2016 Vanier Scholars

The Vanier scholars exemplify academic excellence across the full range of disciplines. Meet some of the 2016 recipients of Canada’s most prestigious graduate awards.

Ashley Chin, Experimental Medicine

Cells come in distinctive shapes and sizes, and are often highly polarized. In fact, these properties are essential to the proper functioning of the cells in the human body. Loss of cellular organization and polarity is implicated in many devastating diseases, including cancer. To make matters worse, loss of polarity allows cancer cells to be more invasive, further spreading the problem to other tissues and organs. Cell polarization is controlled by a poorly understood addressing system, analogous to the transit systems of large cities. Current research is primarily focused on studying proteins involved in polarity control, but I aim to decipher the function of another equally important molecule called RNA. My research therefore centers on understanding how cell polarity is governed by RNA trafficking. Stop signs and traffic lights are situated at certain spots to maintain proper flow and order of automotive circulation, similar to RNA molecules at the cellular level. As cancer cells have major circulation defects, my project will bring us one step closer towards decoding the origins of cancer from the molecular angle.

Learn more about Ashley's research

What are your research plans for the next three years?
I aim to first define the mechanism and gene products (RNA, proteins) involved in regulating cellular organization and epithelial cell polarity, and second, to test whether disturbing these factors will enhance tumor formation. This involves using a combination of powerful molecular biology and microscopy approaches, as well as various experimental models, including human cells and the common fruit fly, a widely used genetic model organism. I intend to share my work at various national and international conferences, followed by disseminating my results in respected peer-reviewed journals. I also hope to broaden my networking circle and strengthen key collaborations by attending an international exchange, expanding my horizons as a young researcher.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I feel ecstatic and privileged to be named a Vanier Scholar. It’s a great energy boost for my PhD journey! I owe many thanks to all my mentors who shared their passion and love for research with me. This award enables me to pursue cutting edge research at the lab of my choice and to attend more conferences, which is of immense importance to achieving higher knowledge and keeping up-to-date with the ongoing discoveries. This award also alleviates all financial worries associated with graduate studies, giving me the much needed time to focus on my research. In short, this award not only gives me the momentum to fully dedicate myself to research, but it also opens up a world of opportunities as I lay the foundation for the next chapters of my research career.

Boris Mayer, Plant Science

My research focuses on the establishment and function of cold-associated epigenetic memories in the plant Brachypodium. When a plant is exposed to cold, it adapts by altering the expression of a number of genes. These changes in gene expression have been linked to changes in the epigenetic makeup of genes. Gene transcription can be regulated by a collection of chemical modifications (epigenetic modifications) present on the DNA/histone complex that altogether contribute to the timing and level of transcription. In this project, I measure changes in the epigenetic modifications of cold-responsive genes. If stable, these modifications can form memories, which can in turn contribute to survival during subsequent stresses. I also intend to determine the function of these memories during subsequent cold stresses.

Learn more about Boris' research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
For the next three years, I plan to further our knowledge of cold adaptation in plants. Cold is also a developmental cue, and by working on this project, I will also investigate the interaction between development and survival. These are often intertwined, especially in temperate plants.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am truly honored to have received the Vanier CGS.  This prestigious scholarship allows me to focus all my energy on research. It has been a great motivation and I believe the Vanier will open many doors for my future career.

Cong Xu, Biology

There is an urgent need to understand how organisms will adapt to today's rapidly changing environment yet we know little about how natural selection acts on genetic variation in the wild. My research focuses on experimental genomics of the deer mouse in the Sand Hills of Nebraska where it has been shown that coat colour has recently evolved to provide camouflage with local substrate colour against predation by birds. We established large experimental enclosures on different substrates and populated them with mice of different colours. DNA from each mouse is sequenced so that we can see how the genome and particular genes change over time. This innovative experiment allows us to directly observe natural selection due to known ecological factors at the genetic level, improving our understanding of the genetics of adaptation, and allowing us to better predict how natural populations will respond to human-induced changes in the environment.

