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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.

[Greenhouse]
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

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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.

[SNOLAB]
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
SNOLAB
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

Boost for cancer research signals leadership

Canadian Cancer Trials Group awarded $25 million in funding to support clinical trials.

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) has been awarded $25 million (more than $19 million USD) from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The only non-American partner to receive direct funding to conduct trials, the monies will allow CCTG to continue its work leading major cancer clinical trials in Canada and develop new large-scale trials under CCTG leadership.

Headquartered at Queen’s University, CCTG is a cancer clinical trials research cooperative that runs Phase I to III trials to test anti-cancer and supportive therapies at over 85 institutions across Canada and internationally.

CCTG Tissue Bank photo of colon tissue immunofluorescence stain captured by Lee Boudreau & Shakeel Virk.

“This renewed funding will continue the U.S.-Canadian research collaboration and allow CCTG to take the lead on a number of important trials over the next few years,” says Janet Dancey, Director of CCTG. “Global partnerships like this one allow CCTG to bring cutting-edge international clinical trials to Canadian cancer patients, helping to prolong and improve the quality of life of those living with cancer.”

Working with U.S. investigators, within the National Clinical Trials Network, enables larger-scale clinical studies to be available to more patients and delivers definitive practice-changing results, more quickly. This collaborative approach supports the increasing need for targeted research into rare cancers and the clinical testing of precision medicine strategies that require individualized treatment processes.

CCTG has successfully obtained funding from the NCI since 1997, as a key clinical trials partner in the former U.S. Cooperative Group Program and now with the NCTN.

“Thanks to support from partners such as the NIH and NCI, CCTG is an international leader in advancing both trial practices and cancer treatments,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “Strong research collaborations, both within Queen's and among partner institutions, are critical to their success in addressing this devastating disease."

For more information, visit the CCTG website.

Cities and countries aim to slash plastic waste within a decade

Plastic trash on a beach]
Volunteers work to clean up trash, including plastic bottles, on a beach. (Photo: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash)

If all goes well, 2030 will be quite a special year.

Global and local community leaders from more than 170 countries have pledged to “significantly reduce” the amount of single-use plastic products by 2030. Success would result in significantly less plastic pollution entering our oceans, lakes and rivers.

[The Conversation]Today, societies around the world have a love affair with disposable plastics. Just like some love stories, this one has an unhappy ending that results in plastic bags, straws and takeout containers strewn about the global environment.

As researchers who study the contamination and effects of plastic pollution on wildlife, it would be nice if by 2030 we no longer heard about plastics showing up in the stomachs of dead whales, littering the beaches of distant islands and contaminating tap water and seafood.

It is time for some good news about the environment, including stories about how cities and countries are managing plastics and other waste materials in more sustainable ways, and how children will have cleaner beaches to play on.

No reason to wait

Scientists have known about plastic pollution in our oceans for more than four decades. It is pervasive in rivers, lakes and soils too. Plastic pollution knows no boundaries, with small bits of plastic found from the equator to the poles and even on the remote slopes of the French Pyrenees mountains.

Plastic waste damages ecosystems, smothers coral reefs and fills the bellies of sea life. In the absence of action, the amount of plastic waste produced globally is predicted to triple between 2015 and 2060, to between 155 and 265 million tonnes per year.

As a welcome response, global leaders have decided to act. At the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March, environment ministers from around the world signed a voluntary commitment to make measurable reductions in single-use plastic products, including straws, shopping bags and other low-value plastic items that are sent to landfill after being used once.

Similar goals to deal with plastic pollution have been introduced by municipal, provincial, federal and regional governments across the globe. Non-profit organizations and industry leaders are making efforts to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. For example, Ocean Conservancy is uniting citizens and organizations around the world in cleanups to meet their goal of an ocean free of plastics by 2030, and Unilever has pledged to use 100 per cent recyclable packaging by 2025.

Canada joins the movement

Canada introduced the Ocean Plastics Charter at the G7 summit in 2018, committing nations to work with industry to make all plastics reusable, recyclable or recoverable by 2030. That means sending no plastic waste to landfill.

