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Research Prominence

A Hall of Fame career

This article was first published on the Faculty of Health Sciences Dean’s Blog.

On May 2, I had the thrill of attending the induction ceremony for the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. This is one of my favourite annual events, and this year’s ceremony was especially meaningful because I was able to see a true legend of the Queen’s School of Medicine get inducted: Dr. Jackie Duffin.

From 1988 to 2017, Dr. Duffin was the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at Queen’s, and in this role she taught all of our medical students to place our profession in a broader historical context and also to think critically about the ways in which medical knowledge is produced.

A number of the lessons she created for our curriculum became rites of passage for our students. I think almost everyone who studied here while Dr. Duffin taught for us has vivid memories of reading the original Hippocratic Oath with her during orientation and thinking hard about the concepts of “heroes” and “villains” in medical history during their first semester. Many students also traveled around Canada and the United States with her, as she arranged yearly field trips to medical museums in both countries.

Dr. Duffin’s students were so devoted to her that some of them created a conference in her honour the year after she retired. The Jacalyn Duffin Health and Humanities Conference has now run for two years, and it has been an outstanding success both times.

In its citation for Dr. Duffin’s induction, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame says, “A haematologist and historian, her enduring contributions to medical research and education deepen our understanding of how the humanities inform balanced, effective medical training.”  

[Dr. Jackie Duffin]
Jackie Duffin, seated, front row, last on right, was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame on May 2. (Supplied Photo)

It is so terrific to see Dr. Duffin honoured for the way in which she has so effectively brought the humanities into medical education because, at Queen’s, we’ve been seeing for decades the positive effects that this kind of teaching can have on students.

Because I know how beloved she always was by our students, I reached out to a few to ask for their thoughts on Dr. Duffin and what she has meant to them. Here’s what they had to say.

“Dr. Duffin’s History of Medicine curriculum has provided an essential building block to the medical education of thousands of medical students,” Kate Rath-Wilson says. “She provided us with the critical reasoning tools to be skeptical when necessary and righteous in our advocacy. Learning about the history of our profession, its triumphs and tragedies, through Dr. Duffin’s critical lens was at once humbling and empowering. Her teaching discouraged us from becoming complacent in our responsibilities as health care advocates in our future careers.”

"There are few generalizations that are true in life but I can say without any reservation that Dr. Jacalyn Duffin is loved and cherished by ALL her students,” says Hissan Butt. “That's why Meds 2015 established the Jacalyn Duffin Student Award and students from Meds 2020 and 2021 started an eponymous health humanities conference. It's been an absolute privilege to learn from her and ask important questions about medicine and society."

I’d also like to point out that Hissan was also in Montreal for the induction ceremony, as he was receiving a Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Award. These awards recognize terrific work being done by a student at each medical school in Canada, and all of us in the School of Medicine are very proud of Hissan for being this year’s recipient from Queen’s.

“I always cherish moments in the lecture hall with Dr. Duffin,” Yannay Khaikin says. “She teaches with a kind of energy and honesty that reverberates for decades in the minds of medical students, residents, and faculty who have been fortunate to hear her speak. Her commitment to preserving the study of philosophy and history in medicine is relentless, unapologetic, and utterly unique.”

“Dr. Duffin has been the most influential and impactful teacher in both my medical and non-medical education,” Chantal Valiquette says. “She is a resilient, passionate, and brilliant historian/physician who is a constant source of inspiration to her students. Her dedication to her students is unparalleled, and her support for history of medicine has inspired generations of students to realize the impact our history has on our present day understandings of medicine and medical education. There is no one more deserving of an induction to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.”

“Equipped with a colourful scarf, her signature round glasses, a pair of neon sneakers and an exuberance that knows no bounds, Dr. Jackie Duffin is unlike any other professor I have ever had,” Harry Chandrakumaran says. “It is obvious to even the least attentive student that she is unapologetically in love with her job. I cannot imagine a more deserving candidate for induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Many doctors have testified in court. Rarely have they had their testimony result in the canonization of a saint. Even more impressive than meeting the Pope, Dr. Duffin manages to engage a hundred medical students while discussing the intricacies of 16th century anatomical illustrators. Perhaps that is why she is so fondly remembered by a generation of physicians.”

 The Hannah Chair is funded by a program that was established by Associated Medical Services (AMS) to promote the history of medicine in curricula at medical schools across Canada. AMS funds eight Hannah Chairs at Canadian universities: six in Ontario, one in Alberta, and one in Quebec.

The Hannah Chair program is a fantastic contribution to Canadian medical education, and, at Queen’s, we have always been proud to host a Chair. While Dr. Duffin no longer teaches our students, they are still learning just as much about the history of medicine through our new Hannah Chair: Dr. Jenna Healey.

As I said, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a tremendous event every year. I have fond memories of hosting the event in Kingston in 2014, and this year had the pleasure of sitting with Dr. Duncan Sinclair, a former dean at Queen’s and a 2015 inductee into the Hall of Fame. Thanks to everyone at the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame for hosting a wonderful evening in Montreal and for all of the work you do to recognize medical achievements in Canada.

