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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.

The Conversation: Why life insurance companies want your Fitbit data

Fitbit data
Insurance companies have been keeping track the physical activities of customers, but previous initiatives were pilot projects. (Photo: Unsplash/John Schnobrich)

I recently predicted that health data from electronic sources could soon be compiled into a health or wellness report and shared with insurance companies to help them determine who they’ll cover.

And now John Hancock, the U.S. division of Canadian insurance giant Manulife, requires customers to use activity trackers for life insurance policies in their Vitality program if they want to get discounts on their premiums and other perks.

Customers can withhold their fitness data, but that will result in higher premiums, which may put life insurance out of reach for low-income earners. This in turn could have an impact on whether would-be homeowners can take out mortgages, some of which can require a life insurance policy on the principle borrower.

The fact that insurance companies track the physical activities of customers has been making headlines for years, but previous initiatives were pilot projects.

Now, customers who don’t want to offer up their health data to John Hancock have two choices: Don’t report it and pay higher premiums, or go somewhere else for their insurance.

But what’s going to happen if other companies follow suit?

Figuring out when you’re having sex?

Your privacy will be infringed upon by apps that pass on to your insurer all of the activities you do while wearing your smartwatch.

That could include steps walked, heart rate, blood pressure – your insurer may even be able to figure out when you’re having sex.

This is nothing new. We’ve long known that wearable technology records “data about you and your condition, activities and day-to-day choices.”

And we know that that data collected by these devices and through our internet activities “continually leak.” In fact, researchers have discovered that 70 per cent of third-party apps collect data that can then be used to create a profile of buying and spending habits.

So is it really a problem that customers use wearable technology like Fitbit and report their healthy activities, such as workouts and healthy eating, to their insurer?

Well, yes. One problem is that this information is not always correct. Fitbit itself acknowledges that “the algorithm is designed to look for intensity and motion patterns that are most indicative of people walking and running” and that it may not always be accurate in reporting other activities, such as riding a bike or working.

Then there’s the question of what happens with your premiums if you stop engaging in these activities. How much time will insurance companies allow women to recover from childbirth before they have to get back to their insurance plan’s requirements for physical activity?

What about people recovering from joint replacements or heart surgery? How long will these people have before their premiums go up?

Active Seniors
Older adults’ exercise activities may not be accurately detected by wearable technology. (Photo: Unsplash/Lucie Hosova)

Older adults at risk

Older adults are especially vulnerable to this sort of data-based gatekeeping. The glitches in wearable technology’s data collection may be amplified with older people, whose exercise behaviour might not be as strenuous as that of younger adults, and therefore subject to more recording errors.

In addition to the potential under-recording of their fitness activities, many people over 65 years old have at least one illness, which, when combined with data errors, may make them ineligible for discounted insurance programs. This could change the retirement opportunities for many older adults.

And what about the healthy lifestyles that insurance companies reward their customers for living?

Diet, fitness and medication regimes go in and out of favour. Taking “baby aspirin,” for example, to prevent heart attacks and stroke has recently been shown to be ineffective for healthy adults.

Another example of the fickleness of health trends involves healthy eating guru Brian Wansink, who’s had some academic articles retracted, including those that told us not to go grocery shopping when we’re hungry and not to use large bowls when we’re eating.

This all suggests that the food and activity choices of insurance companies are linked to scholarly research.

Conflict of interest?

But what happens if a multinational business owns both insurance and manufacturing companies? Is it possible that insurance perks and discounts could be linked to purchases from their subsidiaries, disguised as “health initiatives?”

In other words, the insurer could reward customers for adhering to a health regimen that might be helpful, but could also be bogus or, in the worst-case scenario, harmful or exploitative while financially benefiting the insurance company.

If legislators don’t get involved, Big Business could end up literally dictating to us what we can and can’t do, or eat, if we want or need insurance.

For those who can’t afford healthy food or recreational fitness, and those who refuse to allow their data to be harvested, life insurance premiums, and other products like mortgages, may drift out of reach.The Conversation


Lisa F. Carver is and adjunct professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science and Post Doctoral Fellow, SSHRC-funded ACTproject at Queen’s University.

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

The Conversation: Terrorism at the Taj – Hotel Mumbai pulls no punches at TIFF

The new film highlights the things ordinary people can do in extraordinary circumstances.

[Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai]
Dev Patel stars in in Hotel Mumbai, a movie that depicts the Mumbai terror attacks that took place Nov.26-29, 2008. (Photo: Arclight Films)

Director Anthony Maras’ new film Hotel Mumbai had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name), Jason Issacs (Harry Potter) and Anupam Kher (The Big Sick). All of these actors attended the premiere and participated in a compelling Q&A conversation with the audience after the film.

The movie depicts the Mumbai terror attacks that took place Nov. 26-29, 2008, when 10 gunmen belonging to the Pakistan-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba staged a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, ending with a multi-day siege of the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel that left 164 dead and hundreds wounded.

Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with survivors and witnesses and told from the perspective of hotel guests, staff and to some extent the gunmen, the film sets out to recreate the attacks faithfully and authentically.

The film expertly ratchets up tension and confusion, drawing the viewer into a harrowing experience that is not broken up by lengthy plot digressions or exposition.

Hotel Mumbai provides a raw and rare look behind the curtain of a terrorist attack, inviting the audience to experience its unrelenting and gut-wrenching reality. The film doesn’t concern itself with the contextual details that emerge in the aftermath of a terror plot; instead it replicates the confusion, panic and genuine fear one would feel at the time.

For almost the entire two hour run-time, the viewer is left to struggle with the intensity of that confusion, not knowing when or if safety will materialize.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, popular media in North America has moved from amorphous representations of political violence to a plot format that explicitly uses terrorism, invokes real militant groups and focuses almost exclusively on the United States and Islamic extremism as their bread and butter. Few films actually take the viewer inside the experience of terror plots as they happen; this is where Hotel Mumbai ushers in a new complex path with audiences.

The only potential drawback of this narrative style is that for viewers unfamiliar with the broader political context of terrorism in India — and in Western audiences they may be the majority — there is little information about where the attack comes from or how it fits into the larger story of the Indian subcontinent.

Terrorism in India

The Mumbai gunmen were trained in Pakistan and, as depicted in the film, carried out their attack with direction via mobile phones from planners in Pakistan’s metropolis port, Karachi. The gunmen were found to be members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group that was also responsible for a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.

The existence of groups like LeT is a significant sore spot in India-Pakistan relations. India accuses Pakistan of enabling or even encouraging such groups and Pakistan consistently denies these allegations.

LeT emerged out of the radicalization of the Kashmir conflict — a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over which country has the right to govern the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. This conflict began with the 1947 partition of British colonial India into the two sovereign nations of India and Pakistan and has gone through numerous phases of escalation and détente.

India’s continued military presence and the human rights abuses carried out by security forces in Kashmir provide a major source of grievance to some Indian and Pakistani Muslims. Although India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia, Muslims in India are heavily disadvantaged in comparison to the Hindu majority. They also experience higher rates of poverty and lower literacy levels.

Despite this, the vast majority of Muslims — whether in India or elsewhere — consistently reject religious extremism.

Everyday heroism

As a suspenseful and emotional snapshot of the events of November 2008, the film certainly succeeds. The audience’s applause felt genuine and visceral, not polite or obligatory. The cast themselves were visibly emotional on stage, notably when Maras revealed that one of the real-life survivors of the attack portrayed in the film was present in the audience. This survivor (unnamed here to avoid spoilers) received an immediate and emotional standing ovation.

The film is full of heroes, but not the kind that audiences are accustomed to seeing in movies about terror attacks. In Hotel Mumbai, heroes can die with the casual and unceremonious pulling of a trigger, just like anyone else. Though the film uses character archetypes, it does so in a way that disrupts common film tropes associated with the genre.

For example, the local police are brave but are hopelessly outgunned and out of their depth when faced by trained insurgents with automatic weapons. Armie Hammer’s character, the white American male that so often saves the day in Hollywood blockbusters, spends most of the film wanting to protect his family but having no real idea how to do so.

By contrast, Anupam Kher’s Chef Oberoi displays a quiet dignity by relinquishing his opportunity for escape in favour of protecting the hotel guests by calmly hosting them in one of the hotel’s hidden lounges. Dev Patel, as always, gives a memorable performance as a hotel staff member who just wants to get back to his family but displays remarkable courage and compassion along the way.