Vancouver aims to be a zero-waste city by 2040. Although the city has reduced the mass of waste going to landfill by 23 per cent since 2008, it still has a long way to go.

Ontario also has its sights on being waste-free by developing a circular economy, which means keeping materials in use for as long as possible. The province aims to cut the amount of waste sent to landfills in half by 2030, a reduction of 4.5 million tonnes, through reuse and recycling.

To propel Ontario into action, Ian Arthur, the member of the Ontario provincial parliament for Kingston and the Islands introduced a private member’s bill in March to eliminate Ontario’s use of non-recyclable single-use plastic products such as straws, coffee cups and plastic cutlery, which ultimately end up in landfills. These plastics do not feed into a circular economy.

In addition, school children in Ontario are working towards collecting 10,000 signatures on petitions to ban single-use plastics in the province.

Canadians would like to see more action against plastic waste. According to a recent poll, 90 per cent of Canadians were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the environmental impact of plastic waste, and 82 per cent thought government should do more to reduce plastic waste.

Bye bye plastic waste

Our research, and the research of others, has found that single-use plastic products litter our beaches and coastlines, small pieces of plastics contaminate our Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean, and microplastics are present in our sport fish and drinking water.

Ambitious global, regional and local collaborations are sorely needed to truly realize these goals. It’s time to commit to ending the love affair with disposable plastics.

Individual action does work. Quench your need for caffeine by using a reusable mug. Hydrate with water from a durable and refillable bottle. Purchase groceries that come in containers that can be reused or recycled. Plan your kid’s birthday party and your work meetings without using disposable single-use plastics.

A decade of positive habits could lead to a future where plastic is no longer waste, but valued as a material that can be reused and recycled — shifting our current paradigm to a more sustainable one that lasts far beyond 2030.The Conversation

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Chelsea Rochman is an assistant professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto.

Diane Orihel is an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and Queen's National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology.

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.

Five strategies to improve medical training – to reduce stress and boost expertise

[Medical students]
Canadian medical students graduate with up to $200,000 in debt, and burnout rates are high. (Photo: Luis Melendez/Unsplash)

Recent changes in undergraduate medical education and postgraduate residency training in Canada are stressing trainee doctors, increasing their debt load and reducing their experiential learning.

Such changes include a perceived shortage of residency positions, a premature requirement to choose a career path early in medical school and a growing fixation on exam preparation.

Older doctors are largely unaware of these new challenges. For trainees, on the other hand, this is the only system they know. Patients simply expect us to produce “triple A” doctors — available, affable and able.

As a cardiologist and head of medicine at Queen’s University, I offer several suggestions to reduce trainee stress, debt and burnout. I believe these suggestions will also enhance the expertise of Canada’s newly minted doctors.

For a start, we should increase residency training positions to meet Canada’s medical needs, and simplify the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) process for allocating residency positions. We should also constrain the time trainees spend studying for qualifying exams, delay the selection of medical career tracks until internship and restore the rotating internship.

Loss of empathy and self-worth

Nearly half of medical residents report burnout — defined as a loss of empathy and sense of self-worth. Burnout is reported ever earlier in residents, despite legislated restrictions on work hours and increased pay.

A contributing factor is the increasing time residents spend studying for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) qualifying exams. Trainees are also impacted by funding decisions of provincial governments, which limit the size of medical schools and residency programs, and by hospital congestion, which impairs the learning environment.

The reasons medical students experience burnout are complex. They include worries about whether they will match to a residency program and about which career track to select during their second year. Students also worry about debt — the average medical school debt was over $70,000 in 2014. This number increased to over $158,000 in 2017 (and many students borrow up to $200,000).

While tuition (at around $20,000 per year) is an important source of debt, a new and avoidable expense relates to the cost of off-site electives and CaRMS interviews incurred in their search for future residency positions.

1. Increase residency positions

So, what if we increased residency positions 10 per cent while reducing off-site medical school electives?

Medical students and residency training programs rank each other through an online system, called CaRMS. Recently, the number of unmatched Canadian graduates has been increasing — from 11 in 2009 to 68 in 2017. While 68 unmatched students (from a national total of 3000) may sound like a small problem, it can have tragic consequences.

