Here’s how undergraduate students searched for and secured positions in McMaster research labs

McMaster University is known for its expansive graduate and undergraduate research and innovation opportunities. Considered Canada’s most research-intensive institution, McMaster’s thriving research labs attract students with a variety of interests and backgrounds.  

Research experience allows one to develop relationships with mentors, explore career or graduate education pathways and develop confidence in lab environments among several other transferable skills. However, with the undergraduate population growing each year, available research positions can feel hard to find.  

“It was very much a game of chance. Realistically, no one from my year had any previous lab experience due to COVID-19, so it more came down to who showed the most interest in what that professor was studying,” said Lynn Hussayn, a third year psychology, neuroscience and behaviour student.  

Hussayn worked as a summer research student in an epilepsy research lab at the University of Toronto. Like many students, Hussayn faced difficulty finding a research position at McMaster.  

“The biggest piece of advice I would give [other students] is to search for things that you enjoy and actually have questions about. Research is meant to answer questions, so the best way of being at the forefront of something you’re interested in doing is to seek out people who are already doing it,” said Hussayn.  

“The biggest piece of advice I would give [other students] is to search for things that you enjoy and actually have questions about. Research is meant to answer questions, so the best way of being at the forefront of something you’re interested in doing is to seek out people who are already doing it.”

Lynn Hussayn, third-year Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour student

Jack Rosenbaum, a third year biology psychology student, also shared his own strategies for reaching out to labs from his experience as a research student in the McMaster PNB Dukas lab. He explained how he targeted his emails to graduate students from labs he was interested in instead of professors, as he thought they would be more likely to respond, which proved to be an effective strategy.  

Rosenbaum also emphasized the importance of seeking out research projects that you connect with. 

“If you’re really passionate about something and you show interest in a professor’s work, then I think you have a pretty good chance in working and volunteering in their lab down the road. But if you’re just doing it for your resume, I feel like professors can see through that,” said Rosenbaum. 

“If you’re really passionate about something and you show interest in a professor’s work, then I think you have a pretty good chance in working and volunteering in their lab down the road. But if you’re just doing it for your resume, I feel like professors can see through that."

Jack Rosenbaum, third-year Biology Psychology student

Sarah Arnold, a third-year chemical and biomedical engineering student and the co-president of the McMaster Society for Engineering Research (Mac SER), explained how resources available through student services, such as resume and cover letter editing, are accessible and effective methods of upping your application game. Along with these services, Arnold noted Mac SER also offers helpful guidance on finding research positions. 

 “Throughout the year we did a bunch of different events that are aimed towards essentially helping students find [research] positions. We have different recordings on our YouTube channel of past events we’ve done where we go over in detail how we approach professors and how you can breach the idea of research,” said Arnold.  

Arnold suggested using these available resources to ensure emails are formatted professionally and to make sure all documents are organized and concise. Arnold also acknowledged searching for a research position can be competitive and difficult regardless of the amount of effort you put in. 

“One tip I usually give to people starting off this process is don’t be too hard on yourself. Similar to applying to competitive programs at university, or specific scholarships; it won’t always work out, and that’s okay,” said Arnold.  

“One tip I usually give to people starting off this process is don’t be too hard on yourself. Similar to applying to competitive programs at university, or specific scholarships; it won’t always work out, and that’s okay.”

Sarah Arnold, Co-President of the McMaster Society for Engineering Research

Arnold emphasized the importance of recognizing the paths we are on are unique and while we should continue to seek out guidance and insight from others, every individual experience is distinctive. Finding a balance in this dichotomy is key to getting involved with research you find meaningful while also fostering independence as an undergraduate student.

Professor Adrianne Xavier about research, Indigenous food security and increasing dialogue and awareness at McMaster

Featured Photo C/O: McMaster University

As an outspoken advocate for the voices of Indigenous people in her Six Nations community  and on campus, Adrianne Xavier is serving as the acting director of the Indigenous studies and anthropology department. A part of McMaster University since 2019, Xavier recently defended her dissertation on Indigenous food security and food sovereignty at Six Nations, her home community.  

Xavier served as the recipient of the Indigenous In-Community Scholar Fellowship in 2020 and this year received the Petro-Canada McMaster University Young Innovators award for her work on community building and her efforts to mentor students to engage with the research process. 

According to Xavier, community building has two components: building community with a research project and building community within any given group. She is a firm believer that community and health research go far beyond the formalities of methodology and the true spirit of research. Especially within Indigenous communities, lies in building a positive relationship with its inhabitants and leaders. 

Photo Caption: Adrianne Xavier pictured beside colleague Dilyana Mincheva as a recipient of the Petro-Canada McMaster University Young Innovators award

Photo C/O: McMaster University

“I’m allowing the students to design what would theoretically be the pieces of a research project and what actions you must take to do real and whole Indigenous research. I want my students to know that there must be clear communication and understanding between them as researchers and the community they are engaging with,” explained Xavier.  

Students under Xavier are working together to build relationships with each other and with fellow researchers regarding how to engage in the community of Indigenous spaces and Indigenous services. Xavier intends for this process to be a safe space for student researchers to learn how to ask questions — such as how to interact productively with Indigenous communities — and how to find sustainable solutions within the community itself. 

Xavier emphasizes relationship building to her student researchers, given that as outsiders, many researchers are unable to assess the needs of Indigenous communities and in turn produce research and subsequent solutions that are not reflective of the community’s circumstances.  

“As an individual, I know that the history of research with Indigenous communities has been very impersonal and the direction of research is often driven by researchers’ desires and interests’ and not the communities who should always be the central focus,” 

Dr. Adrianne Xavier

Xavier’s research area of focus is Indigenous food security, food sovereignty and food as it relates to land repatriation. She promotes an understanding of food security and food sovereignty as the appropriate cultural access to healthy and sufficient food. Xavier is careful to draw the distinction between security and sovereignty; however, as food sovereignty does not always equate to food security, given that having enough food is different from being empowered enough to have the choice of choosing cultural foods. Similarly, food sovereignty cannot happen without food security, as if one has just technically had enough food does not equate to having the capability to decide one’s diet.  