Just as there is no Hollywood action hero ready to jump in and save the day, Hotel Mumbai also steers clear of depicting the kind of one-dimensional villains that dominate most films in the spy or terrorism genres. The attacks in the film (as in real-life) are brutal, shocking and almost casual in their indifferent disregard for human life.

But the gunmen themselves remain undeniably human. In one scene, we see the terrorists coldly gunning down unarmed civilians and in the next we see them teasing each other about whether there is pork in the canapés. Later, we see the inner conflict of one of the gunmen, who seems to be in over his head as he oscillates between crippling self-doubt and brutal determination.

It is the dissonance between these two dimensions that make this depiction of terrorism so compelling. We also see how the attack impacts each of the attackers in subtly different ways, reinforcing that each has been drawn into this act of horrific violence through their own distinct motivations, whether religious, political or socio-economic.

It is not necessarily that the gunmen in this movie are relatable or sympathetic in the traditional sense (for the most part they are not), but they are resolutely human and that is part of what makes their violence so disturbing. The viewer is asked to face the uncomfortable truth that the people who carry out these attacks might not be the monsters hiding in the shadows that we so often see depicted on screen, but are simply ordinary people carrying out extraordinary acts of brutality.

Despite the horror that this film paints with such gritty and meticulous attention to detail, Hotel Mumbai is ultimately not about violence as an act that is carried out upon passive victims. Instead, it is about the resistance, resilience and quiet heroism of people confronted by chaotic scenarios filled with impossible choices.

Rising terrorism on ‘soft targets’

The film asks us to challenge easy assumptions and to rethink any sensationalist preconceptions we may hold about how we would, or would not, react in such a crisis.

Hotel Mumbai feels every bit as relevant today as if it had been released back in 2008 when the attacks occurred. If anything, the passage of a decade has perhaps made the tragedy of the Mumbai attacks resonate even more strongly with international audiences.

Massacres carried out by armed gunmen in “soft targets” such as hotels, train stations and shopping malls have become depressingly common in recent years.

Historically most of al-Qaida’s most well-known attacks have used explosives, making them devastating in their death tolls but also relatively difficult to plan and execute.

Since 2014, ISIS has popularized the strategy of using any and all weapons available to attack public spaces, making attacks carried out by their sympathizers incredibly challenging to prevent. This style of attack is widespread across the ideological spectrum with notable examples including the Norway massacre of 2011 and the Las Vegas shootings of 2017.

Hotel Mumbai is ultimately intended as an “anthem of resistance” for those who survive such attacks, a quiet memorial of those who don’t and a sobering snapshot of the chaos of terrorism for those who, fortunately, have never found themselves inside its brutal plot.The Conversation


Emily LeDuc is a Doctoral Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the History Department at Queen's University. Joseph McQuade is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for South Asian Studies, a branch of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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

The Conversation  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.

Miller Medal winner moved mountains

Queen's University Professor Emeritus Raymond Price honoured by the Royal Society of Canada for a lifetime of work.

A lifetime of research contributions to academia and industry by Queen’s University Professor Emeritus Raymond Price has been recognized by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). Dr. Price has been honoured with the RSC’s Willet G. Miller Medal in Earth Sciences.

Dr. Price (Geological Science and Engineering) has been acclaimed nationally and internationally for his exploration and graphic descriptions of the geology, geophysical setting, origin, and tectonic evolution of the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains, and also for his conceptual models of tectonic processes at various scales.

Dr. Price will be awarded with a national honour named for Willet G. Miller, who was appointed to the Department of Geology, School of Mines in 1893, and the first person to teach geology at Queen’s. The university later honoured Willet G. Miller by bestowing his name on Miller Hall in 1931.

“The RSC’s Miller Medal is a prestigious recognition of Dr. Price’s distinguished research career and his influence on resource, environmental and geoscience policy in Canada,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). 

Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. Price’s work for the Geological Survey of Canada and in academia has explored the geodynamics of mountain building. He has greatly influenced fundamental thinking on the dynamics of plate tectonics and mountain building while also ensuring the economic implications of his ideas were well known in the petroleum industry.

Dr. Price first joined Queen’s in 1968, was invited back to the Geological Survey to become director general and later assistant deputy minister, and rejoined Queen’s in 1990 where he accepted the chair of a scientific working group looking at the engineering, geological, and environmental merits of deep geological disposal of high level nuclear fuel waste.