If you're curious to read Dr. Duffin's thoughts on being inducted, please check out her most recent blog entry.

Dean Reznick thanks Andrew Willson for his assistance in preparing this blog. 

Queen’s economist wins second Donner Prize

Award for book on Indigenous rights makes Thomas J. Courchene the first two-time recipient of top Canadian public policy writing honour.

Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)
Left to right: David Dodge, Donner Prize, Jury Chair; Thomas J. Courchene; Deborah Donner, Governor, Donner Canadian Foundation (Photo by: Will Putz)

Two decades after winning the first-ever Donner Prize for best Canadian public policy book, economist and Queen’s Professor Emeritus Thomas J. Courchene has done it again. On May 1, 2019, his latest book Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens: From First Contact to Canada 150 and Beyond was recognized by award jurors as a “masterful work on one of the most important themes of our country’s public policy history” – securing Courchene the top prize and $50,000.

“The Donner Prize serves as a beacon for aspiring writers, so when I won it the first time it was truly an inspiration,” says Dr. Courchene. “In being recognized a second time, I sincerely hope the publicity will allow my book to contribute to a greater, broader understanding of the challenges and policies that affect the lives of Indigenous peoples of Canada.”

The book, published by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, examines the historical, legal, and socio-economic evolution of Canadian policy initiatives relating to Indigenous peoples. In doing so, Dr. Courchene puts forth a new policy prescription that seeks to reconcile the goal of recognizing Indigenous rights with that of promoting Canadian economic and resource development. Jurors lauded the book’s compelling case for significant change and its vision for a brighter future.

“My work has long been a blend of economic analysis, political reality, and constitutional perspectives, so I always felt that my public policy research had to, at some point, address issues facing First Peoples,” says Dr. Courchene, who is also a founding member of the School of Policy Studies. “In the final chapter of my book I propose we depart from existing models in which Indigenous Canadians are effectively under the control and stewardship of another political authority, and move to one that would give them provincial powers on their own lands.”

The Donner Prize, awarded annually by the Donner Canadian Foundation, encourages and celebrates excellence in public policy writing by Canadians, and acknowledges the role good public policy plays in the country’s success.

“To win the Donner Prize a second time, two decades after being recognized with their inaugural award, speaks to the rich and enduring quality of Dr. Courchene’s academic work,” says David M.C. Walker, Executive Director of the Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “On behalf of the School of Policy Studies, I want to commend him for crafting a truly impactful book; one that not only embodies the spirit of our school’s mission, but that can also inform and inspire public policy that advances the well-being of Canadians.”

The award results were announced during a gala at The Carlu event space in Toronto. Dr. Courchene was selected over four other finalists, chosen from more than 70 submissions. Chairing the Donner Prize jury was David Dodge, who served as Queen’s University Chancellor from 2008 to 2014.

Community readies for Science Rendezvous

Astronaut Drew Feustel (PhD’95, DSc'16returns to Kingston to take part in the annual science and technology event.

Ancient bones, buzzing bees, and the ultimate birds-eye view. That is what the public can expect at the ninth annual Science Rendezvous taking place at the Leon’s Centre on Saturday, May 11, a fan-favourite event that highlights the diversity of research happening at Queen’s and in the community

When the doors open, attendees will be greeted by Dippy the dinosaur who stands over four meters high and is 26 meters long, nearly as long as the Leon’s Centre itself. The Diplodocus roamed the earth about 150 million years ago and its neck alone measured 6.5 meters long. Research Casting International in Trenton has recreated this gentle giant.

Canadian astronaut Drew Feustel is attending this year's Science Rendezvous at the Leon's Centre.

After peering into the past, guests can then make their way to meet Canadian astronaut Drew Feustel (PhD’95, DSc'16). On April 6, 2018, the Queen’s alum participated in a live event hosted at the university, communicating with people here on campus while floating around on the International Space Station.

During Science Rendezvous, Dr. Feustel is hosting two question and answer periods starting at 11:30 am on the main stage and will be on hand for the rest of the day to greet the public.

Visitors to the event can also view a working bee hive, meet members of the Limestone Beekeepers Guild, and take home a jar of sweet honey.

“We’re very excited to be bringing Science Rendezvous back for the ninth straight year,” says Lynda Colgan, professor in the Faculty of Education and lead event organizer. “Though the past few years have been exciting, we are over the moon, pun intended, to welcome Drew Feustel to the event. The public will have a chance to chat with a real life astronaut and also meet Dippy the Diplodocus, one of the largest creatures ever to walk the earth.”

Along with the three headline events, the free, family-oriented show will feature a fascinating range of hands-on exhibits, including Queen’s Anatomy, Hexagon Magic Puzzles at the Math Midway, the Art of Research pop up photo exhibit, demonstrations from Ingenuity Labs, and the ever-popular Chemistry Magic Show. Visitors will learn more about and experience the groundbreaking STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) research at Queen’s as about 75 per cent of the researchers exhibiting are Queen’s affiliated.