“Just having enough food to eat is not enough. Food must be personally fulfilling alongside being physically nourishing. Caloric intake is therefore not the only criteria for nourishment,” explained Xavier.  

When she talks about Indigenous food sovereignty, Xavier is referring to the conversation of relationships: where do we get this food from, do we have agency to choose that relationship. A person who has enough money may not have food sovereignty if they are not able to make choices about their food. 

During her time running a food sovereignty program with her mother, Xavier observed that despite teaching community members how to grow and preserve their own food, it was not always feasible for people to be able to do so. 

Photo C/O: Megan Thomas, Unsplash 

“I live in a community where there is no grocery store. I have to travel to other towns to get groceries. For me to have food sovereignty myself, I would have to choose the foods that I would like to have that are both culturally relevant, personally fulfilling and physically fulfilling within my community. I’m still unable to do that,” said Xavier. 

True to her vision of Indigenizing solutions to community issues, Xavier is determined to center Indigenous perspectives on how to address Indigenous issues. Through her work with ISP, Xavier is actively working to expand Indigenous studies at McMaster by hiring new Indigenous faculty, with the goal of guiding her program towards becoming a department.  

“As a university, I’m very fortunate McMaster is very supportive of me presenting my way of thinking in the classroom. I have felt welcome, I have felt supported and I will do the same for others,” said Xavier. 

However, given the traditionally discriminatory policies of Canadian universities towards Indigenous peoples and the dismissive nature of academia to traditional knowledge, Xavier has found the settings of Western academia and it’s approaches to her teachings to not always be compatible. To combat this disparity, Xavier strongly advocates for the addition of Indigenous scholars in every department, as there are no facets of knowledge in the university where Indigenous ways of knowing are not present. 

“We have our own understanding of the sciences, math, astronomy, religion, food, study, nature and the climate. Our way of knowing the world is crucial to building a more concrete understanding of these subjects,” explained Xavier.  

While McMaster continues to open itself up to be mindful and welcoming of Indigenous knowledge, for new Indigenous students, faculty and staff, Xavier stresses that at Mac, there are opportunities to grow and have a strong community where Indigenous knowledge and lives are welcome.  

“One of the reasons why I felt so embraced by the university is because of how much Indigenous women are leading the way at McMaster, many of whom are women I know. The placements of Dr. [Allan] Downing, Dr. Tracey Bear are milestones. This is a huge testament to Mac’s ability to bring in Indigenous women,” said Xavier.  

C/O Klaudia Piaskowska

An over-reliance on digital photos causes more harm than we may expect

By: Rankini Kulatilake, Contributor

From my first ultrasound to my high school graduation, my mother’s scrapbook has captured all my milestones. If anyone wanted to know my story, a simple look through that scrapbook would reveal everything. Yet, 18 years later, in the age of digital photographs and phones with multiple cameras, my mother still chooses to carry a disposable camera around to capture the excitement of the world around her. 

Though digital photographs are quick and often high quality, it has caused meaningful pictures to have increasingly lost their uniqueness given the number of pictures that can be taken so quickly.  This idea is based on the fact that we depend on digital photographs to remember the experience, notwithstanding the fact that we have an abundant amount of digital photographs, which can get easily lost in the abyss of our “Photos” app.

A study of undergraduate students was performed as a guided tour of a museum, prompting the students to take pictures of some objects and just simply observe others. The results? The students remembered fewer visual details about the photographed art, in comparison to the art they were asked to only observe

The study found that this difference is due to our over-reliance on the camera, rather than our memory. Consequently, we lose small details and fail to activate the processes that allow us to remember these important details. In short, digital photographs lose their meaning due to our overdependence on the camera itself, causing us to forget important details that would enhance our memory of our experiences.

Digital photographs are easy to take, quick to save and you can easily take 100 pictures in the span of a mere two minutes. In 2018, an estimated one trillion photos were taken. This gargantuan number of photographs will only grow as time goes on. Even in our own phones, we have a flood of pictures. 

But how many of those do we look back at? How many of those experiences do we remember? My camera roll is around 1,000 pictures; however, most of these would be collecting dust if they could. Very rarely will I look back on these pictures because there are simply too many of them and they all blend in together. Many of them have lost their significance as they’ve blended in with the excessive amount of random screenshots and memes I have stored. 

In other words, though digital photos are efficient, the large quantity of them in our phones makes them easily forgettable and causes them to become virtually meaningless.

However, are physical photographs any better? With digital photographs, you can easily share them with your family members and friends who live far away. You’ll even have it there forever, no worrying over losing it or damaging the picture. Despite this, digital photos do not equal security. They can be lost just as easily as physical photographs, albeit in a different manner. 

According to technology developer Vincent Cerf, our most fond and precious memories that are stored digitally risk being lost due to the rapidly evolving changes in digital technologies. 

If we look to compact discs as an example, many used this as a storage unit for a variety of different media types. For a while, you could insert a CD on your laptop as they came with CD players built-in. However, most new laptops do not come with a CD player built-in. Similarly, with the USB, those important files are always easily corrupted and vulnerable to being lost. 

This issue is not seen with physical prints, as photo printers have evolved from being at your local supermarket to mobile printers that you can carry in your bag and connect to a device. All in all, even though physical photographs cannot be as easily shared across vast distances as digital photographs, they can be securely stored and have withstood the rapid advancements of digital media technologies well.

Thus, the rise of digital photographs has caused photos to lose their meaning and significance. This is due to the fact that we remember less of our experiences when we rely on digital photos, as well as the fact that our digital photos are overflowing in our camera rolls. As well, digital photos are constantly vulnerable to the ever-changing media technologies. 

That being said, we can easily capture every moment now, but does it really equate to a memorable and meaningful experience if you are merely viewing it through a phone screen? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but, oftentimes, a thousand words are just not needed. 