“I certainly can’t think of a more deserving geoscientist than Dr. Price for this award,” says colleague Laurent Godin. “Dr. Price has been influential in so many ways. His work and dedication to geosciences has had profound influence on our understanding of how mountain belts form and evolve. Beyond his world-class scientific research, Dr. Price has done exemplary service to science and society, serving and often chairing countless international scientific committees. Most importantly, he has shared his knowledge and wisdom through mentorship of hundreds of students and colleagues - and continues to this day. His dedication to science, policy-making, and generous mentorship deserves to be known and recognized.”

The impact of Dr. Price’s work has been recognized by numerous honours. Dr. Price became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1972, Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Science in 1988, Foreign Fellow of the European Union of Geosciences in 1989, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1997 and Officer of the Order of Canada in 2003. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates from four Canadian universities and many other awards.

For more information visit the RSC website.

Research radio and podcast returns

CFRC 101.9 FM’s fall season features the return of Blind Date with Knowledge and Grad Chat, programs that showcase research happening across campus. 

Blind Date with Knowldege]
Dr. Shamel Addas (Smith School of Business) and Dr. Janet Dancey (Canadian Cancer Trials Group) will be featured on Blind Date with Knowledge on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

Big questions and answers, shots in the dark, eureka moments, and unexpected results are all part of the research journey for faculty and students at Queen’s. These enlightening stories form the premise of Blind Date with Knowledge and Grad Chat, two research-focused radio programs and podcasts featured as part of CFRC 101.9 FM’s fall lineup.

[Blind date with knowledge logo]Blind Date with Knowledge

Returning for a second season, Blind Date with Knowledge is one way the university is increasing its efforts to promote the importance and impact of research happening at Queen’s. The quirky name Blind Date with Knowledge is based on the premise that research isn’t predictable. Like a blind date, research is about taking risks and being prepared for failure and success.

A collaboration between the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), CFRC, and host and Kingston community member, Barry Kaplan, the show’s 30-minute episodes provide an accessible and digestible glimpse into research happening across campus and the positive impact that research – in areas from cancer research to surveillance studies – has on our everyday lives.   

“Knowledge mobilization and translation is an increasingly important aspect of the research process,” says Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiative. “It’s not always easy to explain one’s research to non-specialists, but the show provides an interactive, fun and engaging platform to do this successfully.”

Blind Date with Knowledge airs on CFRC 101.9 FM bi-weekly on Wednesdays at 5:30 pm, and all episodes are available for download via Apple iTunes. The first episode, airing Wednesday, Sept. 19, features Shamel Addas (Smith School of Business) and Janet Dancey (Canadian Cancer Trials Group).

[Grad Chat logo]Grad Chat

Grad Chat highlights graduate student and post-doctoral research at Queen’s. Airing since January 2016, the show has featured over 130 guests and is a collaboration between the School of Graduate Studies and CFRC.

The interviews not only provide insight into the wide variety of research conducted by students at Queen’s, it highlights other academic and non-academic engagements – from knowledge mobilization programs to academic events. Grad Chat checks in with many aspects of the graduate student experience, including special episodes on the Lake Shift writing retreat and the New Graduate Student Welcome and Resource Fair.

“The show is one of the ways in which our graduate students and post-docs can hone their research communication skills in a fun and engaging way,” says Colette Steer, Manager, Recruitment and Events at the School of Graduate Studies, who plans and conducts all Grad Chat interviews. “Interviewees are encouraged to develop some of the interview questions, which helps them get a new perspective on their work. I am always amazed at the diversity of new knowledge created by our researchers.”

The new season kicked off with a series of three nursing students looking at issues of childbirth in remote and rural areas, virtual simulation in resuscitation science, and quality assurance in organ donation programs. Grad Chat airs Tuesdays at 4 pm.

“These research-focused radio shows and podcasts are a creative and accessible way for non-specialists to learn about the breadth and depth of the research being conducted by both faculty and grad students at Queen’s,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “I encourage you to tune in and subscribe.”

For more information on both shows, visit the CFRC website

[Evan Keys]
Evan Keys (MNSc) will appear on Grad Chat on Tuesday, Sept. 25.



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