Learn more about Cong's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
Over the next three years, I will complete the molecular work for the mice born within the enclosures and begin the genetic analyses that will answer questions such as “What proportion of the genome is involved in adaptation?” and “Are the same genes begin selected across generations?” We will continue to maintain the enclosures and sample mice from within to establish a long term dataset that will serve as a valuable resource for future studies.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am very honored and thankful for being awarded the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. I can now begin my Ph.D. studies without worrying about my financial situation and focus purely on my research. The Vanier will also give me the freedom to pursue other projects and initiate collaborations with scientific institutions from around the world.

Deepak Sridhar, Chemical Engineering


Supercapacitors are in lime-light as they can be charged/discharged faster than batteries, have long life cycles, they can be easily built and are environmental friendly. But, they can hold less energy. We are working on finding more suitable transition metal oxides, high surface area carbon composites and current collector materials for making efficient supercapacitor electrodes that can hold more charge and perform better.

It has been a pleasure winning Vanier graduate scholarship. This has greatly helped me to pay my heavy international tuition fees and concentrate more on research and community well-being! We would like to work more on economical materials, simple fabrication techniques of the electrodes and current collector materials to make efficient supercapacitors that could compete with batteries. These devices would make renewable energy storage more efficient, help electric vehicles to get higher per charge mileage, and can be effectively used in portable electronics and on-chip micro devices. This research will lead to materials that can be used for numerous applications such as water treatment, hydrogen storage, and electrochemical sensors.

Emily Buck, Materials and Mining Engineering

My project involves surface modification of orthopedic implants, specifically those composed of poly(etheretherketone) (PEEK). PEEK has excellent bulk properties for use in orthopedic implants, including chemical resistance, mechanical strength, radiolucency and biocompatibility. However, it has a bioinert surface, meaning that cells from the surrounding bone cannot attach to it and its integration with the bone is poor. In addition, some inflammation around the implant can occur from the adsorption of non-specific proteins on the surface that triggers an inflammatory response. To address these issues with PEEK bone implants, I plan to modify the surface chemistry of PEEK and study how these chemical modifications influence its ability to integrate with the surrounding bone and reduce inflammation caused by adsorption of non-specific proteins. Additionally, I plan to study how surface chemistry influences the ability of graphene to support bone cell growth since graphene is a new material with great potential for use as bone tissue scaffolds.

Learn more about Emily's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
Over the next three years, I plan to perform cell culture experiments to study the effect of changing the surface chemistry of PEEK and graphene on the response of osteoblast and immune cells. Since the adsorption of proteins plays a major role in the successful integration of an implant at the cellular level, I also plan to study the relationship between surface chemistry and the adsorption of non-specific proteins. I hope to help gain a better understanding of the role of surface chemistry in PEEK implant integration and to develop a solution-based coating technique that could be easily applied to implants of various shapes and sizes.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am very humbled and honored to have been selected as a recipient of the Vanier scholarship. I am so grateful that I will be able to focus on my research project over the next three years without spending time applying for funding. I feel that this scholarship provides me with an opportunity to not only take my project further but also to have time to develop some side projects that I may not otherwise have had time for. I am excited to use this funding to attend more conferences where I have the chance to discuss my ongoing works with experts in my field and to develop some collaborations. I feel very fortunate to be among the Vanier scholars, which will allow me to develop my research and leadership skills while preparing myself for a career in research. I cannot thank all those who supported me before, during and after the application process enough for their time, help and words of encouragement, and I appreciate very much the support that the Vanier will provide me as I advance in my future career.

Fern Thompsett, Anthropology

My research focuses on Anarcho-Primitivism, a global activist movement that is primarily based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Anarcho-Primitivist texts, widely available online, consistently critique ‘civilization’ – particularly, the domestication of plants and animals for agriculture – and advocate for a return to gatherer-hunter lifeways. However, descriptions of the lived experiences of people who are attempting to put these ideas into practice are scarce. My work will use anthropological methods to explore the diverse, complex and creative ways in which people in the Pacific Northwest are bringing Anarcho-Primitivism into being, be it as a means to resist socio-political alienation, environmental destruction or impending climate change.