C/O Paramita Bhattacharyya

The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.

Paramita Bhattacharyya: My name is Paramita Bhattacharyya. I am currently doing my PhD in the department of engineering physics, where my specialization is in photovoltaics. I also did my master's here in the same department, so I have been with McMaster [University] for around three years now. I'm an international student, so I did my undergrad studies back in India.

What inspired you to pursue a PhD?

When I was doing my undergrad, it was by chance, or by luck that I got to know about an alumnus of my department who was working with photovoltaics. My dad is in a non-renewable energy sector, so he's associated with oil and . . . when I was growing up, I was always surrounded by concepts of renewables and non-renewables. When I got the chance in my undergrad to work on photovoltaics a little bit, I took that opportunity and I was fascinated by the research that I did. I came to McMaster for my masters because I wanted to specifically work on photovoltaics and I wanted to work with my supervisor [Rafael] Kleiman. Later, I loved my research so much that I was like, "No, I really want to do a PhD because I want to join the industry as a research scientist."

Could you elaborate on your research?

We are integrating solar cells [onto] the body of an electric car. Basically, we are not putting on panels, but we are making the body with steel and a [copper indium gallium selenide solar cell]. Particularly, my focus is that all the solar cells look pretty dull, like a blue or black colour. A market survey was done and it was found that no one really likes to have those dull coloured cars, and people definitely don't like to have a car which looks exactly the same as their neighbour’s. So, my research comes into the picture, because I am trying to make these dull, boring cells colourful by working with optical filters . . . I want to have solar cells that look colourful; that's the first part. The second is, we want to properly integrate those solar cells with the body of the car. Then we would love to see how much energy we are getting in different provinces in Canada and the States. We have to do a detailed study about how much energy the cells will be supporting for the battery and a lot of stuff. This is very new research, so it's in the very early stages. There are lots and lots of things to do, but we are keeping our goals pretty short right now, pretty small. Let's first know how to walk before we run.

Do you have a general idea of when we might be able to start seeing solar panel integrated cars?

I won't say many decades in the future, because the company called General Motors is working with us so it's already an industry collaboration. I expect to see the first prototype in four years. That means we will be able to make at least one car like that. After that, it takes a lot of time to scale down the existing manufacturing process that they already have right now and to integrate the new things that we will be recommending. So maybe in 10 to 15 years, we will be able to see those cars on the road, but again, I'm being extremely optimistic.

What has been your favourite part of your research?

Just the thrill of not knowing what I'm doing every day. It's very frustrating but it's very exciting. I love this adrenaline rush. I don't know whether what I am planning will actually work or not, so it can happen that three years down the line, whatever I was thinking is not working at all. There is always that risk. But, if we succeed, then we will also get the fun of doing something that no one has done before. It's that adrenaline rush, that uncertainty of life, because you just don't know what's going to happen. You are just trying to find something that you just don't know how it should look like, or what it is going to be — you're just trying to find something new.

Have you learned any personal lessons as a result of your research?

Yes, a lot. I have learned how to be more patient. I have learned how to not lose hope when things go bad because it's going to go bad all the time. Because the day you get your answer is the last day of your research. So, before that, every day may be a disappointment because you just don't know what's happening.

Do you have any other comments?

I would just tell people to be hopeful in this time. We are coming back, we will come back. So just keep working. Keep going. If you feel like you really don't know what you're doing in life, that's completely okay. The sun always rises after the darkest part of the night. It really doesn't matter what you do, you could do research, you join the industry, or you do something amazingly creative. Just do what you feel like doing, otherwise, you might be exhausted pretty easily so just do what you want to do.

How students have adapted to limited lab time, cancelled programs and remote research

C/O Firmbee.com

Doing a thesis or capstone project can be difficult in regular circumstances. In this virtual year, students have shown incredible innovation, determination and have made the most out of these trying times. These eight students from a range of disciplines and types of research have shared their challenges and triumphs navigating this strange and unpredictable year.

While each of their experiences is unique and insightful, many of these students had similar challenges and benefits in this online year.

Rya Buckley, who is also the Silhouette's Arts and Culture Editor, and Lee Higgins both had trouble with remote desktop access. Buckley couldn’t access the data or statistics program, SPSS and instead conducted her data analysis through Zoom calls in which she shared her screen with research coordinator Caroline Reid-Westoby. Higgins had concerns about speed and file safety.

“I needed one software which was on those computers and I just bought it instead because I didn’t want to deal with it. I just spent $120 on the software and bit the bullet,” said Higgins.

“I needed one software which was on those computers and I just bought it instead because I didn’t want to deal with it. I just spent $120 on the software and bit the bullet.”

Lee Higgins

Several of the students had to change their research methods. Titi Huynh and her group were restricted to online surveys for their data collection, rather than interviews. Christy Au-Yeung hoped to choose clinical assessments and apply them to patients in a memory intervention program, but the program was cancelled in the fall due to COVID-19.

Julia Wickens and Higgins, both in the faculty of engineering, were able to be more ambitious and creative with their capstone projects because they no longer had a manufacturing component.

“We didn’t have to take into account the cost of materials and building time and stuff like that, so we were able to make something a bit more interesting,” said Wickens.

Peipei Wang had very limited access to the laboratory she belonged to but was still able to expose mice to cannabis smoke and the influenza virus and analyze the results with the help of a masters student and laboratory technician.

Though Rodoshi Rahman could have done further experiments with more laboratory access, she was able to take her experiments home. She built two snail compartments in a tank and studied their growth.

Sarphina Chui’s thesis changed completely. She was initially going to study the effects of dance and music on people with Parkinson’s. Instead, she has studied pedagogy to inform a new integrated program at McMaster.

Every student highlighted the challenges and benefits of online communication. For some, the logistics of setting up a common meeting time was a hurdle. Others found it simpler to meet online, to have several questions answered at once and to have quick check-ins.

Huynh mentioned that she hoped to spend more time in the community she researched. Wickens wanted to spend time with her group members in a social setting.

