Campus updates

New inter-campus shuttle buses unveiled

Campus news - Wed, 03/03/2021 - 14:35

After a curveball of a year, the revamped McGill-red vehicles – which feature a new, bold Made by McGill design style – will, with any luck, serve as a beacon of the many exciting things to come as the university progresses toward the gradual resumption of on-campus activities.

“The Made creative platform has a strong visual presence with its blocky geometries and Swiss-design inspiration,” explains McGill Graphic Design Team Art Director Jean-Bernard Ng Man Sun, who led the in-house design project. As such, the same bold, minimalist and geometric design attributes were applied to the designs of the six buses, with each one illustrating one of six themes of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ newly-developed Strategic Research Plan: Environment, Ecology, and Sustainability; Water Soil and their Sustainable Management; Sustainable Crop and Livestock Production Systems; Safe, Nutritious, and Secure Food Supply; Human Nutrition and One Health; Bioproducts Biomaterials and Bioenergy.

“The Strategic Research Plan recognizes the importance of individual expertise, academic disciplines and interdisciplinary collaboration to reach our research ambitions and goals,” says Associate Vice-Principal (Macdonald Campus) and Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Anja Geitmann. “It was important that the artwork on the buses represent those relationships, while also highlighting our faculty’s dedication to addressing the global challenges facing humanity and our environment.”

And as these revitalized buses might suggest, the time has come for us to look forward to better, brighter days ahead.

“It’s wonderful to see the buses get a facelift, however the bigger celebration will come when passengers can once again occupy every seat, chat with their neighbours and fully enjoy the campus experience,” says Dean Geitmann – and hopefully those days are not too far ahead of us.

 For more information about the inter-campus shuttle bus and its schedule, visit the Transport website.


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McGill earns top marks in global rankings by subject

Campus news - Wed, 03/03/2021 - 08:39

With the world still reeling from the disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic for over a year now, normalcy is a hard trick to pull off these days. Excellence is even harder.

That’s what makes McGill’s performance in the 2021 edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject so impressive. Released earlier today, the rankings place 32 McGill subjects in the top 50 worldwide, including three in the global top 10.

The remaining 11 of 43 McGill subjects on the list were all ranked in the global top 100 – a noteworthy achievement considering the rankings are based on detailed comparative analysis of nearly 14,000 individual university programs from 1,440 universities around the world.

The rankings, by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, evaluates 51 of the most popular subjects with students around the world, making it one of the most comprehensive rankings of its kind.

Consistent top performer

For the sixth straight year Engineering – Mineral & Mining led the way for McGill, ranking fourth best in the world, up from sixth last year. A consistent performer, Mineral & Mining has made the top 10 for five consecutive years.

Once again, Library & Information Management was also highly regarded, maintaining its spot at 10th from last year.

Joining the Top 10 was Anatomy & Physiology, which jumped from 18th in 2020 to 10th this year.

Other solid performers for McGill included Linguistics (14th); Geography (24th); Medicine (25th); Law (25th); Pharmacy & Pharmacology (25th); Education (26th); English Language & Literature (27th); Earth & Marine Sciences (28th); Environmental Sciences (28th); Psychology (29th); Geology (30th).

Breaking down the rankings

Each of the subject rankings is compiled using four sources. The first two of these are QS’s global surveys of academics and employers, which are used to assess institutions’ international reputation in each subject. The second two indicators assess research impact, based on research citations per paper and h-index (which measures productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar) in the relevant subject.

In Academic Reputation, McGill’s best performance was in Anatomy & Physiology, which scored 93.2 out of 100.

In Employer Reputation, the University’s top score came in Engineering – Mineral & Mining, earning a mark of 88.8.

In Citations per Paper, Education garnered the highest score with 94.3.

Education was also McGill’s top performer in H-Index, receiving a mark of 91.

The QS rankings also rate universities in five broad disciplinary areas; Arts & Humanities; Engineering & Technology; Life Sciences & Medicine; Natural Sciences; and Social Sciences & Management. McGill ranks in the global top 50 in all five areas, with Life Sciences & Medicine leading the way at 31st in the world.

Encouraging trend across Canada

McGill’s strong showing is part of an encouraging trend in the Canadian higher education sector that, according to this year’s Rankings by Subject, is at its strongest point in four years. The 2021 instalment of QS’s global university performance comparison shows that the number of Canadian programs achieving top-10, top-20, and top-50 ranks has increased year-on-year, to their highest point in the 2018-2021 period.

“With six per cent of all programs attaining a Top-50 position across our tables, only Australia (8 per cent), the United Kingdom (15 per cent), and the United States (33 per cent) possess a higher share of world-class departments,” said Jack Moran, QS spokesperson. “While we observe particularly strong representation for Canadian institutions in subjects like Mining Engineering and Library & Information Management, there is no subject in which Canadian higher education is not offering outstanding provision.”

Consult the QS World University Rankings by Subject



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“Good bacteria” in breast milk changes over time

Campus news - Tue, 03/02/2021 - 15:36

The cocktail of beneficial bacteria passed from mother to infant through breast milk changes significantly over time and could act like a daily booster shot for infant immunity and metabolism. The research, conducted by scientists from Montreal and Guatemala and published in Frontiers in Microbiology, has important implications for infant development and health.

