the issues that they will face and are facing in making decisions about relationships and sexual activity.

Public lecture
Valerie Michaelson and three of her colleagues hosted Your Body. Whose Rules? a public lecture designed to explore the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum through the lens of children’s rights, on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
A keynote lecture was given by Rebecca Bromwich, Program Director of the Graduate Diploma in Conflict Resolution in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University.
“Rather than having a debate about which adult holds the power, it’s the wellbeing of children that needs to be at the forefront of this discussion,” says Dr. Michaelson.
The main focus of the public lecture was the rights of young people. Dr. Michaelson says that children and youth should be asked to help identify the most pressing issues they face in their lives in relation to the curriculum, and that they have a right to have a say in how, what and when they learn about matters related to their own health and well-being, including learning about their bodies.
“We need to reach children early. It’s critical that even in elementary school we create a culture of consent and also teach children about healthy relationships. This event was not so much about starting a movement as it was drawing from our various disciplinary lenses to contribute to an important conversation that is already going on."

Yet value-laden debates have recently resurfaced on the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum, with attention focused on sex-ed. Political parties with opposing arguments often zoom in on cultural, moral, religious and family values, but for our children and youth, the stakes are much higher.

Research shows that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) helps young people understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, and gives them tools to help protect them from violence and non-consensual sexual activity. When a young person has been abused, it helps them know how to get help.

Some of the aims of teaching comprehensive sexuality education are to empower and equip young people to “develop respectful social and sexual relationships,” to “consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others” and to help them protect their own rights as well as those of others.

Having relevant and current information is crucial to setting young people on a healthy path for life. It helps them learn to respect their own bodies and emerging sexuality and that of others, and it factors in on decisions around sexual activity.

What’s religion got to do with it?

Religion is sometimes raised as the reason for removing young people from sex-ed. Some religious leaders and parents might say their religion opposes certain teachings about sex. But religious groups are diverse and varied.

Religion is not against sex education. One Australian study shows that religious young people usually say they want to know about sex, even as they also want to maintain the religious values of their families.

Some worry that sex-ed might increase sexual activity among youth. Yet globally, a great many studies show that the provision of accurate CSE is associated with delayed sexual activity – not early. Evidence shows that youth who are taught sex-ed delay sexual activity, and for those who are sexually engaged, it reduces the number of sexual partners and unplanned pregnancies and increases the use of contraception.

Sex-ed is also directly linked with increased levels of autonomy, confidence, emotional well-being and better communication in adolescent relationships. Each young person has to make important decisions about their sexuality and sexual health, or will at some point in the future. Having accurate information is essential to their ability to make these decisions in a way that protects not only their health and well-being, but their dignity.

Equipping young people with sex-ed knowledge is something that many religious leaders and people of faith would argue is core to their beliefs. What can sometimes look like a “public contest” between religion and sex is often narrowly portrayed and reinforces the assumption that religion and sex only exist in tension. This is just not true.

Here in Ontario, many religious leaders have spoken out in support of CSE, including more than 250 United Church clergy. When the revised curriculum was first introduced in 2015, members of the Muslim community in Toronto also spoke out in support of it.

Rabea Murtaza, one of the founders of Muslims for Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum, said: “Curriculum is an opportunity for Muslim families to have mutual, two-way dialogue about values, relationships, marriage and sexuality.”

These voices, and more, see sex-ed not as an attack on anyone’s religion, culture or values, but as evidence-based lessons that complement the unique values of each family and community.

[Sex-ed in Ontario schools]
Sex-ed can equip and empower young people to make healthy and safe choices about their sexuality for themselves and for others. (Simeon Jacobson/Unsplash)

Barriers to sexual health

Internationally, overcoming barriers to contemporary, comprehensive sexuality education is a strategic and growing priority. One of the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to have CSE available for all children.

Globally, advocates argue for things that we may take for granted in Canada: that adolescents must have their bodies respected, and must be able to make their own decisions around choice of partner, and whether and when to be sexually active, marry or have children.

Worldwide, adolescents face significant barriers in these areas.At least 23 million girls aged 15 to 19 have an unmet need for modern contraception, which is largely due to the social stigma associated with sexuality education and any discussion of premarital sex. The leading cause of death in this age group is related to unsafe abortions and pregnancy complications..