Huynh mentioned that she hoped to spend more time in the community she researched. Wickens wanted to spend time with her group members in a social setting.

All students expressed gratitude for the support they’ve received over the past year, from supervisors, group members and classmates.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected, it’s been a positive experience and I’m sure that’s maybe what you’re hearing from a lot of people," said Au-Yeung.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected, it’s been a positive experience and I’m sure that’s maybe what you’re hearing from a lot of people."

Christy Au-Yeung

That is exactly what I heard from the eight students I was fortunate to interview and share their experiences.

Christy Au-Yeung: level IV integrated science and psychology, neuroscience and behaviour

Thesis: identifying which clinical predictors — like age, personality, cognitive abilities, depression and stress — could predict better outcomes in memory following a cognitive remediation intervention in patients with mood disorders.

Supervisor: Heather McNeely, associate professor at McMaster in PNB and clinical lead for neuropsychology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

Christy Au-Yeung has a long-term interest in mental health interventions, especially on the cognitive symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder, such as memory. She is interested in identifying how clinical factors will impact the outcomes of interventions. 

Initially, she was supposed to choose clinical assessments and administer them before and after intervention; however, because the program was cancelled for the fall, Au-Yeung instead used data from previous patients to analyze clinical predictors and outcomes.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience,” explained Au-Yeung.

Au-Yeung said that apart from the research question, she was really interested in this project to gain clinical experience and she was a bit sad to find out she couldn’t. Luckily, the program ran online in the winter term and she was excited to sit in. Au-Yeung hopes she can use what she’s learned in her pursuit of clinical psychology.

Though she initially felt disconnected, she said the online environment has made it easier to meet with her supervisor and that the other thesis students have been supporting each other.

Au-Yeung said she relied a lot on being motivated by her peers but, with the nature of an online thesis, she’s learned to work more independently.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience,” added Au-Yeung.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience.”

Christy Au-Yeung
Christy Au-Yeung

Rya Buckley: level IV biology and psychology, neuroscience and behaviour

Thesis: association between socioeconomic status, the uptake of the enhanced 18-month well baby visit and speech and language problems in Ontario kindergarten children.

Supervisor: Magdalena Janus, core member at Offord Centre for Child Studies and professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University.

Rya Buckley is interested in child psychology and especially socioeconomic status differences, as SES is a predictor of many outcomes for children. For her thesis, Buckley used data from the early development instrument, co-created by her supervisor, that measures school readiness through various domains of development.

Buckley said that the main adaptation she’s had to make due to COVID-19, apart from no in-person meetings, is access to the data.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I still feel like it has been a useful experience,” said Buckley.

Typically, students use the computers at the Offord Centre in McMaster Innovation Park to access the database and run analysis on SPSS.

“I still feel like supervisors, for the most part, are trying to give their students the best experience.”

Rya Buckley

Due to technical difficulties, they were unable to create access through a remote desktop. Instead, Buckley had weekly meetings with Caroline Reid-Westoby, research coordinator at the Offord Centre, where Reid-Westoby would share her screen with the data and SPSS. Buckley would talk about the next steps in the analysis, Reid-Westoby would perform the commands and send the outputs to Buckley.

“I still feel like supervisors, for the most part, are trying to give their students the best experience,” said Buckley, adding that it’s been a rewarding experience.

Rya Buckley

Sarphina Chui: level IV music - music cognition specialization

Thesis: development of a STEM and music four-year double major degree program at McMaster University.

Co-Supervisors: Matthew Woolhouse, director of the Digital Music Lab and associate professor in the School of the Arts at McMaster University and Chelsea Mackinnon, sessional instructor of health sciences at McMaster University.

Sarphina Chui’s initial thesis on the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease was cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, Chui joined the STEM and Music double degree project, specifically looking at music pedagogy and how to best design an integrated program.

Chui designed a 30-minute online interview for current students in integrated programs at McMaster to understand their undergraduate experience and inform the structure of the proposed STEM and music program.

"To see how we can . . . build an undergraduate degree program that’s most beneficial for students to learn,” said Chui.

“To see how we can . . . build an undergraduate degree program that’s most beneficial for students to learn.”

Sarphina Chui

Chui said that it would have been easier to advertise her study in person, but she said that online interviews haven’t impacted the quality of the research she has done.

“I would say it’s been really great and it’s because of my supervisor. I know that thesis can suck for some people, with it being online, but my experience has been amazing,” said Chui.

The student explained that her supervisors prioritized mental health and that she has learned a lot of really valuable skills from her thesis.

Sarphina Chui
The Digital Music Lab. C/O Sarphina Chui

Lee Higgins: level IV B. tech automotive and vehicle engineering technology co-op

Capstone: pitch and roll adjustable active rear wing for touring and road car applications.

Supervisor: capstone course professor.

Lee Higgins and his two group members are spending January to December designing and simulating a rear spoiler. The design that Higgins and his group are working on will be able to pitch forward and backwards and tilt side to side and the force these movements produce, as it goes.

There is typically a manufacturing component to the capstone but that became optional due to COVID-19. Higgins noted that he was able to create a more complex design but that he lost out on the practical component.

So far, he has worked on a literature review of the necessary concepts and is beginning the modelling stage. Later in the year, he will simulate the model and add any necessary revisions.

“I wanted to really do something cool, something that I was proud of,” said Higgins.

“I wanted to really do something cool, something that I was proud of.”

Lee Higgins

“While it’s different, it’s not as different as I expected it to be. It’s not as bad as I expected it to be. I still had an opportunity to do something that I really cared about that I really liked. Even though it was slightly different I was able to bend it in a way that I was still happy with,” added Higgins.

Lee Higgins
Lee Higgins's rear spoiler design. C/O Lee Higgins

Titi Huynh: level IV social psychology, double minor in sustainability and environmental studies

Thesis: the influence of social media on undergraduate students’ perceptions of reality.

Supervisor: thesis course professor.