Researchers discovered a range of microbiome species never before identified in human milk. Until now, relatively little was known about the role microbiome bacteria play in breast milk. These bacteria are thought to protect the infant gastrointestinal tract and improve aspects of long-term health, such as allergy prevention.

“Some bacterial species we observed in our sample breast milk had a common function in destroying foreign substances or xenobiotics and could play a role in protection against toxins and pollutants,” says co-author Emmanuel Gonzalez, a bioinformatics specialist at McGill University. The discovery sheds light on how mothers help lay the foundation for infant immunity.

Differences between early and late lactation

To learn more about the human milk microbiome, the scientists analyzed breast milk samples using high-resolution imaging technology, originally pioneered by McGill University and the University of Montreal to detect bacteria on the International Space Station.

They analyzed breast milk samples of Mam-Mayan mothers living in eight remote rural communities in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. This gave them a unique window to observe the human milk microbiome over time, specifically between early and late lactation (6-46 days versus 109-184 days).

Unlike most mothers in North America, nearly all Mam-Mayan mothers breastfeed for the World Health Organization’s recommended period of six months. In North America, only 26% of mothers do so. “This longer feeding time allowed us to observe important changes in the bacteria provided to infants over time, which could impact long-term health,” says Gonzalez.

The genomic technology used by the scientists revealed a range of microbiome species shared among Mam-Mayan mothers, providing a glimpse of a diverse community of bacteria being passed on to infants.

“Studying microbiomes of diverse communities is important in order to understand the variation present in humans,” says co-author Kristine Koski, an Associate Professor in the School of Human Nutrition at McGill. “Most human milk microbiome studies have been conducted with mothers from high income countries, generating an incomplete picture of the important bacteria passed to infants during early development.”

Working alongside underrepresented communities will be essential in getting an accurate picture of the human milk microbiome and the factors that shape it, according to the scientists. They hope that these discoveries will help encourage more inclusive and more robust research.

Read the study online.

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Imagining the future

Campus news - Mon, 03/01/2021 - 19:30
Jeremy Levett is a second-year McGill medical studentOwen Egan / Joni Dufour

Jeremy Levett always wanted to be a physician. He remembers proudly drawing his chosen career on a poster to share with his preschool class. Over the years, his vision has evolved to become a physician-scientist, cardiovascular surgeon and innovator.

“I have always been hopeful and curious in nature, sensitive to the human condition, and fascinated by research and innovation. While medicine places a powerful emphasis on the art of healing, science has always appealed to me as the discovery and establishment of new knowledge, carrying a profound meaning and perpetuity which I’ve found to be very fulfilling,” says Levett.

This passion is what led the second-year McGill medical student to found Stenoa, a promising start-up that reimagines the invasive diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death globally.

Novel technology for analyzing coronary blood flow

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, claiming more than 9,400,000 lives annually. The gold-standard for diagnosing patients with coronary artery disease is a coronary angiogram, a procedure that involves the endovascular guidance of a catheter to a patient’s heart. Once in position, contrast is injected and a sequence of X-ray images are acquired to visually estimate the (coronary) flow of blood to the heart. In the vast majority of cases, operators will interpret angiograms with no further objective guidance. However, additional invasive wires can be inserted to assess the physiological severity of coronary lesions and guide treatment with significantly improved outcomes.

Stenoa is developing novel technology for the cardiac catheterization laboratory, noninvasively modelling the physiological severity of coronary artery lesions, and reimagining the operative workflow. Their technology leverages computer vision and machine learning algorithms to interpret coronary angiograms in real-time, and provide objective diagnostic measures on the ischemic severity of coronary lesions in order to guide operators in diagnosis and treatment.

“Stenoa is striving to seamlessly integrate a data-driven experience into the cardiac catheterization laboratory, optimizing an intuitive environment natural to operators. But most of all,” explains Levett, “Stenoa is here for patients.” Ultimately, their innovations hold the potential for saving lives, improving clinical outcomes, and reducing unnecessary, invasive and costly interventions in a multibillion-dollar market.

Gravitating towards cardiovascular medicine

“There’s a breathtaking beauty to touching the first organ system that develops and tirelessly beats to sustain life, from the beginning until the very end,” explains Levett, who has always been fascinated by the cardiovascular system.

The sheer prevalence of cardiovascular disease also motivates Levett to pursue this area of expertise. “I feel a natural responsibility and sense of purpose to work on a disease that is the number one cause of death.” Levett is inspired by the targeted approach in clinical research popularized by cardiovascular medicine to design large and simple studies that answer powerful questions. “The transformative nature of innovations that can translate to benefitting such large numbers of patients is a rare privilege to partake in,” he says.

Looking for answers through research

Throughout his adolescence, Levett was always very observant and curious in nature, and troubled by the sudden suffering and loss of loved ones. “I couldn’t reconcile how fatal diseases can cause so much suffering and grief, yet be unified by a common pathophysiology that science was in the process of ascertaining and advancing,” he explains. “Nothing is a greater testament to this reality of science than the unprecedented circumstances we are living.”