Science Rendezvous is part of NSERC’s Science Odyssey, a national campaign that celebrates Canadian achievements in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, featuring fun and inspiring experiences in museums, research centres, laboratories and classrooms from coast to coast. Every year in May, hundreds of science outreach leaders deliver fun, engaging and inspiring activities to Canadians of all ages. This year, 310 cities are hosting over 1,000 Science Odyssey events, and Kingston’s Science Rendezvous attracts the most attendees of all events nationally.

“There is something for everyone at Science Rendezvous,” says Dr. Colgan. “Whatever your interests, we try to share a wide variety of thought-provoking exhibits designed to delight and excite the young and young at heart.”

The event runs from 10 am to 3 pm and more 4,000 people are expected. The first 2,000 families will receive a take-home booklet filled with experiments that can be done at the kitchen sink, on the kitchen table, or in the backyard, as well as a free tote bag, some of which will contain additional surprises such as math puzzle kits, colour-changing pencils and much more.

For more information, visit the website.

The interdisciplinary green team

Four leading researchers from Queen’s University have been awarded the NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for their work in building a sustainable future.

NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering
The winners of the 2019 Brockhouse Canada Prize, from left: Michael Cunningham, Pascale Champagne, Philip Jessop, and Warren Mabee.  

Engineering a sustainable future requires input from multiple approaches and perspectives. Four leading Canadian researchers from Queen’s University have been awarded the NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering for their work in enhancing the value and sustainability of our natural renewable resources though collaboration.  

Given annually to only one research team across Canada, the award supports the late Nobel Laureate Bertram N. Brockhouse’s vision of interdisciplinary teamwork and collaboration as a way to propel scientific discovery in Canadian research. Dr. Brockhouse won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994. 

“The NSERC Brockhouse is one of the most prestigious and competitive research honours available to Canadian researchers,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “We are proud of our Queen’s recipients, and proud that the university is a space that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration as a means to address critical challenges.” 

Pascale Champagne
Pascale Champagne is the Canada Research Chair in Bioresources Engineering.

The cross-faculty research team consists of Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering), Michael Cunningham (Chemical Engineering, Chemistry), Philip Jessop (Chemistry) and Warren Mabee (Geography and Planning, School of Policy Studies), each affiliated with the Beaty Water Research Centre and an accomplished scientist in their respective field.  With the funding provided by the NSERC Brockhouse ($250,000), the team will work in unison bringing their unique but complementary expertise to designing solutions to address myriad problems caused by climate change.  

The four team members share a passion for sustainable use of natural resources and the development of green industrial processes. Dr. Champagne is an expert in biofuels and utilization of water resources; Dr. Cunningham is a specialist in green engineering; Dr. Jessop works in the area of green chemistry while Dr. Mabee brings his experience with policy issues and assessing the sustainability of renewable energy and material systems.  

All four researchers are affiliated with the Beaty Water Research Centre. Drs. Champagne, Jessop and Mabee are Canada Research Chairs. Dr. Cunningham was the Ontario Research Chair in Green Chemistry from 2010-2015.

“We pursue research on issues of critical importance to Canadians, including the development of alternate wastewater management strategies and environmentally sustainable approaches, green chemistry and engineering, and renewable energy policy,” says Dr. Champagne, the project’s principal investigator. “We are grateful to NSERC and the Government of Canada, for their ongoing support and understanding that Canadian leadership in complex research areas such as environmental sustainability, and true advances are only possible through collaborations that incorporate knowledge from different disciplines to create innovative and timely solutions.” 

The team has been involved in projects that explore the feasibility of using algal systems for wastewater treatment and biofuel recovery. These integrated systems hinge on devising strategies that facilitate nutrient removal, disinfection and carbon dioxide fixation, enhancing algal growth and oil production, and reducing the environmental (carbon, energy, GHG, water) footprint; and evolving biomass conversion approaches to generate biofuels and bioproducts in an integrated carbon and energy recovery scheme.  

They have also worked extensively on the use of carbon dioxide as an innovative and green “trigger” for stimuli-responsive materials. In addition to being abundant, inexpensive, nontoxic and environmentally benign, it does not accumulate in a system upon repeated cycles. They have explored and invented innovative methods to use carbon dioxide-switchable technology to address practical problems, including recent work on developing carbon dioxide-switchable materials for water treatment technologies. 

For these and other projects, the successful integration and implementation of their research within existing Canadian infrastructure and industry remains a key challenges and can only be achieved through interdisciplinary research.  

“Our research thrives because all four of us realize that we are not as capable individually as we are as a team. For our society to move towards a sustainable future, we need to abandon traditional academic silos and tackle these problems together,” says Dr. Champagne. 

For more information on the award, visit the NSERC website


Dealing with the absurdity of human existence in the face of converging catastrophes


[Human eye]
Human self awareness is an evolutionary outcome, but where has it brought us? (Photo by: Avantgarde Concept/Unsplash)

Homo sapiens means wise human, but the name no longer suits us. As an evolutionary biologist who writes about Darwinian interpretations of human motivations and cultures, I propose that at some point we became what we are today: Homo absurdus, a human that spends its whole life trying to convince itself that its existence is not absurd.