Titi Huynh and her four group members looked at the communities that are formulated online through social media and how they can recreate norms and biases amongst individuals, as well as how online behaviours affect offline behaviours.

Huynh said that they were restricted to online surveys because of COVID-19, which had challenges and benefits.

“I know we wouldn’t have been able to reach the 53 students that we did end up reaching if we were to do interviews,” said Huynh, noting that it was initially difficult to recruit students.

“I know we wouldn’t have been able to reach the 53 students that we did end up reaching if we were to do interviews.”

Titi Huynh

To analyze their data, Huynh and her group members would call each other over Zoom, someone would screen share SPSS software and they would go through the analysis verbally. Once they moved from SPSS to Microsoft Excel, it became easier as everyone could access the sheet at the same time.

Huynh also conducted a sustainability thesis as part of her minor. This thesis was in a group of five and they collaborated with the Hamilton Farmers Market to look at vendors’ perceptions on trying to implement or co-develop a food recovery program. Huynh hoped that the vendors could collaborate with a non-profit, such as Meals with Purpose, to donate any unsold healthy and nutritious foods.

This thesis hoped to address food insecurity and food waste in Hamilton. They conducted interviews with vendors and used NVivo to conduct their analysis. However, their McMaster license to NVivo expired after the first semester, before they had data to analyze.

“Everybody planned a schedule for each person to start their two-week free trial and then we would overlap it, so two people would be able to work on it within the same two-week period,” said Huynh. 

“Everybody planned a schedule for each person to start their two-week free trial and then we would overlap it, so two people would be able to work on it within the same two-week period.” 

Titi Huynh

Huynh said that she would have liked to be more involved within the community, such as the participants in her social psychology thesis or the vendors at the Farmers Market. She also noted the benefits of two of these at the same time, where she completed an ethics application for one and then immediately started the application for the other thesis.

“It’s been good. I am very thankful we did these in groups,” said Huynh.

She wished that she could have been more hands-on with her theses and worked directly with the communities.

“With the online environment we seem to have taken a step back and observed everything, which was different, but they were both very enjoyable,” said Huynh.

Titi Huynh
Titi Huynh, her Social Psychology thesis poster and her group members Olivia McMurray, Victoria Scimeca, Kristen Kostuch and Mya Martorano.

Rodoshi Rahman: level V molecular biology and genetics

Thesis: phenotypic plasticity of snail shell morphology induced by architectural constraints.

Supervisor: Jonathon Stone, associate professor of biology at McMaster University.

Rodoshi Rahman has spent the year with snails to see how their shells grow and physically adapt to an architecturally constrained environment. Rahman said that some snails naturally can live in areas that are more sheltered while others live in areas that are more open, including more open to predators.

The nature of her design and the fact that snails are invertebrates meant that Rahman was able to build and conduct her experiment at home. Rahman grew the snails in one of two compartments that she built, one without restrictions and one with a maze, for about two and a half months.

Rahman said that she was acquainted with Stone’s lab before COVID-19.

“I was super excited to experience that because I feel like Doc Roc’s lab was super energetic, they were super friendly but they were also very educational,” said Rahman.

She was really let down that she couldn’t experience this, especially the challenges with making connections, but felt that the online adaptation was smooth.

“[Doc Roc’s] been super available and flexible and helpful,” said Rahman, crediting part of her success within the thesis to Doc Roc’s guidance and training, even if it had to be through Zoom.

“[Doc Roc’s] been super available and flexible and helpful.”

Rodoshi Rahman
Rodoshi Rahman
Rahman's at-home snail setup. C/O Rodoshi Rahman

Peipei Wang: level IV integrated science and biochemistry, minor in statistics

Thesis: investigating the in vivo effects of cannabis smoke on lung immune response to influenza infection.

Supervisor: Jeremy Hirota, assistant professor at McMaster University and Canada research chair in respiratory mucosal immunology.

Peipei Wang has been exposing mice to short periods of consistent cannabis smoke to see how it affects different lung functions. Partway through the cannabis smoke exposure period, they infected the mice with influenza.

“Let’s say lungs are damaged due to cannabis smoke. How does that damage their specific response to specific diseases?” said Wang.

She planned to analyze the gene expression within these mice, but she found out in early March that she was unable to get the RNA data in time. Instead, Wang changed her focus to cell populations and immune mediator expression. Although she found her new topic interesting, she was initially looking forward to analyzing the data that would result from her gene expression analyses.

“There were definitely still upsides. I felt really included by my master’s student, so when he was smoke-exposing and anything happened, he would WhatsApp me and say “Oh, this happened, this looks kind of cool take a look,” and I thought that was really nice,” said Wang.

The student spoke to how interactions with others helped her complete her research.

“Everyone has been so nice and conducive to helping me learn. Even through the pandemic I felt like I had these mentors who were checking up on me and that was really nice,” said Wang.

“Everyone has been so nice and conducive to helping me learn. Even through the pandemic I felt like I had these mentors who were checking up on me and that was really nice.”

Peipei Wang
Peipei Wang
Clips courtesy of Peipei Wang. Video courtesy of Derrick Chappell.

Julia Wickens: level VI mechanical engineering and society, minor in psychology

Capstone: universal muscle stretching equipment.

Supervisor: Philip Koshy, professor of mechanical engineering at McMaster University.

Julia Wickens and her three group members have spent their year responding to the lack of gym equipment focused on stretching. They are creating a piece of equipment designed specifically for a gym environment that can guide people through stretching, especially for those who aren’t as experienced.

The group collaborated on the design but then divided the modelling of each station among themselves, where Wickens and another group member developed the legs and back station. In a typical year, capstone students make a prototype but that was made optional this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“One of the nice things about doing this online is that we were able to go a little bit more ambitious than we would have if we did have to build it,” said Wickens. 

“One of the nice things about doing this online is that we were able to go a little bit more ambitious than we would have if we did have to build it.” 

Julia Wickens

They designed the equipment to be highly adjustable to accommodate different flexibility levels and body sizes.