Searching for a role model to shape his understanding of science, at the young age of 14, Levett reached out to leading researchers around the world, proposing advanced stem cell projects that were inspired by personal losses and adversity. Among the over 30 professors Levett reached out to globally, the only one to take Levett’s request seriously was Nahum Sonenberg, James McGill Professor at McGill University, Gilman Cheney Chair in Biochemistry, and researcher at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre. “Dr. Sonenberg, in all his wisdom and humility, has nurtured the foundations for my lifelong commitment to science and medicine. I owe him an unrepayable debt for entrusting me at such a young age, and inspiring my passion for fundamental research,” says Levett.

“In my 41 years as a Professor at McGill University, my interactions with a student like Jeremy have been unprecedented,” says Sonenberg. “Jeremy approached me when he was in Grade 9 as an aspiring physician-scientist. Over the past eight years, I have had the great pleasure of developing a unique relationship with him. Jeremy’s passion, intelligence, curiosity, optimism, and dedication to science are exceptional. He would travel to my lab to perform experiments almost every day after school, and when he left late in the evening, he always thanked me for the opportunity to do science. His graceful disposition, kindness and contagious smile are unrivalled.”

Levett also conducts research with Dr. Mark Eisenberg, a Professor of Medicine and Director of the MD-PhD Program at McGill University, interventional cardiologist, and researcher at the Jewish General Hospital. Levett credits Dr. Eisenberg with having inspired his interest in clinical epidemiology and aspiration for a career as a physician-scientist. “Dr. Eisenberg took me on before even officially entering medical school, and has since been a guiding compass. His efficiency, vast clinical and scientific expertise, encouragement, and support have imprinted a lasting and immeasurable impression on me,” says Levett. In their first year collaborating, Levett published over three peer-reviewed articles with Dr. Eisenberg and presented at international congresses.

This early exposure to research helped shape Levett’s vision for Stenoa. “While Stenoa doesn’t work at the cellular level, I find many parallels between basic science research and machine learning. The amazing responsibility of working with entities at unbelievable orders of magnitude and dimensions, with implications that far extend the petri dish or database, is simply magical,” he explains.

Bringing together the right expertise

Levett had a vision, but understood there was no way of getting there alone. He considers himself exceptionally fortunate to have discovered the right team along the journey.

Dr. Ivan Ivanov, a College Professor Levett encountered in his studies, is one of the people who helped propel his vision forward. Levett was impressed with Dr. Ivanov’s intelligent, calm, and thorough mind. “Dr. Ivanov always had an appreciation for the fundamental mathematics that underpinned machine learning advancements, and continues to entertain the extents of our imagination.” Dr. Ivanov is now the Chief Scientific Officer at Stenoa.

Further along his journey when he was in his first year at McGill, Levett met Dr. Marco Spaziano, an interventional cardiologist at the McGill University Health Centre and Assistant Professor of Medicine at McGill University. “Being at the frontlines of the battle against cardiovascular disease, Dr. Spaziano is intimately familiar with the needs of operators and clinicians to best care for patients. He believes in the potential of artificial intelligence to disrupt the cardiac catheterization laboratory, and this shared vision nurtures limitless possibility,” says Jeremy, who recruited Dr. Spaziano to be Stenoa’s Chief Medical Officer.

“Bringing this team together, and having their trust to lead this, is the most empowering experience.  They are both such talented experts, courageous and kind mentors, and so dedicated to this endeavour that I feel privileged building this with them,” says Levett.

Unprecedented circumstances create opportunities

While the coronavirus pandemic has been an obstacle for many, at Stenoa, it’s been the opposite. The pandemic has offered them the opportunity to maximize efficiencies.

“Winning the Hakim Family Innovation Prize at the McGill Clinical Innovation Competition (CLIC) in May 2020 has brought magnitude to what we are doing. Over the past months, we’ve quickly established the foundational corporate and organizational structure necessary for significant growth,” says Levett. “Industry professionals, from our legal team to the financial, regulatory, and clinical experts that advise us, have been extremely accessible and supportive. We’ve had direct access to national leaders in emerging technology, and are excited for the mutual success ahead.”

Stenoa has been working with academic hospitals to leverage angiographic data for the training and validation of its pipeline of algorithms. In October of 2020, Stenoa was selected to present at the Cath Lab of the Future Session of the world’s largest conference on interventional cardiology, TCT 2020. In parallel with the team’s growth, machine learning and backend development, Stenoa is maximizing non-dilutive funding opportunities with government agencies and through grant competitions.

Preparing to fly

“This began as a dream,” says Levett, reflecting upon his journey. “I remain forever indebted to my incredible parents, brothers, family, friends, and community. I attribute much of my success to the humility I observe in the many simple, honest, and hardworking individuals that surround me. They bring me an incredible sense of pride in even the smallest accomplishments, and remind me to cherish every moment. I am also sincerely grateful to the internationally renowned, research-intensive, and mission-driven community at McGill University. It is an honour and privilege growing to become a physician-scientist with the support of a trailblazing institution.”