As French philosopher Albert Camus put it: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” Thanks to this entrenched absurdity, the 21st century is riding on a runaway train of converging catastrophes in the Anthropocene.

Discovery of self

Theodosius Dobzhansky. (Wikicommons)
Theodosius Dobzhansky. (Wikicommons)

The critical juncture in the lineage toward Homo absurdus was described by evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “A being who knows that he will die arose from ancestors who did not know.” But evolution at some point also built into this human mind a deeply ingrained sentiment — that one has not just a material life (the physical body), but also a distinct and separate mental life (the inner self).

Human self-awareness led to the evolution of cognitive skills that were game-changers for gene transmission success. In our degree of endowment for these skills, our ancestors had the edge over all other hominids.

But the trade-off for this was self-impermanence anxiety — a recurrent fear that, in bringing eventual material death, time inevitably also annihilates all that one has done and all that one has been, and that soon it will be as though one had never existed at all.

Buffering for a troubled mind

However, natural selection also gave our ancestors primal impulses that served to buffer the worry of self-impermanence. These involve two novel and uniquely human fundamental drives: escape from self and extension of self.

Both are reflected in a prescient passage from the great Russian author, Leo Tolstoy:

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.”

Extension of self — “connecting the finite with the infinite” — involves what I call legacy drive: the desire to leave something appreciable behind that will endure beyond mortal existence.

Delusions of symbolic immortality involve three principal domains:

Parenthood: Shaping the minds of offspring to mirror the defining characteristics of one’s own selfhood (i.e. values, beliefs, attitudes, conscience, ego, skills, virtues, etc.);

Accomplishment: Earning recognition, status, or fame through talents or deeds that evoke admiration, trust, respect, or astonishment from others;

Identifying with or belonging to something larger-than-self: Membership or belief in a particular cultural world view, one based, for example, on concepts like patriotism, political ideology or religiosity/spiritualism.

Escape from self

For those less driven to produce a legacy, there is escape from self — Tolstoy’s “not seeing the infinite.” Most commonly, this is achieved through distractions, deployed through what I call leisure drive, an intrinsic disposition to be easily drawn to indulgence in opportunities for enjoyment.

Typically, these involve motivations that hack into the brain’s pleasure modules and have deep evolutionary roots associated with meeting core needs (e.g. survival, social affiliation, mating, endearment, kinship) that rewarded ancestral gene transmission success.

Modern domains of leisure drive are manifested in many cultural norms and products designed to trigger these pleasure modules — like toys, stories, games, aesthetics, social entertainment, consumerism, humour, recreational sex, yoga, meditation, inebriation and psychedelics.

The essential consequence of these distractions lies in arresting the mind firmly in the immediate present, thus temporarily but effectively shielding it from the dread of “the infinite,” wherein the self ceases to be.

For some, placing the mind firmly in the present may be accomplished by simply keeping busy with purposeful toil or mundane routine. As American philosopher Eric Hoffer put it: “A busy life is the nearest thing to a purposeful life.”

Work hard, play hard

The delusions of legacy drive and the distractions of leisure drive both help to mitigate the worry of self-impermanence. Strong selection for these drives thus propelled copies of our ancestors’ genes into future generations.

But self-impermanence anxiety has always lurked stubbornly beneath the surface, repeatedly demanding more and better delusions and distractions. And so, from a long history of striving for an untroubled mind, the effects of natural selection ramped up in momentum, I suggest, like a runaway train.

These drives to work hard and play even harder have fuelled the frenzied and relentless march of progress that we call civilization. With this, our cultural evolution has generated a large menu of available delusions for chasing after legacy, and distractions for chasing after leisure. And this has given us a world of environmental catastrophes that are annihilating other species and their habitats at an unprecedented rate.

Sustained genetic selection for legacy and leisure drives then has generated two dire consequences for humanity: A civilization now moving ever faster toward collapse on a global scale, and an evolved psychology that is now breeding an escalation of human despair — anxiety disorders, depression and suicide.

In other words, the growing demands of these drives (resulting from biological evolution) are starting to exceed the supply rate of available domains (generated by cultural evolution) for satisfying them. It becomes harder and harder, therefore, to meet an ever-increasing need for distractions and delusions, including those needed to buffer the mounting “eco-anxiety” from living in a collapsing civilization.

Living with Homo absurdus

How can we manage our human predicament, now that we are Homo absurdus?

I have suggested that a new model for cultural evolution might come to our rescue involving a kind of biosocial management, based on facilitating and implementing a deeper and more broadly public understanding of, and empathy for, the evolutionary roots of human motivations, especially those associated with our responses to self-impermanence anxiety.

We must learn how to successfully regulate our frenetic drive to convince ourselves that our existence is not absurd. And this requires that we at least understand how we came to be so driven.The Conversation


Lonnie Aarssen, is a Professor of Biology at Queen's University, where his teaching, writing and research focus is on ecology and evolution. He has published more than 180 articles in scientific journals, and is founder and editor of the open access journal, Ideas in Ecology and Evolution.