Ina Filkobski, Sociology

In recent decades, policy discourses, theories, and practices of peacebuilding and conflict resolution have refocused on civil society (CS) as a vital determinant of peace. However, there is little understanding of how to do people engage in CS in conflict-ridden societies, and a number of studies found that CS participation in peacebuilding is actually declining. The objective of the proposed research is to examine whether peacebuilding initiatives mobilize young adults from conflicting groups to actively engage in CS. A tool often applied by CS organizations for grass-roots-level peacebuilding and conflict resolution is inter-group dialogue programs. These programs seek to build a culture of peace and democracy while creating bridges between the groups in conflicts. I seek to explore through doctoral research whether participation in inter-group dialogue programs contributes to greater activism in CS. The proposed study will present the Israeli-Palestinian students dialogue encounters as case studies, examining whether CS conflict resolution and reconciliation programs mobilize their alumni to act and replenish the ranks of peacebuilding CS.

Learn more about Ina's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
I will use a cluster sampling of programs offered to university students to gather information on project objectives, methods, content, and duration as well as diversity in socioeconomic and geopolitical conditions. The study will apply mixed‐methods. The first component will be a longitudinal survey. All participants (both those entering the dialogue programs and those in the control groups) will complete a survey at the program’s start, indicating their involvement in CS. A survey at the end of the program will elucidate the recent alumni intention to take part in CS institutions and initiatives. Finally, a 12 month longitudinal follow‐up survey will address the levels of alumni involvement in various CS frameworks. The surveys will be accompanied by qualitative methods –participant observation during encounters, content analysis of students’ final papers in case of university courses, and interviews with a sample of 100 students from all the programs designed to present diversity in nationality, gender and socioeconomic background. As CS is a broad concept, a wide range of engagements will be considered for this study. It might be difficult to establish a causal link between participation in inter-dialogue programs and leadership due to self-selection bias. Individuals who are oriented towards civic engagement are more likely to engage in intergroup initiatives. To address this potential problem, students who applied to the programs\courses but were not selected or eventually chose not to participate will serve as a control group. A second control group will be comprised of participants’ peers who have not applied for intergroup dialogue programs, but nevertheless self-attest to support for a peaceful resolution, hold strong democratic values and describe themselves as ethnically tolerant. The peers will be contacted through the participants of the programs from their immediate environment and their number will correspond to those who join the program. This design helps isolate the unique effects of intergroup dialogue programs.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am honored and thrilled to receive this prestigious award. These funds will allow me to access bigger sample of participants, evaluate richer diversity of programs and document in greater depth processes that move individuals to engage in civil society. As many societies worldwide struggle with violent conflicts and social cleavages I hope to use the Vanier Graduate Scholarship to gain understanding into how situations of conflict can be transformed on the grassroots level.

Sarah Gelbard, Urban Planning

The proposed research aims to understand the “outsider” and non-sanctioned spatial practices of marginalized and alternative groups that are often overlooked by, and remain invisible within, the histories and theories of urban planning. This research focuses on informal urban spatial practices, traditions, and tactics with specific attention on how these groups operate around, rather than in direct compliance with, the authoritative professional structures of urban planning and architecture. Informed by feminist, diaspora, and subculture theories, an historical-theoretical approach applies critical and radical readings of appropriations and occupations of space by skate, punk and LGBTQ groups. I draw links between those urban groups whose place-making is preceded by a need to make space in the often unwelcoming and incompatible mainstream spaces of dominant culture and official plans. I hope this research speaks with those for whom the right to the city is often a fight.