Medical school graduate Robert Chu ended his life in 2016, after twice failing to match. He wrote:

“Without a residency position, my degree … is effectively useless. My diligent studies of medical texts, careful practice of interview and examination skills with patients and my student debt in excess of $100,000 on this pursuit have all been for naught.”

Of course, we should only create more residency positions if we need more doctors. Provincial governments tend to believe there are too many doctors; however, OECD data show Canada (with two MDs per 1,000 population) ranks near the bottom of the pack.

 

In 2017, there were 2,967 residency positions available in Canada and 2,810 residents in the hunt. This scarcity is exacerbated by an influx of international medical graduates, many of whom are Canadian citizens, a net outflow of students from Quebec and fewer available positions in “popular” specialty programs, such as dermatology, emergency medicine and plastic surgery.

 

This means that there is just two per cent wiggle room between positions required and positions available, complicated by student geographic and specialty preferences.

2. Develop a ‘learn local’ strategy

To reduce the risk of being unmatched, medical students spend their time criss-crossing Canada performing electives to demonstrate their interest in a program, while serving as their own travel agent and paying for travel and accommodations.

This adds to their debt and stress and these brief sojourns often yield superficial clinical experiences. One budding dermatologist told me:

“I did six electives in dermatology (12 weeks total), and two electives in internal medicine… If I was to do it again, I probably wouldn’t have done so many dermatology electives - it’s just that I didn’t get the ones I really wanted until the end. I’m not sure I necessarily needed to do this many dermatology electives in order to match….I definitely felt the pressure to do the majority of my electives in this specialty to show my interest and build relationships at the programs I was interested in. … I can’t say exactly how much I spent. Certainly, in the thousands of dollars.”

Another student toured 12 universities across Canada to interview for surgery residencies. She ended up with her first choice of residency and stayed at her home university. Between external electives and the CaRMS interviews, medical students lose around four months of local clinical exposure.

A “learn local” strategy combined with a 10 per cent increase in residency positions would reduce expense, travel and stress and allow students to extend rotations at their own centres. The proposed changes would also right-size our medical work-force.

3. Delay specialty selection

What if we delayed the choice of career track until internship?

Some students struggle to choose a speciality. Family physician, internist, surgeon, pediatrician, obstetrician, radiologist, ophthalmologist, pathologist… there are many options. How can an informed choice be made after two years of relatively superficial exposure to the options?

A Queen’s student noted:

“It felt like there was an abrupt change when we went from exploring disciplines in medical school to when we needed to decide on our specialization. In first year, we were required to do observerships to promote variety. But midway through second year we needed to select our clerkship stream and then all of a sudden it seemed like decisions had to be made…. Midway through second year, by picking my stream, I had to decide that I was not going to pursue emergency medicine, anesthesia or a subspecialty surgery.”

By delaying specialty selection until internship, trainees could make more informed choices.

4. Reinstate the rotating internship

What if we reinstated the rotating internship?

A rotating internship gave doctors a broad experience. We abandoned the rotating internship in favour of a two-year family medicine residency in around 1990. However, rotating internships did not just train GPs, they also trained many future specialists.

During my rotating internship at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia, from 1981 to 1982, I spent time in obstetrics (delivering more than 100 babies), pediatrics (caring for sick and premature babies), surgery (as first assist on all operations and primary surgeon for hernias and appendectomies), intensive care (placing arterial lines and managing ventilators) and internal medicine (running the ward).

I learned respect for each specialty by walking a mile in their shoes. These practical experiences alter the medical DNA of a young physician in a way no clerkship experience can. Re-establishing a rotating internship as the first year of residency would result in Canada’s doctors being more broadly trained.

5. Reduce preparation time for exams

Exams consume a trainee’s after-hours life for one month of medical school and nine months of residency, engendering stress and contributing to burnout. Studying too much may also distract trainees from clinical learning opportunities.

Objectively however, the success in the RCPSC exam has long been 95 per cent for Canadian graduates (likewise the LMCC exam for medical students).

Let’s recast medical school and residency as programs for adult learners and reset expectations for how much time a trainee can or should study to some reasonable duration — say one month for medical students and two months for residents.