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.

Forget smart cities (for a minute), we need to talk about smart farms

[Combine harvester]
With advances in agriculture technology, our food in Canada increasingly comes from industrial-scale factory farms. (Photo by: Scott Goodwill/Unsplash)

There’s a lot of talk about digital technology and smart cities, but what about smart farms? Many of us still have a romantic view of farmers surveying rolling hills and farm kids cuddling calves, but our food in Canada increasingly comes from industrial-scale factory farms and vast glass and steel forests of greenhouses.

[The Conversation]While the social and environmental consequences of agri-food industrialization are fairly well understood, issues around digital technology are now just emerging. Yet, technology is radically transforming farms and farming. And while different in scale and scope, technology is playing a growing role in small and organic farming systems as well.

In reality then, your friendly local farmer will soon spend as much time managing their digital data as they will their dairy herd. The milking apron is being replaced by the milking app.

The Canadian government is investing heavily in climate-smart and precision agricultural technologies (ag-tech). These combine digital tools such as GPS and sensors with automated machines like smart tractors, drones and robots in an attempt to increase farm profits while reducing pesticide and fertilizer use. GPS mapping of crop yields and soil characteristics help to cut costs and increase profits, so while seeds still grow in soil, satellites are increasingly part of the story. There’s no doubt that ag-tech may be promising for governments, investors and corporations, but the benefits are far less clear for farm owners and workers.

There is little research on the potential social impacts of ag-tech specifically, so a group of researchers at the University of Guelph conducted a study to figure out some of the likely impacts of the technological revolution in agriculture.

While changes in agriculture show promise for increasing productivity and profits and reducing pesticides and pollution, the future of farming is not all rosy.

Corporate control of many agricultural inputs — seeds, feed, fertilizers, machinery — is well documented. Agricultural land is also increasing in cost and farms are getting bigger and bigger. It is likely that digital agriculture will exacerbate these trends. We’re especially interested in what farm work will look like as the digital revolution unfolds.

Much of our vegetables are grown in vast glass and steel forests of greenhouses. (Photo by: Erwan Hesry/Unsplash)

Marginalized workers are set up to lose

While rising costs are always a concern for producers and consumers, we have two main concerns about how the digital revolution is changing farm work in particular.

First, who owns all of the data being produced in precision agriculture? Farm owners and workers produce data that has massive potential for commercial exploitation. However, just who gets to harvest the fruits of this digital data labour is unclear.

Should it flow to those who produce it? Should it be something that we own collectively? Unfortunately, if smart farms are anything like smart cities, then it looks like corporate control of data could tighten.

Second, it’s very likely that ag-tech will lead to an even more sharply divided labour force. So-called “high-skilled” managers trained in data management and analysis will oversee operations, while many ostensibly “lower-skilled” jobs are replaced. Remaining on-the-ground labourers will find themselves in working conditions that are increasingly automated, surveilled and constrained. For instance, in fruit and vegetable greenhouses inputs are increasingly being controlled remotely, but migrant workers still do much of the planting and harvesting by hand. And, they do so under conditions of severe physical and social immobility.

There is a wealth of research documenting the vulnerable position of migrant agricultural workers from coast to coast in Canada and elsewhere.

If we don’t direct it in a humane way, the digital revolution in agriculture is likely to heighten these vulnerabilities.

The agricultural system was built that way

Our food system is built on centuries of Indigenous land theft, dislocation and the suppression of Indigenous foodways while relying heavily on exploitable (Indigenous, migrant and racialized) labour. Across North America, farm workers have long been excluded from basic labour laws, legal status and the right to unionize.

And now, increased productivity often relies on increased exploitation - just ask anyone working in a FoxConn factory. As a result, our current food system is rife with exploitative practices, from production through to distribution, with racialized immigrants bearing the brunt.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that automation tends to negatively impact already marginalized workers.

The digital revolution in agriculture has a double edge. Smart farms bring promise, but automation in agricultural production and distribution will eliminate many jobs.

Our concern is that the suite of jobs that remain will only deepen economic inequities — with more privileged university graduates receiving the bulk of the well-paid work, while further stripping physical labourers of their power and dignity.

There is no magic pill, but our governments do have options. Policy and legislation can shift the path of ag-tech to better support vulnerable farm workers and populations. In doing so, the looming issue of land ownership and repatriation must be addressed in Canada, with Indigenous nations at the head of the table alongside marginalized workers and farmers. Supporting pathways to farming and permanent residency for migrant workers, as well as training for digital skill-building can help to close more immediate gaps.

We need to ready ourselves for how radical transformations in food production and distribution will impact land prices, property rights and working conditions. Our folksy view of farming is due for an update.The Conversation


Sarah Rotz is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and Planning at  Queen's University. Mervyn Horgan is a visiting fellow in the Department of Sociology at Yale University and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Guelph.

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.