Wickens completed a capstone for the society component of her degree in the fall term. The capstone challenged the students to research and propose a protocol to implement a program.

The program was meant to address a sustainability problem. Wickens and her three group members chose to focus on a social and financial sustainability problem.

Her group of four developed a proposal for a community program to distribute low-cost computers and computer classes in downtown Hamilton. The computers would be partially made of recycled materials, involving an environmental sustainability lens and a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pis are affordable small computers that can connect to the internet and run programs similar to Microsoft Suite programs.

Wickens said that overall the capstone was a good experience and she felt very lucky to have the technology that enabled them to accomplish everything they did.

“The thing we were kind of sad about is that we got along really well as a group and we couldn’t hang out outside of working on the project,” said Wickens.

“The thing we were kind of sad about is that we got along really well as a group and we couldn’t hang out outside of working on the project.”

Julia Wickens
Julia Wickens

As children continue to enter contact sports, concussions will undoubtedly go up — but so does the chance of CTE.

C/O Molly Ferguson Art

Traumatic brain injuries are everywhere, from the workplace to sports. It is estimated that there are nearly 500 TBIs per 100,000 individuals annually in Canada; to narrow that down, one person in Canada would suffer a TBI every three minutes.

A TBI occurs due to shaking of the brain caused by blows to the head. It is the most apparent cause of death among young adults. TBI can range from being either mild, moderate or severe, depending on the results retrieved from neurological assessments. A concussion is often referred to in clinical settings as mild TBI.

Concussions can typically resolve spontaneously after 7-10 days with close monitoring of symptoms but can lead to immediate impairment of neurologic function with subsequent head injuries. Common symptoms present in the diagnosis of a concussion include headaches, dizziness, nausea, lack of concentration, memory impairment and tiredness.

It is estimated that 200,000 concussions occur per year in Canada alone, and of that, children under the age of five were the most prevalent demographic to experience a concussion.

Now, when looking at sports-related concussions, football is the most common sport in which concussions are diagnosed, where a study showed it accounted for more than half of all 2561 concussions reported.

In the NFL, the position played is an important factor for predictions on concussions and brain injuries, where offensive and defensive linemen are more prone to concussions than any other position. However, these concussions may be caused by low impact hits due to the short distance between the hitting and receiving players, whereas a quarterback would receive stronger hits at a lower frequency.

C/O Mark Ramelb

Though as players become sidelined for injuries, the media has a tendency to blow up injury stories and depending on fan support, the player may be ridiculed for not playing, as opposed to receiving empathy. Thus, many players who may indeed have a concussion go undiagnosed to ensure they are not portrayed as “weak” in their own perspective, in addition to the media’s and fans’ perspectives.

Now as players become injured with concussions repeatedly, long-term neurodegenerative effects may result and more specifically, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Impulsivity, aggression, and suicidal behaviour encompass the clinical presentation for CTE, alongside the loss of memory and muscle spasms. However, a key limitation with the diagnosis of CTE is the requirement for it to be post-mortem.

CTE has gained recent attention from a study in 2017, where the CTE centre in Boston University concluded that CTE was diagnosed in 110 of 111 former deceased NFL players. More specifically, there was global attention on the specific case of Aaron Hernandez.

C/O Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy

Hernandez was on route to becoming one of the greatest tight ends at the time. However, his life turned upside down when he was convicted guilty in 2015 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd in 2013.

Just two years after his conviction, Hernandez committed suicide in April 2017. But after further studies by the Boston University CTE centre, it was found that Aaron Hernandez suffered the most extreme case of CTE ever found in anyone of his age.

C/O Jeffrey Beall

Ann McKee, director of the BU CTE centre, was shocked to find Aaron being diagnosed with Stage III CTE at only 27 years old, exclaiming that his problem-solving, judgement and impulse control behaviours may have been compromised.

“This would be the first case we’ve ever seen of that kind of damage in such a young individual,” said McKee at the time.

“This would be the first case we’ve ever seen of that kind of damage in such a young individual.”

Ann McKee

When looking at concussion rehabilitation programs, it is never that simple, especially for children and youth; but at McMaster University, the CanChild research centre has a specific attention to youth and children with disabilities, and in this case, concussion education and rehabilitation.

More specifically, the centre developed evidence-based protocols for Return to Activity and Return to School for children and youth, led by Professor Carol DeMatteo. It was found that roughly 50 per cent of children and youth adhered to the protocols, and it is primarily dependent on education and awareness of concussion protocols.

To help with adherence, DeMatteo and her team developed the Back2Play app, where concussion symptoms are regularly monitored with an apple watch and real-time activity data is recorded. With that being said, return to school has happened quicker than return to activity.

As children consistently enter themselves into contact sports leagues, it will be no surprise that the prevalence of concussions will rise. However, with greater emphasis on the education of brain injuries, further concussions can be avoided and prevent the unfortunate cases of CTE.

By: Esther Liu, Contributor

The Silhouette: What is the IMPACT study?

Marla Beauchamp: With the start of COVID-19 and the public health recommendations on social distancing and staying home as much as possible, one of the things that concerned us was: "How could this be affecting older peoples' mobility and their social participation?"

We know that mobility is a really really critical aspect of health for older people and when you lose mobility, you're at risk of falling, of negative health outcomes, of hospitalization. So our team wanted to understand the impact of these social distancing recommendations on peoples' mobility and participation over time. 

[/media-credit] Marla Beaucamp

Brenda Vrkljan: Our sample is focused on people in Hamilton and one of the things that we wanted to do with this study was to be very thoughtful about who is gonna be included in the study. We aim to have a random sample, but that's a very loose term because when you say “I want a random sample,” it's not really that random because you still need to obtain informed consent and those kinds of things [and] you still need to recruit people. But what we did was we sampled people in different areas of the city, different economic statuses, different social determinants of health. 

How did this study come into existence?

Beauchamp: I do a lot of work with people with chronic Lyme disease. Some of the guidelines for people include that you should remain at home completely, you should not go out at all. And so I was really concerned that we were telling people not to move, right? And I wanted to understand the impact of staying at home and not going about doing their usual activities, what that could do to their health.