Learn more about Sarah's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
This project is both deeply philosophical and grounded, as is my research plan. I look forward to reading from a wide variety of classic and radical sources and to collaborate with colleagues across academic disciplines and institutions. I am eager to bring this project to the communities I will be working with; to learn with them, to share their stories, and to question theory through practice. I am also looking to find ways to integrate my own urban art practice, and have started learning guitar as one of many ways to see and be in the city differently.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am fortunate to be surrounded by creative and important research and have profound respect for my colleagues. I am humbled to have been selected and grateful for the opportunity the Vanier Graduate Scholarship affords me to dedicate my time and energy to my work. It is a project that is both personally meaningful and that I believe will have far-reaching impact in understanding how we shape our cities and how our cities shape us.

Claire Godard-Sebillote, Family Medicine

My research project is about the evaluation of the Alzheimer’s Plan implemented in Quebec for persons with dementia. I am a geriatrician. I worked for 3 years with persons with dementia. I have witnessed the daily challenges patients and their caregivers face navigating the healthcare system, as medical, social, and community services are fragmented and uncoordinated. I have also been concerned by the inefficiency of the system to meet their needs leading to avoidable and harmful Emergency Department visits. To address this challenge, an Alzheimer’s Plan, aiming at enhancing the capacity of primary care professionals, has been implemented in Family Medicine Groups in Quebec. The aim of my research is to assess its impact on health services’ use.

Learn more about Claire's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
I will conduct a quasi-experimental study with a difference-in-differences analysis to assess the impact of the Quebec Alzheimer’s Plan. The Quebec Alzheimer’s Plan has been implemented outside any experimental design. To ensure a sound evaluation of its impacts and to take into account confusion bias, I will use a difference-in-differences analysis, a powerful method to mimic an experiment with observational data. I will compare health services’ use of persons with dementia followed in the Family Medicine Groups (FMGs) where the QC Alzheimer’s plan has been implemented to health services’ use of persons with dementia in control FMG where it has not been implemented. I will match the intervention and control FMG according to their propensity scores to ensure comparability of baseline characteristics, as is the case in randomized controlled trials. I will extract data from the Quebec health administrative database.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I feel incredibly honoured, proud and grateful to be awarded a Vanier award. This could not have happen without the strong support I received throughout the application process from my peers, my supervisors, and the professors of the Department of Family Medicine. Being awarded a Vanier award, in addition to the financial security it offers me, which is already an inestimable gift, gives me confidence that my research project is relevant and could have concrete policy implications. As a future clinician researcher it will open me future funding opportunities allowing me to conduct further geriatric relevant research projects in Quebec.

Holly Cronin, Geography

My research investigates the institutional dynamics of innovative young seaweed farming industries. Seaweed aquaculture represents a promising opportunity for aligning commercial food production with social and environmental objectives. For coastal communities, cultivating seaweeds in the ocean is an avenue for economic diversification. Seaweed crops absorb carbon and provide locally beneficial ecosystem services. Producing foods as well as pharmaceuticals and biofuels from seaweeds does not require fresh water, arable land, or fertilizer. With increasing global demand for seaweed crops, aquaculture activities are being established in new locations and quickly scaled up. In many cases, this is occurring despite major gaps in identifying best management practices, understanding implications of global change, and creating appropriate environmental and social frameworks. Through research on burgeoning seaweed aquaculture activities, I aim to discover how innovative institutional arrangements can channel the emergence of sustainable industries.

Learn more about Holly's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
Building on exploratory fieldwork I conducted in the United States and Panama, the next few years of my research will follow a three-phase plan. I will first complete archival research to explore diverse institutional arrangements throughout the global seaweed aquaculture sector. With that contextual background, I will carry out extended field research to build in-depth case studies on emerging seaweed industries throughout the Americas. Finally, I will analyze the data collected and write my dissertation. I plan to disseminate the findings of my research through academic channels as well as materials relevant to policymakers and coastal communities. My research horizons will continue to expand as a result of the invaluable scientific support provided by McGill’s Neotropical Environment Option, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and the Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, and Sustainability NSERC CREATE Program.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am honored to have been selected as a Vanier Scholar. I deeply appreciate the investment in my growth as a scientist. Winning this extraordinary scholarship is a testament to the support of the Department of Geography, the research mentorship of my supervisor, Dr. Brian Robinson, and the contributions of so many others at McGill and beyond to my personal and professional development. The financial flexibility provided by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship will enable me to more completely focus on my research and engage in complementary outreach activities. The recognition of the Vanier selection committee further challenges, inspires, and motivates me to pursue impactful research, expand my leadership activities, and actively contribute to improving opportunities for sustainable development in coastal regions worldwide.