Major funding boost for two Queen’s-affiliated research institutions

SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network see funding increase of more than $12 million, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Sciences Initiatives fund.

Window on a Window to the Universe - An underwater camera mounted in the SNO+ (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) neutrino detector captures a snapshot image when the 12-metre diameter acrylic sphere is 85 per cent full. (Photo credit: Mark Chen, Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)

Seven of Canada’s leading and internationally renowned research facilities will receive a large funding boost of almost $40 million, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives (CFI MSI) fund.  Two of these national facilities, SNOLAB and the Canadian National Design Network, are affiliated with Queen’s and will be granted $12 million from the funds to continue their operations and contributions to leading-edge research.

Queen’s is affiliated with national research facilities that receive support thought the Major Science Initiatives fund:
The Canadian Cancer Trials Group
Canada’s National Design Network

Announced today by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, the funding is part of an additional $160 million for the CFI MSI included in last year’s federal budget. The new funding will support cutting-edge, collaborative, international research that is helping to power Canada’s scientific productivity and economic competitiveness.

“The Major Science Initiatives fund supports ongoing operations for a select group of national research facilities that serve as hubs for collaboration in research and innovation,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Through our leadership in these initiatives, such as SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network, researchers at Queen’s gain access to leading edge infrastructure – aiding them in addressing some of the most important issues facing society, such as advanced manufacturing, cancer treatment, and probing the deepest mysteries of the universe.”

Of the almost $40 million increase to seven of Canada’s research facilities, over $12 million will support Queen’s-affiliated SNOLAB and Canada’s National Design Network:

SNOLAB will receive almost $7 million in support of the lab’s continued operation. Located 2km below the surface, in the Vale Creighton Mine located near Sudbury, SNOLAB was born out of the Queen’s-led Sudbury Neutrino Observatory – for which Arthur McDonald was named co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics and winner of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. SNOLAB is one of only a handful of underground laboratories worldwide capable of supporting the current and future generations of subatomic and astroparticle physics experiments, including the search for Galactic dark matter and the study of neutrino properties and sources.

The work conducted as part of the SNO collaboration and, subsequently, at SNOLAB has led to groundbreaking results cementing Canada’s, and Queen’s, reputation as world leaders in the field.  Building on this history of success, Queen’s is home to Gilles Gerbier, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Particle Astrophysics. SNOLAB continues to attract top-flight scientific collaborations, including through the Queen’s-based Arthur B. McDonald Astroparticle Physics Research Institute.

Canada’s National Design Network (CNDN) managed by CMC Microsystems provides researchers with access to products and services for designing, prototyping and testing their ideas. The $5.3 million funding increase will continue to support researchers across the network by providing state-of-the-art commercial design tools, expertise and industrial connections for research and development in advanced smart technologies.

The long-term goal of the CNDN is to foster Canadian leadership in advanced technology manufacturing and establish Canada as a global technology leader. Queen’s works with CMC Microsystems to manage CFI funds granted to Queen’s as part of Canada’s National Design Network.

“The support of the Government of Canada through the CFI is critical to ensuring that these prominent research centres can continue to contribute to leading-edge discovery,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “The enhanced funding ensures consistency of operations of these facilities, allowing our researchers to focus on their important work.”

For more information on the CFI MSI, please visit the website.

Facing the AI perfect storm

[Artificial Intelligence]
We are in the middle of a winner-take-all industrial revolution powered in part by artificial intelligence. Many of our leading companies and employers are blowing it.

Artificial intelligence is a game changer. We all know that. But is it good? Is it bad? There’s no shortage of opinions. On one hand, media and social channels are full of dire predictions: AI is killing jobs, robots will soon be in charge…and did you hear about that self-driving car that crashed? But then you learn about new advances in life-saving drugs powered by AI, and how AI is improving customer service and efficiency within organizations.

For leaders and strategists, AI poses both opportunities and challenges. How to choose what to focus on? What to try? What to fund? And is AI even ready for prime time?

Facing the gut-check moment

All this uncertainty is killing AI for many companies. We’ve done it to ourselves by building inflexible organizations and processes. Even worse, we have turned risk management into a core function of most major enterprises.

As a result, many organizations are not set up to handle game-changing and complex technologies like AI. The AI “virus” is often expelled by an unwelcoming corporate immune system that seeks to destroy it in a misguided attempt to preserve the status quo.

Uncertainty around AI’s future is used as a weapon to stop all forward progress. It often sounds something like this:

I would love to invest in AI-technology X. But how do we know it will work? What’s the ROI? What’s the payback period? What if it doesn’t work – will our brand suffer? Show me the full business case. Who else is doing this?

It’s enough to beat even the toughest AI innovators into submission. What we have is a perfect storm: AI prompts reinvention, reinvention takes time, and reinvention success is uncertain. It’s a gut-check moment for strategists and leaders alike.

Risk takers and rule breakers wanted

All one has to do is look at GE’s recent performance and the revolving door of CEOs to see what gut check moments really look like. Jeff Immelt, former CEO now twice removed, set GE on a new path, by refocusing on a few core businesses. He also moved GE from a pipeline (old school) to a platform (new school) business, one capable of offering advanced customer-centric AI products and services.