The Stenoa Team in 2020, left to right: Jeremy Levett, Dr. Marco Spaziano, Tomer Moran, Dr. Ivan Ivanov

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Ana Milic named Montrealer of the Month

Campus news - Thu, 02/25/2021 - 16:20
From r to l: Carolynn Rafman MCLL’s first liaison and program coordinator, Fiona Clark, MCLL’s founder and Ana Milic, MCLL program administrator, in pre-COVID times

Callers to the Let’s Go radio show poured on the accolades: “awesome,” “a pleasure to work with,” “caring,” “a one-woman army,” “compassionate,” “a team player,” “empathetic” and “sensitive.”

The recipient of the effusive praise was Ana Milic, program administrator of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning (MCLL), who was named Montrealer of the Month by the CBC Radio program for making sure the University’s most senior students made a smooth transition to virtual learning when COVID-19 drove everything online.

Milic oversees the McGill program administered by the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) that offers “retired learners,” all of them over 65 years of age, a wealth of courses, between 30 and 50 new courses each semester. This is in addition to the 30 to 50 one-time lectures presented every semester (see the full list of courses MCLL offers online).

Between 500 and 600 students enrol each fall, 400 to 500 in winter and spring and between 300 and 400 for summer sessions.

Digital literacy campaign

Milic is particularly proud that barely four weeks after the pandemic lockdown began on March 12, 2020, the MCLL had migrated an entire pilot program online.

“About 200 people registered for that first online Zoom program, filling up all 15 courses offered,” she says.

Organizers soon realized they needed to hire a cohort of hosts for the courses who were tech savvy, so that moderators could concentrate on teaching.

“Without judging or generalizing, some seniors struggle with technology,” Milic said. “So, the hosts contact every member (student) and do everything for them – check their bandwidth, teach them how to use Zoom, stay in touch with them on the phone.”

That became in effect a McGill mini-digital literacy campaign for seniors, who were greatly appreciative.

Students used funds from the McGill Sustainability Projects Fund to refurbish computers for some members – and some students donated computers to those who did not have one.

Strength in community

There have been heartaches along the way, largely COVID-19 related.

“We’ve lost a lot of members in the past year, more than usual,” said Milic. “It was really heart-breaking.”

“But these people are beyond resilient. It’s not just about intellectual stimulation, it really is a community. Away from study groups, there are social gatherings at least once a month. It’s a mutual-aid network. It’s so much more than ‘take a course and disconnect’. They deliver groceries, they call each other, stay in touch.”

“There’ve been some relationships. Some fell in love and are couples. They started initiatives like a book club, the Bloomsday Festival (celebrating James Joyce and first launched in Montreal by MCLL in 2012).

“It’s a real family.”

Peer-to-peer learning

“What’s exciting about that is that it’s peer-to-peer learning, and it’s always interest-led,” said Milic.

McGill’s lifelong learning courses are peer-led from a pool of over 1,000 active volunteers, many of them former McGill professors or students and covering a wide range of subjects, including literature, history, philosophy, music and science.

Some have dual roles, as both moderator – Milic shuns the word ‘instructor’ for its implication of an obey-and-command structure – and student/member.

“They both teach and learn.”

Mental stimulation – and no exams

Milic, who holds a B.Ed. from the University of Belgrade in her native Serbia, is also pursuing a double major in Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality and in Women’s Studies at Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

She became the only paid employee at MLCC in 2009 “to provide continuity,” shortly after starting to work there part-time.

Until then, seniors volunteered but “obviously couldn’t work five days a week. One person worked in the morning, another in the afternoon, and then a third and a fourth. So, McGill was fine with creating a full-time paid position.”

“My job is to support MCLL students and coordinate volunteers, be a resource person and adviser to the [13 MCLL board members and 12 office volunteers] and act as liaison with SCS. I need to make sure the program fits into the university structure, guidelines and objectives, but also to allow us creativity and freedom.”

The program is not career-oriented. Members are typically retired – 70 per cent of them women – who simply want to keep learning to remain intellectually active and for the sheer fun of it – and there are no exams.

The community outreach program is central to the overall SCS mission to build bridges beyond the university to various communities, offering “adult learners a path of life-long professional and personal transformation through innovative teaching, practical experience, and applied research” (see the SCS mission statement below).

You can read the SCS mission statement here:

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Liberté universitaire et équité à McGill

Campus news - Wed, 02/24/2021 - 16:40

La liberté universitaire est forcément la clé de voûte de l’université moderne. Il n’est donc pas étonnant que nous cherchions à la préserver. L’avancement des connaissances repose sur la capacité du corps professoral à explorer des avenues de recherche ou à défendre ses idées sans crainte d’ingérence de la part de son université, du gouvernement ou du secteur privé.

Parallèlement, et plus que jamais, les universités sont appelées à promouvoir l’équité, la diversité et l’inclusion, et avec raison. Comme c’est le cas dans de nombreuses autres institutions, le portrait démographique de la plupart des universités ne reflète pas encore celui de la société. Les femmes et les membres de groupes sous-représentés peuvent parfois percevoir les campus comme des milieux peu accueillants et ressentir de l’isolement.

Les établissements d’enseignement supérieur doivent persévérer dans leurs efforts de promotion de l’équité, de la diversité et de l’inclusion afin que les chances soient les mêmes pour tous.