The training of doctors is a joint responsibility of universities, provincial agencies, accrediting agencies and society. Together we should refocus medical school and residency training with the goal of producing triple A doctors who are more clinically experienced, less stressed and owe less money.The Conversation

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Stephen Archer is a professor and the head of the Department of Medicine at Queen's University.

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

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.  

Understanding bleeding disorders

Women with bleeding disorders can wait up to 15 years to get appropriate testing and treatment. (Shutterstock)

About 30 per cent of all women report heavy menstrual periods at some point during their reproductive years. Up to 15 per cent of these have an underlying bleeding disorder and yet most have never been diagnosed, leaving thousands of women to suffer from a treatable problem.

As a hematologist and clinician scientist at Queen’s University who cares for patients with inherited bleeding disorders, it is a major source of frustration for me that women with bleeding disorders can wait up to 15 years to get appropriate testing and treatment.

I worry even more about what happens to those who never get diagnosed. These women are at risk of acute hemorrhages leading to blood transfusions and the need for hysterectomy.

Because April 17 is the 29th annual World Hemophilia Day — a day focused on outreach and education about hemophilia — I would like to share some evidence-based information about heavy periods, what it means to be a female “carrier” of hemophilia and how you can easily test yourself for a bleeding disorder.

Iron deficiency and abnormal periods

Bleeding disorders that affect women include von Willebrand disease and hemophilia — both are inherited and are caused by low levels of “clotting factors” (proteins needed for normal blood clotting).

In families with a bleeding disorder, it is common for women to not realize their periods are heavy because other affected women in the family have similar problems. To them, heavy periods seem normal.

There are also social stigmas against an open discussion about periods that can be difficult to overcome. And there is a lack of accurate information about normal versus abnormal periods.

Key features of heavy and abnormal periods include having to change pads or tampons more than every hour, having iron deficiency anemia, frequently soaking through your sheets at night and bleeding that lasts longer than seven days.

Iron deficiency anemia is of particular concern because it leads to fatigue and shortness of breath as well as poor school and job performance.

Iron deficiency and heavy periods are too often ignored but can be signs of an underlying bleeding disorder. Both are easily treated once the diagnosis is made.

Women can also have hemophilia

Women who are carriers of hemophilia are very often considered to be “only carriers” — capable of passing on a mutant gene to their children. They may be told this by their doctor. Their bleeding then often goes untreated because of this misconception.

My own research has shown, however, that around 30 to 40 per cent of hemophilia carriers experience abnormal bleeding including heavy periods, post-partum hemorrhage and joint bleeds. Some, but not all, have low clotting factor levels.

Effective treatments for heavy periods in women with bleeding disorders are widely available. These include the oral contraceptive pill and medications like tranexamic acid (that prevent clot breakdown) and desmopressin (that increases clotting factor levels).

Gynecologic options such as the levonorgestrel intrauterine device (IUD) and endometrial ablation also exist.

In rare cases, women with bleeding disorders require clotting factor infusions to control heavy periods. If iron deficient, iron supplementation is a key component of treatment as it improves quality of life. Dietary iron intake alone is not enough to correct iron deficiency, particularly once it has caused anemia.

Historically, much of the focus of research and education for hemophilia was on improving treatment for boys and men with the disease. The mainstay is frequent intravenous infusions of the missing clotting factor. Significant advances have been made including the development of better treatments and the possibility of cure.

Are your bleeding symptoms normal?

Many organizations are now focused on increasing public knowledge about bleeding disorders. The recognition that women can also have hemophilia is increasing through the efforts of organizations like the World Federation of Hemophilia.

Related articles
Unraveling mysteries in the blood
International research leader earns top honour
New website developed at Queen’s University helps women detect the signs and symptoms of a bleeding disorder

The role of novel therapies for women with hemophilia isn’t clear, and additional research is required to understand exactly why these women bleed. One recent study from my lab showed that the blood clotting system of hemophilia carriers doesn’t react to hemostatic stress (such as trauma) as well as it does in healthy controls. A rapid and sustained increase of blood clotting factors is required to halt bleeding following injury and this was significantly impaired in hemophilia carriers.