It seemed like Immelt was on the right track, certainly for the long term. Problem is, neither the market nor the board had enough patience, backbone or belief to stay the course. So, they tried another CEO, but he didn’t work out either (after just over a year on the job). Now there’s a new guy, Lawrence Culp Jr., the first outside CEO in GE’s 126-year history. His remit is turnaround. All of a sudden, we’re not talking innovation, customer centricity and AI, we’re talking about fixing problems. And that’s depressing…or is it?

Entrepreneurs have found a way to capitalize on AI. You don’t see Apple resting on its laurels, milking the iPhone for all its worth. Sure, recent announcements about new credit cards, streaming and news services are risky, but Apple CEO Tim Cook knows well how the game is now played. Apple doesn’t have outdated internal approval processes, and it doesn’t have a board asleep at the switch.

We are in the middle of a ‘winner take all’ industrial revolution powered in part by AI. Many of our old and largest companies and employers are blowing it. But there are glimmers of hope. Even a so-called old-economy player like Hudson’s Bay is figuring it out, so it can survive and thrive beyond its current age of 348 years. We can figure this out. It’s pretty simple.

We need gutsy boards that will truly tolerate risk-taking and even mistake-making. We need resilient rule-breaking CEOs. We need tech-savvy visionaries. We need to find them – or create them. Quickly. We live in extraordinary times. We need extraordinary people. As George Bernard Shaw once said:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Of course, we now have women to throw into the mix, but you get the point. What we need are a few more unreasonable people.

This column was first published by Smith School of Business.

Elspeth Murray is an associate professor at Smith School of Business, associate dean of MBA and Masters Programs, and director of Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing.


Indigenous-led clean-energy projects could power reconciliation

Many remote Indigenous communities are not connected to the electrical grid and produce their own electricity using diesel generators. (Ocean Networks Canada/Flickr)

The federal government recently announced a $20 million initiative to reduce diesel dependency in up to 15 remote Indigenous communities. At first glance, the program seems like an exciting opportunity for these communities to achieve stable, reliable and affordable clean energy on their own terms.

About 250 remote communities are not connected to Canada’s electricity grid and rely on local, diesel-powered generators to produce electricity. But diesel delivery is expensive and unreliable (due in large part to weather), which translates to high costs for consumers. It is also a dirty fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, the defining challenge of our time.

Addressing climate change in Indigenous contexts requires leadership from Indigenous peoples, communities, organizations and governments. But more often than not, Indigenous knowledge-holders are ignored, dismissed and even undermined by governments in the development of national policies.

As a collaborative team of Indigenous and settler researchers studying reconciliation in the context of renewable energy through a program called “A SHARED Future” — we had questions about this initiative, and we’ve been able to ask them.

We have a rare opportunity to look inside this federal initiative during the development stage to evaluate what’s working (and what’s not) and provide real-time feedback to the federal public servants rolling it out. Our participatory action research has sought to inform the design, and will continue to track the initiative over the next three years. Our aim is to show how future federal initiatives could reflect Indigenous leadership from concept to implementation.

The backstory

Our research is currently guided by an Indigenous research advisory committee (Ken Paul from the Maliseet First Nation/Wolastoqwey Neqotkuk in New Brunswick, Diana Lewis from the Sipekne'katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, and Melissa Quesnelle Naatoi'Ihkpiakii from the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta), and we will seek additional members from the 15 communities eventually selected for funding.

Elder Barbara Dumont Hill leads a sunrise ceremony in the traditional territory of the Maliseet and Mi'kmaq. Heather Castleden/A SHARED Future

The foundation of our research lies in reconciliation between Indigenous and western knowledge systems. For example, we want to know what reconciliation looks like in the context of local-to-global demands for energy, and how we can work to repair historical energy injustices. We are also committed to examining Indigenous perspectives on any culturally relevant gender issues and impacts surrounding this initiative, as even the clean energy sector has inequities.

Help versus support?

In its announcement, the government noted that it wants to “help” and partner with Indigenous communities to build a cleaner energy future. We delve into whether this is an Indigenous-led initiative soliciting help, or simply another government-led program seeking validation.

In the context of Indigenous rights, sovereignty and self-determination, it’s important to know who designed the initiative, how it evolved, to what extent the eligibility criteria reflect Indigenous ways of knowing and expertise, and how the jury was selected to adjudicate the applications.

Perhaps most important, does this initiative truly reflect a nation-to-nation relationship in the spirit of truth, healing, reconciliation and calls to action?

Championing Indigenous-led clean energy

From coast to coast to coast, Indigenous communities in Canada are quickly becoming important leaders in the renewable energy sector.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are involved in, or own, more than 150 large-scale clean energy projects. Many are developing renewable energy programs to break free of colonial ties, move towards energy autonomy, establish more reliable energy systems and secure long-term financial benefits. The right kind of projects may help with broader calls for reconciliation and nation-to-nation building in this country.