Christopher Manfredi, Vice-Principal Exécutif, Vice-Principal aux Études

Étant donnée l’importance capitale dans nos universités tant de la liberté universitaire, d’une part, que de l’équité, de la diversité et de l’inclusion, d’autre part, il est malheureux que dans le débat public récent, ces deux notions soient apparues incompatibles, comme si l’on nuisait forcément à l’une en faisant progresser l’autre. Je crois cela inquiétant et erroné.

En ma qualité de vice-principal exécutif et vice-principal aux études de l’Université McGill, j’ai toujours promu, appuyé et défendu vigoureusement la liberté universitaire, et j’entends continuer de le faire. Cela dit, je salue les efforts que déploie notre université en faveur de l’équité, de la diversité et de l’inclusion. Notre travail l’a démontré : il est possible, voire essentiel, de soutenir énergiquement à la fois la liberté universitaire et ces trois principes.

Les discussions récentes ont essentiellement porté sur la question que voici : doit-on permettre aux étudiants de s’opposer au contenu d’un cours qu’ils jugent offensant, en particulier lorsque l’équité, la diversité et l’inclusion sont en cause ? À mes yeux, la réponse est claire et nette. Il va de soi que les étudiants peuvent formuler leur objection au contenu d’un cours. Toutefois, jamais cette dernière ne devrait conduire à la censure ni aux mesures disciplinaires de la part de l’établissement. Nous avons tous en tête de nombreux exemples – certains remontant à des siècles et d’autres ayant cours encore aujourd’hui – d’institutions qui se sont employées à étouffer ou à faire cesser des activités d’enseignement et de recherche non orthodoxes ou « nuisibles ». Ce sont là des pratiques qui vont à l’encontre de la mission première d’une université : faire progresser le savoir par le dialogue et les échanges, en toute ouverture.

En d’autres termes, les enseignants sont libres de transmettre dans leurs cours la matière qu’ils jugent pertinente pour la formation de leurs étudiants. Quant aux étudiants, ils sont libres de remettre cette matière en question s’ils le souhaitent.

À vrai dire, c’est exactement ce que nous attendons d’un étudiant universitaire : qu’il pose un regard précis et critique sur la matière qui lui est enseignée ! Cela dit, cette manifestation d’inquiétude ou ce désaccord ne sauraient se traduire d’emblée, pour l’établissement, par l’annulation de la matière en question ou la création d’un soi-disant index.

Faire partie d’une communauté universitaire, c’est accepter d’être parfois exposé à des concepts et à des débats avec lesquels nous sommes en désaccord ou auxquels nous sommes – peut-être farouchement – opposés. C’est là une réalité indissociable de la vie universitaire. Au fil de leur apprentissage, les étudiants sont exposés – que ce soit dans leurs lectures ou directement, dans des contextes cliniques et pratiques – à des cas de violence et de traumatismes, passés et actuels, qui touchent tant des individus que des groupes de personnes. Si bouleversante soit-elle, la matière étudiée est essentielle et ne doit jamais être proscrite.

Voilà pourquoi, dans mes communications avec la communauté mcgilloise, j’ai été on ne peut plus clair à ce sujet : aucune idée ni aucun débat, mot ou travail n’est proscrit à l’Université McGill.

D’un autre côté, les étudiants s’attendent, à juste titre, à étudier dans un environnement qui peut certes les ébranler, mais toujours dans le respect de leur dignité profonde. En alliant l’empathie à l’excellence et le respect à la rigueur, on peut créer un tel environnement et enseigner les idées et les notions les plus controversées qui soient, tout en favorisant l’apprentissage et la réussite de l’ensemble des étudiants.

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Academic freedom, respect for students not mutually exclusive

Campus news - Wed, 02/24/2021 - 16:26

Academic freedom is necessarily the backbone of the modern university. It is given a wide berth of protection, and for good reason. The ability of scholars to pursue any line of inquiry or to defend any line of argument — free from threat of interference by one’s own university or by government or private actors — is essential to the advancement of knowledge.

At the same time, today more than ever before, universities are called to advance equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). This is also for good reason. Like many other institutions, the demographics of most universities do not yet reflect those of our society. Women and members of underrepresented groups can experience university life – at least at times – as isolating or unwelcoming. Ongoing efforts to enhance EDI within our institutions of higher education, which aim to boost access and success for all, are needed.

Provost Christopher Manfredi

Given that academic freedom and EDI are both of critical importance to our universities, it is unfortunate that they have been presented as mutually exclusive in recent public discussions, as though advancing one necessarily undermines the other. I find this troubling and misguided. As provost of McGill, I am our university’s chief academic officer. I have and will always vigorously promote, support and defend academic freedom. At the same time, I am proud of McGill’s efforts to further EDI. Our work has demonstrated that it is not only possible – but essential – to vigorously pursue academic freedom and EDI simultaneously.

Most of the discussion of late has circulated around whether students should be allowed to object to course content that they find offensive, especially where that content is said to threaten EDI. The answer is, to me, clear. Of course students can voice objection to the content they encounter in their classes. But mere objections should never lead to institutional censure or discipline. We are all aware of many examples – some that date back centuries and others that persist today – of institutional efforts to stifle or suppress unorthodox or “troublesome” teaching and research activities. Such efforts are antithetical to a university’s core mission, which is to advance knowledge through open dialogue and debate.