Ignoring the rights of children

This highly political battle has been centred on which group of adults has the power to determine the information that children will hear. Setting up discussions about what children should learn in school as a battle between various “authorities” misses a fundamental aspect of what is at stake: the health, sexuality, involvement, self-expression and rights of our youth.

International treaty obligations, Canadian constitutional rights under the Charter, and human rights legislation do not explicitly mention sex-ed curriculum. However, it is a matter of law, both domestically and under international treaty obligations, specifically those outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that children are persons with rights to make choices for themselves.

Ultimately, when we are talking about bodily autonomy, health and consent, it is not the rights, beliefs or values of adults in authority, but the power of youths themselves to make informed decisions about, and protect, their own bodies, that should be the focus of education.

Children and youth are no one’s property. They own their own bodies and have legal rights to information, freedom of expression, identity and autonomy.

We need to stop using health education as a political tool deployed in the interests of winning elections and focus instead on the interests of the next generation.


Valerie Michaelson is a post-doctoral fellow at the School of Religion and Department of Public Health Sciences at Queen's. Colleen M. Davison is an assistant professor of Global Public Health at Queen’s.  Pamela Dickey Young is a professor of Religious Studies and acting director, Queen’s School of Religion.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

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

Offering insight to address health care challenges

Richard Reznick
Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Richard Reznick, was appointed to the Premier's Council on Improving Health Care and Ending Hallway Medicine on Wednesday, Oct. 3. (University Communications) 

Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's, is one of 11 leading experts appointed as members of the Premier's Council on Improving Health Care and Ending Hallway Medicine on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Members of the Premier's Council on Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine
• Dr. Rueben Devlin, Special Advisor and Chair
• Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, Professor and Dean, Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto
• Connie Clerici, CEO, Closing the Gap Healthcare
• Barb Collins, President and CEO, Humber River Hospital
• Michael Decter, President and CEO, LDIC Inc.
• Peter Harris, Barrister and Solicitor
• Dr. Jack Kitts, President and CEO, The Ottawa Hospital
• Kimberly Moran, CEO, Children's Mental Health Ontario
• David Murray, Executive Director, Northwest Health Alliance
• Dr. Richard Reznick, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences at Queens University
• Shirlee Sharkey, President and CEO, Saint Elizabeth Health

The announcement was part of a broader Ontario Government proposal to address challenges within the Ontario health care system, including hospital wait times and the lack of available beds.

“There are dramatic needs to improve our performance in healthcare, including ending hallway medicine,” says Dr. Reznick. “These are complex challenges that will require broad vision, creative thinking, and dogged determination. As Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, I see on a daily basis both the strengths and weaknesses of our system, and am very excited to be a part of the Premier's Council on Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine that will help us move forward in delivering the best possible care to our patients across Ontario.”

Under the leadership of Rueben Devlin – who was named chair of the council and special advisor to the premier on healthcare following the election – the council will recommend strategic priorities and advise on actions that can be taken to improve Ontario's health outcomes and improve patient satisfaction, while making Ontario's health care system more efficient. The council members include representatives from academia, as well as the legal and hospital administration communities.

Dr. Reznick is one of two members of the council with a Queen’s connection, along with Humber River Hospital President and CEO, Barb Collins (MBA’05).

Since being appointed dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in 2010, Dr. Reznick has worked to strengthen relationships with Kingston Health Sciences Centre, while leading the development of new programs and approaches to differentiate Queen’s medical education. Under his leadership, the Queen’s School of Medicine launched Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School (QuARMS) – Canada’s first and only direct admissions track for high school students.

More recently, Queen’s became the first medical school in Canada to institute a Competency-Based Medical Education (CBME) model of medical residency training across all specialties. CBME transitions from a time-based means of measuring skill-development, to one that focuses on the ability of a medical resident to achieve competency in completing clinical tasks. Through more individualized learning and assessment, the program aims to help the next generation of medical residents become better physicians.

“During his tenure as dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Reznick has been at the forefront of the development of innovative programs and approaches to medical training and assessment,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf. “I have every confidence that his ability to find new approaches to long-standing challenges will serve him and the Premier’s Advisory Council well.”

For more information on the announcement, visit the Government of Ontario newsroom.