If you are wondering if you have a bleeding disorder, the Self-BAT (self administered bleeding assessment tool) is freely available and can tell you if your bleeding symptoms are normal or abnormal.

This tool analyzes information about your bleeding symptoms to generate a bleeding score. A high bleeding score is associated with an increased chance of having an underlying bleeding disorder and should be discussed with your doctor.

Significant advances have been made in understanding the problems faced by women with bleeding disorders. More research and education is needed so that all women are diagnosed and treated properly.The Conversation

____________________________________________________

Paula James is a professor in the Department of Medicine at Queen's University with cross-appointments to the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics.

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.  

Images showcase the beauty and creativity of Queen’s research

  • 50th Anniversary Prize – Faculty of Education
    50th Anniversary Prize – Faculty of Education: Learning to Live (Not Walking in Line) - Theodore Christou, Faculty, Faculty of Education, Thessaloniki, Greece. Description: The history of research and scholarship in education is a record of our efforts to make sense of the world. How ought we to live? What should we learn, embrace and resist? From antiquity to anarchism, or, from Aristotle to Pink Floyd, we have known that we should never confuse schooling with education. Schools, whether they are traditional, progressive, colonial or transgressive, have all been instruments of oppression as well as resistance.
  • 125th Anniversary Prize – Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science
    125th Anniversary Prize – Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science: A New Light - Robert Cichocki PhD student, Civil Engineering, GeoEngineering Lab, Queen's. Description: Tired of seeing roads being dug up to replace aging pipe infrastructure? Civil engineering research at Queen’s is bringing a new light to innovative, no-dig rehabilitation techniques. In this image, a UV light train is being prepared to help rehabilitate the adjacent corrugated steel pipe. The inside of the pipe has been lined with a fabric fiberglass tube embedded with UV cure resin. When the light train passes through the tube, the UV cures the resin solid and transforms the fabric tube into a solid liner. The new liner and pipe will further undergo buried experiments that will bring new insight into the structural behaviour of these systems.
  • People’s Choice
    People’s Choice – Nano-dendrite Collision - Hannah Dies, MD/PhD student, Chemical Engineering, Dupuis Hall, Queen's. Description: This scanning electron microscopy image depicts branched gold nanostructures (“nano-dendrites”) growing from planar microelectrode tips and crashing halfway, buckling upwards to create a third dimension of nano-features. The structures assemble from gold nanoparticles under the influence of an applied electric field, similar to how iron filings assemble under the influence of a magnetic field. The gold nanoparticle building blocks are 50nm in diameter – about 5000 times smaller than a human hair. The branched network formed by these nanostructures promotes incredible sensitivity for small molecule detection by means of Raman spectroscopy. At the QuSENS laboratory, and with the startup company Spectra Plasmonics Inc., we use these nanostructures to detect illicit drugs, pesticides and explosives at ultralow and societally relevant concentrations.
  • Art in Action
    Art in Action – Keep Cool Boy - The Jets Aloft in West Side Story: Tim Fort, Faculty, Dan School of Drama and Music, Weston Playhouse, Weston Vermont. Description: In a rare moment, before a Franz Kline inspired setting, the Jets achieve a perfectly synchronized lift-off in this production of West Side Story mounted in celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday. After 46 seasons at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont, this production also represented my 60th (and final) happy entanglement directing mostly musical theatre works on the playhouse's historical stage. Twenty-seven performers – from newly-minted conservatory graduates to Broadway veterans – enabled this epic work to fly.
  • Community Collaborations
    Community Collaborations – Women in Mathematics - Stefanie Knebel , PhD student, Mathematics and Statistics, Jeffrey Hall, Queen's. Description: Mathematical thinking is about finding patterns and structure. As a woman in the mathematics PhD program, I hope to inspire young women to follow their passion and find beauty in mathematics. At Queen’s we offer the MathQuest camp for high school girls. As captured in the photo, I am brainstorming ways to teach game theory and linear algebra. This is also a part of my research with Dr. Peter Taylor, where we work with teachers across Ontario looking for innovative ways to incorporate mathematical thinking in education. We hope to change the math curriculum by making it a more engaging, positive and memorable experience.
  • Best Description
    Best Description – Lights, Camera, Action: Wolfie’s Story - Marian Luctkar-Flude, Faculty, School of Nursing, Glaxo Wellcome Clinical Education Centre, Queen’s. Description: "Lights, Camera, Action: Wolfie's Story" is a photo depicting the filming of a virtual simulation game about an older gay man grieving the loss of his partner of over 30 years. The game is part of the "Make it Better for All" Developing and Evaluating Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Nursing Virtual Simulation Games project, led by Dr. Marian Luctkar-Flude, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. This innovative CIHR-funded research project aims to develop and evaluate a series of virtual simulation games to provide education for nurses and nursing students on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). Four full games and four mini-games will be hosted on the SOGI-Nursing website along with other resources to promote cultural humility in nursing interactions with LGBTQI2S persons.
  • Out in the Field
    Out in the Field – First Emergence - Ivana Schoepf, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Biology, Queen's University Biological Station. Description: My research focuses on the effects that avian malarial parasites have on female reproductive success and offspring quality. To assess how malarial infection affects mothers and their offspring, I spent the spring and summer in the field at the Queen's University Biological Station catching female, adult red-winged blackbirds and treated them with either an antimalarial medication or a control solution. Female reproductive success was determined by looking at a variety of parameters, including incubation behaviour, which was measured using I-buttons (as seen in the photo). If experimental reduction of infection leads to higher reproductive success in females, I expected to find medicated females to be able to spend more time incubating their eggs. Our preliminary analysis shows that this was indeed the case.
  • Invisible Discoveries
    Invisible Discoveries – Love under the Microscope - Dalila Villalobos, Postgraduate Medical Education, Anatomical Pathology (MD, Resident), Kingston Health Sciences Centre. Description: As pathologists in training, we are constantly reminded that both human cellular responses and the most deadly medical conditions can be unexpectedly beautiful under the microscope. We are trained to be detail oriented and to understand disease in all its forms because abnormalities will only present to the eye that knows what to look for. This photo captures a normal prostatic gland with its characteristic double layer and irregular branching. The moment we diagnose a benign condition in a patient that is anxiously awaiting for results is always rewarding. But, if, on top of that, we see heart-shape glands, it is inspiration.