Jerome Quintin, Physics

The standard Big Bang model of cosmology, based on Einstein's theory of gravity, successfully describes the universe for a number of observations, but it also has several important conceptual problems. My PhD project will explore a new theory for the very early universe that could solve these problems. The idea is to use the concept of holography, which states that information about our universe could be encoded on its boundary, similar to a hologram in optics where a two dimensional picture appears to be three dimensional. The goal is to understand how small fluctuations in this scenario could lead to the observed large-scale structure of our universe, allowing for new predictions. Not only would this greatly improve our understanding of the physical laws when the universe was a fraction of a second old but also our understanding of fundamental physics in general.

Learn more about Jerome's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
In order to reach my objectives, I separated my research plans for the next three years as follows. First, I will investigate the possible initial states for the universe. Then, I will study the dynamics of the universe, i.e. how the universe evolves over time given the theory and its ingredients. Finally, I will determine the spectrum of the perturbations, which will allow us to test our ideas against observational facts.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I feel very privileged and honored to be a recipient of the Vanier Graduate Scholarship. Winning this scholarship encourages me to go beyond mainstream ideas and be more independent intellectually. I hope to be able to go to the root of physical problems and contribute to the progress of our understanding of the physical laws that describe our universe in its most extreme behavior. With the support of this scholarship, I will also have more opportunities to travel and visit other institutions. This is crucial to encourage me disseminate new ideas and promote internationally the research carried out at McGill University. It will also help me exchange and create links with other researchers that could play a role in my post-doctoral career.

Jean-Philippe Leduc-Gaudet, Experimental Medicine

Sepsis is a common and lethal syndrome caused by a severe whole-body inflammatory response to an infection, most commonly bacteria, but also fungi, parasites and viruses. Sepsis is one of the leading causes of death in modern intensive care units and is responsible for approximately 10,000 deaths in Canada each year. Mortality rates in sepsis remain high and are often associated with muscle dysfunction leading to respiratory insufficiency. However, the underlying mechanisms are still unclear and no specific anti-sepsis treatment exists. My research focuses on defining the role of autophagy in sepsis-induced muscle dysfunction. Autophagy is the catabolic process by which cells degrade their own components. Identifying the underlying molecular mechanisms that are responsible for sepsis-induced skeletal muscle dysfunction is a crucial step that might allow the identification of direct therapeutic targets.

Learn more about Jean-Philippe's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
During the next three years, I will be investigating the role played by autophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction in sepsis-induced impairment of muscle function using various mouse models. Also, I plan to travel for conferences and internships during the next years. This will allow me develop several research skills in collaboration with other researchers.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
It is a great honor and I feel privileged to receive the Vanier Scholarship. Winning this award will allow me to focus entirely on my research without financial worries. The Vanier Scholarship will also give me more opportunities to attend international conferences and to establish collaborations with other researchers. I believe that the support of this award will further motivate me to achieve my full leadership potential in my research field. This award confirms my commitment to make a positive impact in the field of research focusing on muscle dysfunction.