So that was part of the reason for doing it. Also, Brenda and I are always talking about ways that we can support older people to live in their homes and to live independently. So if we were going to think more long term about this pandemic, we really needed to understand what has been the impact: what are people doing, what are people noticing? 

Vrkljan: Like any good idea, there tends to be what I called the idea stack. So, Marla goes: "I have an idea," and I go: "Oh what if we did this too?". This might draw some other people in too and then what hopefully happens is that it's picked up in a better place. One thing we have is that we involve older adults in our initiatives. Of course, we might talk to our families, but that's not quite the same as talking to somebody who's not so close to us.

Marla and I have parents who are aging. . . and we also had an older adult partner who said that we're asking her lots of questions, but one thing that we're missing out on was the impact of the quarantine. We were missing out on the experience of living through a quarantine. So we've added interviews to our study with questions about their lives before the pandemic, during the pandemic and how they foresee their lives after the pandemic.

We're calling it the trilogy approach — it's not quite Star Wars — but this idea of thinking about your life in segments and trying to understand how people manage is our next step. We want to see what strategies people are using that are helping them do really well and see if those strategies could be implemented to help more people.

We're calling it the trilogy approach — it's not quite Star Wars — but this idea of thinking about your life in segments and trying to understand how people manage is our next step. We want to see what strategies people are using that are helping them do really well and see if those strategies could be implemented to help more people. 

What are some highlights from the study so far?

Vrkljan: As an occupational therapist, I'm very interested in things that occupy peoples' time — their ability to do things that are important to them. For example, being able to get out to Tim Horton's could be really important to some people, that could be where you get your socialization. When you can't do those things, it could mean that you're not getting rest, that you're not moving around as much. So together, we're very interested in how people manage their mobility and manage their social participation because we want to leverage that.

Resilience is something . . . interesting as well. It's interesting to see that some of our participants actually reported that they're having such a hard time that they would actually have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It's not a diagnosis, but it's a real struggle. Now, we don't know how they were doing before, but we just had their snapshot in time.

[/media-credit] Brenda Vrkljan

Beauchamp: I just want to emphasize that it is a small proportion of people, but obviously concerning still and not nontrivial. Another big concern with our study is that almost half of respondents said that they were very worried about falling and of the people that had a fall in previous years, almost 40% said they had a fall in the last 30 days. That is a high number of calls during a pandemic where you're supposed to be with your family at home and less in the community.

So it just speaks to the fact that if you're less active and you do have problems with mobility, it can really have an impact on your health. These are all routes highlighted by the survey that are going to be important concerns going forward as we come out of the pandemic. 

C/O: Silhouette Archives

How McMaster’s COVID-19 Research Fund enables scientists and students alike to engage in exciting research to fight the pandemic

Universities across the world have come together to conduct COVID-19 research. Some research projects have even entered phase three clinical trials. The brightest minds around the globe are all hard at work in the lab or hunched over a computer sifting through collected data to put an end to the ongoing pandemic. In the midst of all the headlines boasting of some institution’s cutting-edge research, have you perhaps wondered how McMaster is fighting against COVID-19? 

McMaster holds the title of the most research intensive university in Canada for good reason. Like many of the most advanced research institutions across the world, McMaster’s faculty and students have been working intensely on COVID-19 projects, from exploring the potential for new diagnostic tools to exploring potential drugs that inhibit the virus’ ability to infect human cells. Many such projects have been made possible by many grants and these include the McMaster COVID-19 Research Fund, a program whereby the university itself and donors are able to support research projects conducted at McMaster.

One recipient of the McMaster COVID-19 Research Fund is Dr. Richard Austin, a professor in the medical sciences graduate program. He is the research director at St. Joseph’s Healthcare for the Hamilton Center for Kidney Research and has been at McMaster for 25 years. His research interests are focused on understanding why those with chronic kidney disease are at a higher risk of death due to cardiovascular complications. While waiting for his lab to reopen after facing setbacks from COVID-19 regulations, Austin became interested in the potential of a connection between his work prior to the pandemic and the novel virus itself. 

C/O: Dr. Richard Austin. Richard Austin pictured here.

“We had stumbled upon a couple papers that were published actually showing that one of the cell surface proteins that we work on – GRP78 – was actually identified as a receptor that can combine to spike proteins on the virus and bring it into cells,” explains Austin.

Austin’s research lab has been hard at work looking further into the potential of this discovery he made when looking through the medical literature. His lab has since paired with a large scientific company in order to have access to different molecules that can bind to GRP78 and potentially block it and ultimately the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells. The goal is to find out whether such a molecule may be used as a potential antiviral agent. 

C/O: Michal Moshkovich. Pictured here is Dr. Richard Austin’s research team.

“We have small molecules from another company that we're working with that bind to surface GRP78,” said Austin. “So we're going to [ask whether] if we take some of these small molecules, can they actually disrupt the interaction of GRP78 with the spike protein so it doesn't get into the cell; so it could be an antiviral agent? That's what we're thinking.”

Austin’s research project has since grown and now involves an interdisciplinary team of researchers across McMaster. The team is now a collaboration of different faculties all working together to potentially uncover an antiviral agent. The team includes Dr. Karen Mossman, a virologist and professor in pathology and medicine, as well as a medicinal chemist. “One great thing about McMaster is the collaborative efforts we have,” explains Austin. “Here's a product that's sort of spurred out of an idea at three in the morning, when I was doing nothing and wanted to check on PubMed, into now, three investigators at McMaster that are actively looking at this whole process of GRP78.”

Another recipient of the McMaster COVID-19 Research Fund is Dr. Nikhil Pai, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics, division of gastroenterology & nutrition, for his current project, “A Prospective, Observational Study on the Diagnosis of COVID-19 Infection from Stool Samples of Children and Adults.” 