Beauty of research resonates on campus

  • Art of Research photo exhibit
    Photos from the Art of Research contest are featured in a travelling, pop-up photo exhibit currently being held on the first floor of Stauffer Library.
  • Art of Research building banner
    New building banners highlighting Queen's research were recently placed on prominent buildings, including Stauffer Library and Grant Hall.
  • Art of Research light post pennants
    A series of four pennants, featuring photos from the Art of Research contest, adorn the light posts along University Avenue.

Every day impactful, cutting-edge research is being conducted at Queen’s and the university wants everyone to know about it.

Enter a new multi-faceted campaign on campus aimed at promoting and celebrating the groundbreaking work of the university’s researchers.

“Research is core to the foundation of Queen’s as an institution, yet much of the work takes place where it isn’t easily accessible to the public – in labs, archives, and in the field,” says Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives. “While many of our research promotion initiatives are aimed at external stakeholders, the goal of this campaign is to showcase the breadth and impact of our research to the Queen’s and Kingston communities, while at the same time adding a little more beauty to campus.”

Other building banners and light pole pennants around campus are highlighting a pair of celebrations – the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Education and the 125th anniversary of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

At the heart of Queen’s, building banners celebrating award-winning research don Grant Hall and Stauffer library. Pole pennants have also been installed on the light posts along University Avenue, featuring images from the Art of Research photo contest. Each year the popular photo contest provides faculty, students, alumni, and staff the opportunity to showcase their research, scholarly, and artistic work. It also provides many amazing photos.

Together, the new banners cover a wide array of research – from arts and humanities to physics to cancer and health sciences to biodiversity and climate change.

The first image, Santa Fina, was taken by Una D’Elia, a faculty member in the Department of Art History and Art Conservation, at Musei Civici in San Gimignano, Italy. The striking image shows a marble bust of a saint by sculptor Pietro Torrigiani, a competitor of Michelangelo.

The second image, Leaving Home, features a spheroid of cancer cells embedded in a 3D protein matrix as seen through a microscope. Taken by Eric  Lian, a PhD  student in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, individual cells can be seen radiating away on all sides.

The third image, Razorbill, was captured by Brody Crosby, a Master’s student in the Department of Biology during fieldwork on seabirds in Witless Bay, Nfld. Mistakenly assuming the approaching researchers were its parents, the razorbill chick is captured as it begs for a meal.

The fourth image is a rendition of the universe, and captures the work of researchers elucidating the fundamental building blocks of the universe, shedding light on things we cannot see.

The Art of Research is also being featured in a travelling, pop-up photo exhibit currently being held on the first floor of Stauffer Library. Offering a large selection of photos from the last three years of the contest, the exhibit highlights the diversity of research happening across campus.

The photo exhibit will subsequently be on display in Grant Hall for Homecoming, Oct. 19-21, and then in the Lederman Law Library, Oct. 22-Nov. 5.

The exhibit is also available to campus partners throughout the year for events and display purposes.

For more information on research at Queen’s or the Art of Research photo contest, visit the website.

A member of the prestigious U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, Queen’s has a long history of unmistakable discovery and innovation that has shaped our knowledge and helped address some of the world’s deepest mysteries and most pressing questions

The Conversation: We all put too much emphasis on test scores

[School test]
Language tests are an important factor in determining whether international students are admitted to universities (Photo by Ben Mullins/Unsplash)

We live in testing times. We also live in a time of globalization, immigration and the internationalization of schools and universities around the world. Our current obsession with school accountability and student learning outcomes has resulted in the increased use and abuse of test scores — in particular language test scores.

Language test scores are now an admission ticket for post-secondary education and for skilled immigrants trying to gain entry into new countries. Test scores serve as the key to learning opportunities and professional success, impacting millions of lives. They also play a crucial role in political, social and educational policies.

Despite the considerable consequences of language testing, what exactly do test scores indicate? What can we tell about someone and their achievement or professional capability from a single test score? What are the implications when bureaucrats and education officials misinterpret test scores when making policy decisions on immigration or attracting more international students?

[The Conversation]In my role as director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University, I’ve been involved in research on how students are tested for language proficiency and the consequences of such testing.