Lourdes Fernandez de Cossio Gomez, Integrated Program in Neuroscience

While writing my Psychology licensing thesis on a screening tool developed for early detection of neurodevelopmental problems, I became fascinated by the advances in science on brain development and plasticity. Soon after, I was out in the real world as a neuropsychology trainee at the Cuban Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, evaluating children with neurologic diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders as part of an amazing team of medical specialists in pediatrics, neurology, genetics and electrophysiology. Nevertheless, I was troubled by the fact that in many cases, there was little to be done besides providing a diagnosis. In the more fortunate cases, I watched in awe as the medical team discussed the biological underpinnings of the neurologic diseases and formulated treatment strategies. However, most children with neurodevelopmental disorders, are in a medical limbo and consequently effective treatment and prevention are difficult to envision. I have therefore ventured into the field of Neuroscience to better understand the underlying biology of these disorders with the hope that through research we may ultimately discover treatments.

Learn more about Lourde's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
We know that challenges to the maternal immune system during pregnancy, like viral or bacterial infections, increase the chances of neurodevelopmental disorders appearing in the young, including: Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Schizophrenia. The mother’s attempt to repel invaders—her inflammatory response—is seemingly at fault. Recently, the brain’s guardian immune-cells, microglia, have been shown to be critically involved in normal brain development, shaping the connections between neurons. Defective brain connections could seriously affect physical, social and/or intellectual capacities giving rise to neurodevelopmental disorders. We believe that with roles both in immunity and development, microglia are therefore an exciting new target for investigation in the context of maternal infection. During the next three years, I will study microglia’s role shaping neuronal connections in a mouse model of maternal immune activation. With this model, we can peek inside the brain using cutting-edge microscopy technology and do gene manipulations, allowing us to directly dissect microglia’s involvement in neurodevelopmental disorders arising from maternal infection.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I’ve fallen in love with research. This search for truth that requires bridging of different disciplines and countries, I think is the very basis of our development as a society. My first thought with the news about the Vanier was… “Wow, I may actually have a chance to continue in this path of becoming a scientist!” Let’s face it; it has become very difficult to follow a career in science, and coming from a developing country where you have very little financially, the need to be practical about life choices can be overwhelming at times. Obtaining this distinction is liberating. I’m happy and fortunate to have made it this far with the unconditional support of my husband, and this award certainly fuels my hope to continue on this career path. Given the potential benefits that research on neurodevelopment could have for children, I feel that being part of current and future research in the field is how I can best contribute to the global community.

Lauren Somers, Earth and Planetary Sciences

My research focuses on the impact of climate change on hydrology and water resources in the Peruvian Andes. Communities and industries in the mountains of Peru rely heavily on proglacial alpine watersheds for water supply. As glaciers in this region rapidly recede due to rising air temperatures, water shortages are becoming common in many parts of Peru. Computer models can be used to simulate physical hydrological processes in order to better understand Andean hydrology and the vulnerability of mountain water resources to climate change. My project will combine groundwater, surface water and glacier melt computer modeling techniques to improve our ability to project future stream flow conditions under climate change scenarios. Furthermore, in collaboration with Peruvian stakeholders, we can recommend appropriate adaptation strategies based on modeling results to help communities make informed decisions to improve water supply to the growing population.

Learn more about Lauren's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
I will begin by conducting field studies to gather data that will be used in computer modeling. This includes monitoring of important hydrologic metrics such and stream discharge, groundwater levels and water chemistry as well as physical site properties including subsurface and infiltration characteristics. Next I will modify existing hydrologic computer programs so that the groundwater, surface water and glacier melt components work together. Finally, I will use the model to run hydrological simulations that use climate projections as an input and output hydrologic projections for the next fifty years.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am incredibly grateful to have been selected for the Vanier Graduate Scholarship and am honoured to be among this group of student leaders. Winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship gives me the financial freedom to focus more completely on my research. This scholarship will allow me to conduct fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes and engage directly with Peruvian collaborators and stakeholders amplifying the impact of my work.