It was a record-breaking year for the Art of Research photo contest. The 2019 contest received more than 100 submissions from Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, who took up the challenge of capturing their research programs in engaging and thought-provoking ways.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), the Art of Research is an annual competition that provides a unique and accessible method of sharing and celebrating the ground-breaking research happening at Queen’s. With submissions this year representing each faculty, the contest showcases the beauty and creativity of research across all disciplines.

“The Art of Research is central to our efforts to raise awareness of the breadth and depth of critical research happening at Queen’s,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations). “The success of this year’s competition is a testament to the permeation of this campaign, and we are delighted to be able to share with results with the campus community, and beyond.”

Prizes were awarded to the top submission in the six categories of Community Collaborations, Invisible Discoveries, Out in the Field, Art in Action, Best Description, and People’s Choice. An adjudication committee of representatives across the university selected the winners and an online poll (1,100 votes) of the Queen’s community determined the People’s Choice winner.

The 2019 contest also celebrated the significant anniversaries of two Queen’s faculties by awarding special prizes. To celebrate its 125th anniversary of engineering education at Queen’s, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science prize was awarded to the submission that best demonstrates how engineering-specific pursuits are likely to affect positive change in our daily lives. Additionally, the Queen’s Faculty of Education prize, to commemorate the faculty’s 50 years of excellence, was awarded to the photo that celebrates the photography of students, faculty, staff or alumni as they pursue research in education.

Part of the university’s integrated research promotion campaign, the Art of Research is showcased across a variety of research initiatives, including campus beautification displays, research collateral and other materials. Past winners of the contest are featured in a travelling pop-up photo exhibit, which has travelled to over 25 locations and events since September 2018, including the Canadian Science Policy Conference and alumni events.

For more information on the contest, and to view past winners, please visit the website or contact researchcommunications@queensu.ca

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