To say it another way, then, instructors are free to teach the content they feel is germane to their students’ learning in their courses. Students are free to challenge that content if they feel so inclined. Indeed, bringing a sharp and critical eye to academic content is exactly what we invite university students to do! At the same time, a student’s expression of concern or criticism about content they encounter in a course is not tantamount to institutional “cancellation” or the creation of a so-called “Index.”

Being part of an academic community means that we will at times encounter concepts and arguments with which we disagree or to which we object, perhaps vehemently. This reality lies at the very core of the university experience. Students learn and read about – and, in clinical and practical settings, see first-hand – incidents of violence and trauma, historic and contemporary, affecting both individuals and communities. The material can be difficult. It is also essential and can never be proscribed. It is for that reason that in my communications with the McGill community, I have been clear that “no single idea, argument, word, or work is ‘prohibited’ at McGill.”

At the same time, students rightfully expect to learn within environments that, while challenging them, recognize their fundamental dignity. By pairing empathy with excellence and respect with rigour, it becomes possible to create such an environment and teach even the most controversial ideas or material while supporting the learning and success of all students.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette

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For Rachel Dow, giving her translation presentation was child’s play

Campus news - Wed, 02/24/2021 - 09:05
Rachel Dow and her newborn daughter Clara

There’s student engagement – and then there’s Rachel Dow.

The student in McGill’s School of Continuing Studies gave an unusual Zoom presentation to her translation class on Feb. 11: from her hospital bed 35 hours after giving birth.

“I was pretty determined,” said Dow, who works on a horse farm in Rigaud. “I really wanted to get through the course with the best grade possible.”

James Archibald, who teaches the French-to-English course Dow is enrolled in, said that he didn’t know she was in the hospital when he sent her an email asking her to present her translation of a passage in the novel La cliente, by Pierre Assouline.

“It was the first class I had with her,” said Archibald. “What’s fascinating is that I usually pick a couple of students to talk about an assignment – the students I think are going to say something interesting.”

Dow had submitted “an interesting answer to the assignment, so I sent her that email.”

She replied: “I hope you don’t mind if the class is interrupted – I’m in the hospital and the nurses or the doctors might come by or the baby might cry.”

Archibald said that if she was comfortable with going ahead, he was also.

“I usually start the class with ‘les potins du jour’ [the daily gossip], and told the class we have a new student and that during Dow’s presentation, I would introduce that student.”

Dow gave “a very cogent explanation of her translation – very calm, very professional, no sense of urgency, no panic, completely cool,” he noted.

Only after delivering her talk did she reveal her one-day-old daughter, Clara, from under the sheets, holding her up to the Zoom class.

“It’s a really great example of students who are committed to what they’re doing,” Archibald added. “To do that just after giving birth, to participate, answer questions. Very impressive.”

Dow, who is working toward her translation certificate in the French-to-English option, said that she was going to attend the class with the camera off.

“When I got that email asking me to present, I was like ‘Oh God, I look a bit awful’. But my boyfriend encouraged me, saying no one would judge me. So I went for it.”

The text she translated? It was a scene describing someone on a Paris bus going to a children’s hospital.

The post For Rachel Dow, giving her translation presentation was child’s play appeared first on McGill Reporter.

A more inclusive language: A step toward a more inclusive world

Campus news - Tue, 02/23/2021 - 16:09
Catherine Leclerc, is an associate professor in McGill’s Département des littératures de langue française, de traduction et de création

In 2019, even the Académie française relented. The self-appointed protector of proper French finally consented to the feminization of names – but solely for professions, and after decades of dark warnings about “the mortal danger” to la langue de Molière that inclusive writing represented. We can now refer to ‘une autrice,’ ‘une ingénieure,’ ‘une politicienne’ or ‘une professeure’ with a clear conscience, it would appear.

Thank you, distinguished academicians, although Catherine Leclerc did not wait for approval. After completing her degree in translatology two decades ago, Leclerc began to examine inclusive language more closely.

“The first individuals to speak about inclusive writing used the expression to denote non-sexist writing, which would include women as part of humanity,” said Leclerc, now an associate professor in McGill University’s Département des littératures de langue française, de traduction et de création.

“What was initially called inclusive writing in French used the feminine form as a synonym. For instance, the idea was to talk about ‘une pompière’ and ‘un pompier.’ The English language went the other way. It did not add ‘firewoman’ to ‘fireman,’ but converted the term to ‘firefighter.’”

“English is more gender neutral than French to begin with. French is very gender-specific.”

Inclusive language evolved much faster in English than in French, noted Leclerc – English-language dictionaries, for example, include non-binary pronouns, unlike French-language ones. French took its time, although the practice is making progress. “They” in English to denote a self-identifying non-binary person is much more common than “iel” or “ille” in French, for instance.

To reflect this evolution, Leclerc designed a course entitled ‘Inclusive writing’ as part of the general course Langage et littérature 1, a first at McGill.

“We study language theory, how writers develop them or appropriate them… The first classes focus on history – first and foremost on the history of masculinization. Then on that of re-feminization.”