Oliver Lasry, Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health

Traumatic brain injury (TBI or head injury) has a devastating impact on individuals and populations in Canada and around the globe. In many respects, TBI has received little attention and awareness, which is why it has been described as a “silent epidemic”. Accurately monitoring the occurrence of these injuries is essential to mobilizing resources to assist those affected. For similar reasons, identifying healthcare policies that have an impact on reducing the TBI disease burden is necessary. Unfortunately, the current methods used to measure TBI occurrence are inaccurate or too resource-intensive. As such, researchers have had difficulty evaluating the impact of relevant healthcare policies with any validity. My doctoral thesis is concentrated on using administrative health data to improve TBI surveillance methods and thereafter evaluating the impact of recent healthcare policies on the TBI disease burden. This knowledge will finally give a voice to this silent epidemic.

Learn more about Oliver's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
Over the next three years I will be working on a cost-effective and accurate way of conducting TBI surveillance using administrative health data. My goal is to develop novel TBI surveillance algorithms that can be used across jurisdictions, such that stakeholders in TBI across the world can monitor TBI occurrence in their population in a resource-friendly fashion. With this new knowledge I will complete my next thesis goal which is to evaluate the impact that policies geared toward the clinical management of TBI have on individuals and the healthcare system.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am honoured to have been recognized as a Vanier Scholar. The support provided by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) will allow me to dedicate my time and effort to my doctoral research. Since this scholarship recognizes future researchers with strong leadership skills, I believe that both local and international stakeholders in TBI will be more attracted to collaborate on my research endeavors at McGill. This teamwork will ensure that my research is cross-jurisdictionally relevant and widely disseminated. For these reasons, I believe that the Vanier CGS will have an important influence on my quest to becoming a clinician-scientist.

Sophie Cousineau, Microbiology and Immunology

I study how the hepatitis C virus (HCV) interacts with the cells it infects. More specifically, I’m interested in how HCV uses cellular RNA-binding elements to control its own replication, and my Ph.D. project is focused on a protein called the poly(C)-binding protein 2 (PCBP2). My goals are to figure out what PCBP2 does (what steps of the viral life cycle are affected by this protein?), and how it does it (which RNA-binding structures within PCBP2 that are involved in this effect? Does PCBP2 collaborate or compete with other elements required for HCV replication?). To accomplish this, I use molecular biology techniques to modify PCBP2 expression in HCV-permissive cell lines and assess how these changes affect the various steps of virus production. Beyond improving our understanding of HCV, the molecular mechanisms I’ll uncover may also be relevant to other human pathogens related to HCV, such as the dengue and Zika viruses.

Learn more about Sophie's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
My plan is to continue with my project on PCBP2 and the hepatitis C virus - I have established a cell culture system to knock down or overexpress PCBP2, and I am currently optimizing assays to tease out how the different stages of the viral life cycle are affected by a depletion or an abundance of this protein. Once I have identified the step(s) of virus production that require PCBP2, I’ll use the same system to overexpress PCBP2 constructs with inactivating mutations in the protein’s RNA-binding domains - this will allow me to pinpoint the structure(s) necessary for PCBP2’s effect on the viral life cycle. Eventually, I will use this experimental system to explore whether PCBP2 interacts with other elements known to be necessary for HCV replication, such as the cellular microRNA miR-122. I also hope to generate some preliminary data about PCBP2’s effect - or lack thereof - on the replication of the dengue and Zika viruses.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
I am honoured and grateful to have won a Vanier Graduate Scholarship. This award will allow me to focus fully on my research without worrying about securing other sources of funding, and will also give me the means to attend conferences and training opportunities that I otherwise could not afford. These will be great opportunities to expand my network and to disseminate my findings within my field’s research community.

Vasiliki Rahimzadeh, Family Medicine 

My project characterizes the policy relationship between research ethics review and data sharing for six, large-scale genomic projects involving children across Canada. Data sharing is critical for making scientifically sound links between the human genome and (childhood) disease. To share data from child participants in Canada, studies must undergo research ethics review to ensure the benefits of the research and data sharing are proportional to the informational risks. Procedural inefficiency of existing ethics approval policies, however, can often stall important genomic research and impede necessary collaboration. My project will contribute a unique policy framework that addresses the specific ethical, legal and social challenges of sharing data from pediatric research participants. Taken together, my findings fill a knowledge gap at the nexus of bioethics and Canadian health policy governing data-intensive research involving children. It is my goal that children remain at the forefront of genomic innovation, and that ethics governance of such research is equal part protective and facilitative for pediatric participants.