We also know that governments have a “consistent pattern of failures in public-sector policy and project implementation.” Indeed, the western science community continues to have difficulty working with Indigenous knowledge-holders and valuing their knowledge systems in relation to other environmental issues such as water policy and management.

But there is strong evidence that Indigenous-led and Indigenous-created programs, whether government-supported or research-based, have a better chance of success when “helpers” get out of the driver’s seat.

New opportunities or same old, same old?

The announcement speaks of working together, partnership, collaboration and self-determination. But it does not use the language of reconciliation or rights, show that Indigenous peoples are driving the agenda or indicate to what extent the team behind the initiative strove to do things differently.

A SHARED Future: Four elements teaching from Algonquin Elder Barbara Dumont-Hill. Simon Brascoupé

From the first phase of our participant-observation research, we know, for example, that the initiative originally targeted all remote diesel-dependent communities, and that it will now only include remote Indigenous diesel-dependent communities.

This is certainly a step in the right direction — as it could begin to mend energy inequities — and it’s the outcome of an unusually long period of engagement and the interventions of Indigenous clean energy champions, our research team and others.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for action and accountability through transparency. Our analysis will look at how to make the processes behind this initiative fully transparent. For example, what went into NRCan’s decision to engage with the two not-for-profit collaborators, the Pembina Institute and the Indigenous Clean Energy Social Enterprise (ICE SE)?

This research matters within the federal discourse of nation-to-nation relations because our future is uncertain, not just in terms of real reconciliation, but also in terms of the urgency needed to respond to the climate crisis.

As researchers, it’s important for us to understand how federal programs like this one can address the climate crisis and advance reconciliation. The right to self-determination — “nothing about us, without us” — is key to our analysis.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony is over

For the next phase, we’ll interview participating Indigenous community members, public servants, utilities, developers and not-for-profits involved in the development and roll-out of the Indigenous Off-Diesel Initiative. We want to understand the challenges and successes encountered in implementing clean energy projects, to what extent this work reflects a commitment to reconciliation and to what degree iterative feedback from our team and Indigenous community members is taken up, given this country’s colonial and bureaucratic structures.

The Government of Canada has expressed a clear desire to do things differently; it wants “innovative solutions to economic, environmental and social problems.” The funding for this initiative falls under the terms and conditions of Impact Canada, led by the Privy Council Office. Naturally, the Privy Council Office is watching the roll-out of this experiment that highlights partnership and collaboration with Indigenous clean-energy champions … and so are we.

Derek Kornelsen of Rootstalk Resources contributed to this article.

____________________________________________________________________________The Conversation

Heather Castleden is the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Research for Health, Environments, and Communities and an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Department of Public Health Sciences.

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.

Opening doors to research

In an effort to bring faculty together, University Research Services (URS) is hosting the second annual Research Development Day (RDD), an event designed to engage the community on timely research-based topics. Faculty members from all disciplines, and at any career stage, are encouraged to attend the event, which will be held Thursday, May 2.

[Research Development Day]This year, in partnership with the Human Rights and Equity Office, URS will launch a new workshop addressing the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in practice. Increasingly, faculty members are required to include an EDI framework in research and training activities for grant proposals. Yet, faculty continue to ask questions about how best to incorporate these values into everyday research practices.

“Researchers have realized that leveraging the diversity of backgrounds and talents present in their research environments only makes their work stronger. However, understanding the best way to do this is still a work in progress,” says Vanessa Yzaguirre, Special Projects Officer, Human Rights and Equity Office. “What we wanted to do was create a set of guiding equity principles for researchers to feel confident when applying an equity and intersectional lens to their work, and to feel supported by our office when challenges arise.”

In this morning workshop, Yzaguirre, Human Rights Advisor Heidi Penning, and Erin Clow, Education and Communication Advisor of the Human Rights and Equity Office, will guide faculty members in the exploration of strategies that foster inclusive and enriched research collaborations and training environments. The session is open to all faculty members, whether or not they are familiar with EDI principles.

After lunch, David Phipps, Executive Director of Research and Innovation Services at York University, will lead an innovative keynote workshop on increasing research impact. Dr. Phipps currently heads the award-winning Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York, which provides services to researchers, community organizations, and government agencies aiming to maximize the economic, social, and environmental impacts of academic research. This hands-on workshop will provide researchers across disciplines with tools for developing effective research impact, be it commercialization or knowledge mobilization strategies and practices. 

New this year is a spotlight series on resources for research hosted by the Library, URS-Grants, and University Relations. These short sessions highlight the services, tools, and initiatives available at Queen’s to help strengthen and distinguish faculty research, and will be led by Rosarie Coughlan, Scholarly Publishing Librarian, Stauffer Library, Kirstin Sprong, Queen’s Mitacs, and Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

Research Development Day will take place from 9 am to 4 pm in the technology-enabled, active learning classroom, Room 225, in the newly-built Mitchell Hall. Lunch is provided to registrants.

For more information and to register, visit the Research Development Day website


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