Second language is essential

It’s an important topic because evidence shows that an ability to speak a second language can determine so many things about an immigrant’s future, including economic success, social integration and their overall ability to contribute to society. My research looks at the prevalence and impact of language testing. A key issue is how test scores are used or misused by policy makers.

We should not be using a single test score to make decisions that can have a huge impact on someone’s life. However, governments and organizations tend to do this because it is cheaper and they believe it offers a more clean-cut case on immigration, university entrance and professional certification.

According to the latest census data, Canada has more than 7.5 million foreign-born individuals who arrived as immigrants. That represents about 22 per cent of the population.

All skilled workers and professionals who wish to immigrate to Canada need to demonstrate their English or French language ability via a language test, no matter where in the world they come from. The results of their test scores determine whether they are permitted to settle and to practise as recertified professionals in Canada.

Increase in international students

There has been a rapid increase in the number of international students who wish to study at Canadian universities. The latest federal government data shows Canada had roughly 500,000 international students at the end of 2017. Canada’s international student population has nearly tripled over the past decade and now ranks fourth behind the United States, the United Kingdom and China. Canada retains many of these international students as skilled workers through Express Entry.

All international students are required to take a language test as part of the application process and their scores must meet the entrance requirements for Canadian universities.

It’s natural to assume anyone taking those tests would be nervous, anxious or even frustrated. That is what we call high-stakes testing, which affects the lives of millions of people, all over the world, every day.

An incomplete picture

For example, when the stakes are high, research suggests that test-takers’ motivation and anxiety are significant factors associated with their test performance. Judging someone’s test score without taking those factors into account presents an incomplete picture of the person taking the test.

Successfully evaluating someone’s English- or French-language abilities through various language tests has a direct impact on millions of lives of people who come to Canada to study and settle.

Education and government decision-makers should not rely solely on test scores when making decisions about admitting people to schools or the country. That’s why test validation — ensuring accurate uses and interpretations of the test scores — has become so important and has grown into a major field of research.

Our research at Queen’s is intended to raise public awareness of the intended and unintended consequences of how test scores are used and to make the case that policy-makers need better training on how to properly interpret scores.The Conversation


Liying Cheng is professor and director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group (AEG) at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University. Her primary research interests are the impact of large-scale testing on instruction, the relationships between assessment and instruction, and the academic and professional acculturation of international and new immigrant students, workers, and professionals to Canada.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

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

A step in the right direction

Queen's University researcher Lauren Welte challenges the traditional thinking around the human foot.

New research from Queen’s University PhD candidate Lauren Welte is challenging traditional thinking on the function of the human foot. Her latest project could impact the way orthotics are designed and people are treated for a number of foot conditions, including plantar fasciitis.

“We investigated how modifying the shape of the arch of the human foot affects the energy absorbed and returned during a dynamic compression,” says Ms. Welte. This work is part of an international and multi-disciplinary collaboration between Ms. Welte and her mentor Dr. Michael Rainbow at Queen’s University, as well as Dr. Glen Lichtwark and Dr. Luke Kelly at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

Lauren Welte's research into the human foot could change the way orthotics are designed. (University Communications)

“This collaboration took advantage of new technology that has allowed us to investigate conventional thinking around the foot.”

To change the shape of the arch, the researchers elevated the toes to engage the windlass mechanism of the plantar fascia, a flat band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. The windlass mechanism is an important part of normal foot function and causes the arch to be higher, but shorter in length.

Ms. Welte says that prior research had shown the foot became stiff during the engagement of the windlass mechanism, which was first described in 1954 after physical examination of people’s feet. Using advanced technology that allows for 3D modelling of the foot, her new research shows the foot actually becomes more pliable and that could have an impact on the design of orthotics, footwear, and even prosthetic limbs.

The research was completed in the Human Mobility Research Centre in Kingston, Ontario, and the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia. The researchers received support from NSERC and the Australian Research Council to conduct this work.

“This is the first step in our research,” says Ms. Welte. “We want to take these results and see how the windlass mechanism affects how the arch manages energy absorption and return while walking and running. The new Skeletal Observation Lab in Hotel Dieu Hospital will allow us to use x-ray and high-speed cameras to answer these questions.”

The paper is currently on the ‘top read’ list in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.


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