In French, the rule stipulating that ‘the masculine supersedes the feminine’ has been uncontested. It is grammatically mandatory to say ‘ils,’ for instance, when referring to a crowd of 9,999 women and one man.

“We do three practical exercises in which I ask the students to rewrite texts using this or that inclusive writing strategy. We do some language history, some grammar, and some literary text analysis using approaches that either place the feminine front and centre or blur gender duality.”

Change from the ground up

“I’ve long been interested in the way that marginalized linguistic practices can become legitimized,” said Leclerc. “I was curious: will it happen in French? How? When? Those sparks made me want to teach a course on the subject.”

“The most dramatic success in terms of legitimization is American English, whose norms are widely considered legitimate… On a more modest scale, le joual québécois was severely stigmatized in the 1960s, before being rehabilitated by artists. Now, it’s a sort of record, perfectly appropriate under certain circumstances.”

There were also epic fails.

“Who says ‘gaminet’ for a T-shirt today, or ‘hambourgeois’? Others had phenomenal success: ‘courriel’ emerged in the late 90s and was so popular that it spawned ‘pourriel’.”

“Inclusive writing is similar. We’ve reached a point where there is a path to legitimization of sorts. What’s happening? How is it happening? What’s fascinating is that it didn’t come from language ‘pros’.”

In fact, change was a grassroots progression from various communities and from the spontaneous evolution of language – from an individual who chooses to be called ‘une ingénieure’ or ‘une factrice’, or who prefers the pronoun ‘iel’.

“We must also thank transgender and non-binary people themselves for taking English as a model to a certain extent and coining neologisms in French that can work,” added Leclerc.

French is also evolving quickly now – especially in Quebec as regards professions – which in no way indicates universal acceptance of the principles of inclusive writing.

A vigorous debate persists regarding non-sexist pronouns and other elements of inclusive writing among the 12 students enrolled in Leclerc’s course.

Things have unfolded to the point where the professor can “confidently make assertions now [concerning inclusive writing] about which I was far from sure just two years ago.”

“The most striking example is the use of the middle dot (le point médian in French, e.g., chercheur.e to indicate masculine and feminine). All kinds of devices have been tried to denote feminine and masculine without resorting to doublets (‘étudiantes et étudiants’), which saves space in a text and avoids discriminating against non-binary and gender-fluid people: brackets, hyphens, forward slash… I can confidently state now that of all the devices that fulfil this function, the middle dot will take root.”

In Quebec, ‘auteure’ gained acceptance first, followed by ‘autrice.’

“People said ‘I’m used to auteure, autrice is ugly.’ But I’m sure it’ll stay. It doesn’t suit every circumstance, but it won’t disappear.”

Larger process of demasculinization 

Simply changing words will not solve the myriad problems of sexism, of course. French literature historian Éliane Viennot had a major influence on her thinking, Leclerc noted, showing that the entrenched ‘masculine supersedes feminine’ rule is derived not from a natural and progressive evolution of language, but from a conscious and sustained effort by men in the 17th century to exclude women systematically from certain occupations – and specifically from public service. Consequently, the masculine gender came to be regarded as more “noble.”

Prior to this highly political undertaking, gender designations were spontaneous, arrived at largely in accordance with proximity; in the Middle Ages, bakeries, farms, shoe-repair shops, etc., were generally run by couples. As a result, they were called ‘la boulangère’ and ‘le boulanger,’ for instance, without anyone questioning the gender issue.

Words are an inherent part of demasculinization, but that process, on the whole, is a much more comprehensive enterprise.

Leclerc is thankful for the many initiatives at McGill to hasten that process.

“In the last years, there have been all kinds of [actions at McGill] on all kinds of fronts… There have been numerous measures to reach that goal, whether it be hiring committees or other steps.”

“It’s a question of representation. It takes a Black president for Black children to imagine becoming president. It takes the notion of ‘pompière’ for a sufficient number of women to imagine: ‘I want to be a ‘pompière’.

The post A more inclusive language: A step toward a more inclusive world appeared first on McGill Reporter.

From agriculture to arts: McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative Graduate & Postdoc Sustainability Research Collective

Campus news - Mon, 02/22/2021 - 16:49
Top l to r: Xiang-Hua Kong, Research Liaison; Dongyun Jung, Research Liaison; and Ashwini Sachindran, Events Coordinator. Bottom l to r: Oacia Fair, Committee Coordinator; Karan Kumar, Committee Coordinator; and Ling Chen, Communications

Sustainability is an urgent, multidimensional challenge that future generations of researchers and innovators are excited to tackle head-on.

At McGill, graduate students and postdocs from across the University, along with the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI) have established the MSSI Graduate & Postdoc Sustainability Research Collective (MSSI Collective); a group committed to sharing their knowledge with their peers, discussing some of the world’s most pressing sustainability issues, and growing as the next generation of academics and innovators.

The McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative

Since its launch in 2017, the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI) has grown to include five Research Themes—Sustaining Landscapes, Creating Sustainable Materials, Adapting Urban Environments, Sustainability Transitions, and CleanTech for Climate Action—and has amassed a network of over 200 faculty members from 35 departments who are committed to growing interdisciplinary sustainability research at McGill.