Learn more about Vasiliki's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
Since learning I was awarded the Vanier, I completed my comprehensive exams and obtained ethics approval for my project studying the process of ethics approval (the irony did not escape me!). My research plans for the next three years involve conducting an in-depth case study through document reviews and interviews with key stakeholders from six pediatric genomic projects funded in Canada. I will compile descriptive statistics on time and costs of ethics approval, as well as better understand how the approval process influences researchers’ propensity and abilities to share research data. I plan to conduct on-site data collection with PIs, research teams and ethics review committees across the various cities in which the six pediatric projects are head quartered. My affiliation with the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health will further allow me to engage international partners in developing the pediatric data sharing policy framework.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
To be sure, being awarded the Vanier Graduate Scholarship is my greatest academic achievement to date and for which no words of gratitude to the mentors who supported me in the process could suffice. Yet the designation carries with it for me an even greater commitment to actualizing the social promises of the academy generally, and directing scientific progress through leadership in science policy, specifically. The Vanier Graduate Scholarship is a privilege to pursue areas of research that fascinate me most—namely where science, biomedicine and society intersect—but more importantly deepens my commitment to being a young scholar who is globally engaged. Similar to the ways in which data sharing is a collective good, the Vanier Graduate Scholarship is a vehicle for me to generate social goods through translating new knowledge into (science) policy. I anticipate the Vanier Graduate Scholarship will open doors I once thought out of reach in research and academia. Particularly exciting are the prospects the Vanier has made possible to enhance the visibility of women leaders in science policy and university administration. As an international student recipient, I am afforded the financial security that, without it, so often compromises the professional development of young women scholars like me. Addressing this disparity in a local capacity at McGill will be a focus of mine as a Vanier recipient.

Federico De Musso, Anthropology

Labels that certify the geographic origin of food are marketing strategies championed around the world for their ability to revitalise depressed rural areas. The objective of my research is to investigate how food labelling can condition farmers’ livelihoods and their social relations of a rural district in Spain. In order to do so, I look at the social and environmental changes caused by the recovery of commercial winemaking in the district. Viticulturists try to establish a steady winemaking sector by mobilising the consumers’ imagery through the creation of value-adding certifications about the geographic origin of their products. However, other producers (e.g. shepherds) find it difficult to create similar labelling stratagems for their food commodities. My research analyses the effects that certification-embedded place narratives have on farmers’ livelihood and their ability to access land.

Learn more about Federico's research

What are your research plans for the next three years? 
I am currently in Spain, conducting 18 months of fieldwork. I’m already working in a vineyard, learning all the subtleties of the regional challenges to viticulture and winemaking. During my time here, I will also spend time with the shepherds’ and their flocks, the districts’ horticulturalists, and the marketing experts that oversee labelling processes. Following this period, I will also participate in food and wine fairs all over the world in order to follow the commodity chain of the district’s products. Following these 18 months of fieldwork, I will begin writing my dissertation. In this stage, I will attend conferences and publish my results in international journals as well as engage with my research subjects to create a public discussion about my research findings.

How do you feel about winning a Vanier Graduate Scholarship – what difference will this make to your research path or your contribution to the global community?
My research greatly benefitted from the Vanier Graduate Scholarship. The scholarship allows me to extend the duration of my fieldwork, as well as to extend fieldwork beyond its initial geographical limits. This way, I will be able to locally and internationally follow those processes that entail rural rebranding through regional labelling – a process of high relevance to vast rural areas of developed countries.

Other 2016 Vanier Recipients

  • Anastasia Glushko, Integrated Program in Neuroscience
  • Sonia Krol, Psychology
  • Katherine Pizzaro, Psychiatry

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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