The project involves many collaborators across McMaster: Dr. Marek Smieja, Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, Lee Hill, Emily Hartung, Jelea Popov, Jodi Gilchrist, Julia Maciejewski, Dr. Mark Larché and Dr. Karen Mossman. 

C/O: Michal Moshkovich. Pictured here is from left to right: Dr. Nikhil Pai, Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, Dr. Marek Smieja.

However, also participating in this exciting project are two undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program, Michal Moshkovich and Melanie Figueirdo, in second and third year, respectively. Indeed, it is not only professors and PhD students who are invested in the fight against COVID-19, but the student community as well.

C/O: Michal Moshkovich. Pictured here is Michal Moshkovich and Melanie Figueiredo, the undergraduates involved in Dr. Pai’s project.

The study will help determine whether COVID-19 infection can be detected from stool samples, which could potentially revolutionize current diagnostic methods. This is especially important considering the high prevalence of asymptomatic patients or COVID-19 positive patients who test negative through nasopharyngeal swabs. 

We are testing stool obtained from patients across eight major adult and children’s hospitals serviced by south western Ontario’s regional virology laboratory,” explains Moshkovich. “This study will better define rates of community infection, increase diagnostic accuracy, broaden our understanding of disease transmission risks and potentially offer more economical approaches to COVID-19 testing.”

The study, which involves a large multidisciplinary team, has garnered attention from across the globe and professionals from abroad are reaching out to offer their own data to assist the study. This just goes to show the importance of collaboration in science, a field which can often seem uber-competitive, during global emergencies. 

What's really incredible is how quickly we and the research community were able to pivot when there’s a global crisis happening to get important, relevant data out immediately,” explains Figueirdo. “We are doing this with a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, clinical pathologist, Director of lab medicine professional; we’ve gotten ministry of health support, McMaster university support and had phone calls with collaborators from Brazil back in February who wanted to share diagnostics with us. It’s very global and rapid; it feels great!”

What better way to spend your undergraduate career than by lending a hand to global COVID-19 research? Moshkovich and Figueirdo have definitely made the most of the pandemic and have had the unique experience of being involved in the nitty gritty of research that might eventually lead to COVID-19 patient care and global implementation of diagnostic techniques. For students also interested in getting involved in the fight against COVID-19 or simply impactful research in general, Moshkovich has an important message. 

“The world is evolving — everything is changing,” says Moshkovich. “Do not hesitate to reach out to specialists, practitioners, laboratory heads and offer a hand in making this change. Because that is exactly what we did!”

This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020

A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.

This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.

The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.

INTRODUCTION TO CASABLANCAS:

In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.

Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience. 

After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a  McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.

EARLY YEARS:

Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.

After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education

In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.

When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position. 

“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.

Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.

THE TERROR OF THE UNFORESEEN:

Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.

“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.

The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.

“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.

He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.

Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.

CAMPUS POLITICS:

Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.

“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.

According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.

While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.

“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.” 

When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.

“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.

The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux. 

“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.

Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.

 

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Photo C/O Jin Lee, Dan Kim, and the Faculty of Engineering

By Wei Yan Wu, Contributor 

It is becoming increasingly important to plan and prepare for the future consequences that the climate emergency will bring to our planet. Zoe Li, a civil engineering assistant professor at McMaster University, has set out to tackle this need. 

As someone who works with scientific models, Li does not work in an experimental laboratory. Instead, she works with different simulation models to analyze the water  cycle. Through her research, Li is attempting to quantify the unpredictable by forecasting the likelihood of droughts and floods in certain regions. 

Li conducts a process known as climate impact analysis to assess the impact of climate change on water resources. Recently, her research has involved working with a Master’s student and two undergraduate students on an algorithm that will be able to collect weather and climate data from numerous climate centres around the world. This will help produce climate projections for specific regions and aid in informing preventive measures. 

For an area at risk of flooding, for example, there will be structural or non-structural measures; a structural measure would entail diversions to modify flood runoff, while a non-structural one would involve practices like flood proofing in order to decrease the damage susceptibility of certain floodplains. 

Through climate impact analysis, Li and her team aim to use advanced machinery and techniques to provide reliable evidence in support of methods of adapting to climate change. To accomplish this, they are working with colleagues in computer science.

While Li and her team are aware that running a physically-based climate model requires a great deal of time and resources, they are able to help meet their need for mass amounts of information by collecting output from various climate centres around the world. These include, among others, the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, the Danish Meteorological Institute, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute and the Université du Québec à Montréal. 

Moving forward, Li intends to use projections, machinery and algorithms to generate a customized projection specifically for Ontario.

“I’ve always known that there’s a research gap. People have been developing global and regional climate models, but there’s nothing that’s reliable just for Ontario. Since I live in Ontario, I thought we should provide a more reliable climate projection for Ontario because this is a very important issue,” said Li.

Li has been contacted by another professor in the civil engineering department at McMaster, who, alongside one of his students, now uses Li’s results as foundation for their own model. Using information that attempts to measure future environmental phenomena, such as predicted temperatures, this professor and his student have been able to quantify the energy consumption of buildings.

Li states that her model can be applied to anything that is affected by a change in temperature and precipitation. She believes that it is necessary to have a projection of what the environment’s future will entail in order to fully analyze the possible impact of climate change. 

“We are trying to provide projections so that people will know what the precipitation is, what the temperature is. For example, for the design of buildings and bridges, they will need to know whether there will be gusts and what the wind speed is, things like that. That’s the input information we can provide,” said Li.

Climate impact analysis is only one part of Li’s research. 

“For the other half, we focus on how to quantify the uncertainties in different environmental systems so that we can better manage different kinds of environmental risks,” she added. 

Due to the fact that model inputs, parametres and structures come with their own uncertainties, Li currently has students working to address these issues by developing quantification methods that could provide more support for risk assessment and management. 

Through her research and by collaborating with different sectors at McMaster, Li demonstrates the potential benefits her work could bring to the community. She also has another project dedicated to analyzing wastewater treatment as she continues to work on environmental solutions for Ontario.

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