As a cross-disciplinary network of researchers, the MSSI’s mission is to conduct impactful sustainability research that addresses complex issues at a systemic level and train the next generation of sustainability innovators. The development of the MSSI Graduate & Postdoc Sustainability Research Collective creates a space for students—the future sustainability researchers, innovators, and leaders—to learn and grow from one another’s research.

“One of the MSSI’s main objectives is to train the future generation of researchers and create a space for them to flourish,” said Dr. Heather McShane, Program Director and Catalyst-in-Chief of the MSSI. “The MSSI Hub is proud to be able to support the MSSI Graduate & Postdoc Sustainability Research Collective in their mission to share and discuss their sustainability research, create connections with one another, and learn from their peers.”

The McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative Graduate & Postdoc Sustainability Research Collective

The MSSI Collective is shaped by the research, event, and developmental interests of its members. Each month, the MSSI Collective meets to hear presentations on sustainability research and engage in discussions on sustainability- or research-related topics.

“The MSSI Collective is a meeting of different minds, a conversation with disciplinary foreigners, and a community to foster collective wisdom to advance sustainable development,” said Ling Chen, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Law and the Communications Representative on the MSSI Collective Steering Committee; the group responsible for leading the MSSI collective, with logistical support provided by the MSSI.

“The [MSSI Collective steering] committee is responsible for setting the agenda for [the] monthly meetings of the collective and planning events relating to sustainability for its members,” said Karan Kumar, Committee Coordination Representative and a master’s student in Agricultural Economics, when describing the activities of the MSSI Collective Steering Committee.

This steering committee ensures the execution of the collective’s mandate, which was established by the members themselves. The MSSI Collective’s mandate is to:

  • create an interdisciplinary network of graduates and postdocs to share sustainability research and knowledge at McGill;
  • create opportunities for graduates and postdocs to present and communicate their sustainability-related research outside of their disciplines; and,
  • host sustainability research related events for members of the collective.
Sounds interesting? Join the Collective!

Programming for the monthly collective meetings range from research presentations and discussions to developmental workshops for attendees. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows interested in joining the collective can connect with the MSSI at or join the MSSI as a student or postdoc by visiting the website. The MSSI Collective can also be found on Facebook.

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Women represent two-thirds of doctorates, but hold only one-third of academic jobs

Campus news - Sun, 02/21/2021 - 23:41
Lisa Overholtzer, Assistant Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Anthropology

Women today represent two-thirds of all Canadian doctorates in archaeology, but only one-third of Canadian tenure-stream faculty. While men with Canadian PhDs have done well in securing tenure-track jobs in Canada over the past 15 years, women have not, according to a new study from McGill University. The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate these existing inequalities.

Published in American Antiquity, the study is the first to follow archaeologists from graduate school to faculty positions to determine when women are exiting the academic track. It’s also the first to explore grant applications and the success rates of women in Canadian archaeology.

“A ‘chilly climate’ exists for women in academia. Subtle practices that stereotype, exclude, and devalue women, as well as inhospitable working environments, particularly for primary caregivers, are just some of the factors that could be contributing to attrition rates,” says co-author Lisa Overholtzer, an Assistant Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University.

According to the researchers, most women are exiting the academic track after significant investments of time and money in their doctoral training and before landing a tenure-track position. Over the last 10 years, women have earned 64 per cent of the PhD degrees in archaeology in Canada but make up only 46 per cent of assistant professors today.

“We might think that 46 per cent sounds good – it’s near 50 per cent after all, but our expectations for gender ratios shouldn’t be 50/50. They should reflect the proportions in candidate pools,” says co-author Catherine Jalbert, an archaeologist with the Texas Historical Commission.

Gender gap in Canadian hiring

A significant drop in hiring coupled with the end of mandatory retirement has translated into fewer jobs at precisely the moment when women became most of the PhD recipients. Still, this does little to explain why women fill proportionately fewer of those jobs, say the researchers.

The situation looks even bleaker when tracing paths of Canadian doctorates compared to foreign doctorates into Canada. “While most of the men hired here have Canadian PhDs, most women hired in Canada are trained internationally,” says Professor Overholtzer.

Only 4 out of 28 (14 per cent) of assistant professor positions are currently filled by women who were trained in Canada. Of men who earned their PhDs in archaeology between 2003 and 2017, 36 per cent are Canadian faculty members today, while that’s true for only 12 per cent of the women who trained alongside them.

In the United States, women with Canadian PhDs are hired at higher rates – even higher than men. However, the researchers note that the numbers don’t make up for the gender gap in Canadian hiring. Neither does it appear that women archaeologists are choosing to work in other career tracks within the field in greater proportions.

Problems with academic research grants

The researchers found that women are just as likely to apply for federal research grants at each level. However, there are small but persistent gender gaps in success rates across all levels, from doctoral student to faculty member. This could be due to unequal mentorship or to a devaluing of the methods and research questions typically explored by women.

“Our findings have some direct implications for federal policy, like the eligibility of dependent care during fieldwork funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council,” says Overholtzer. Currently, childcare expenses are only eligible if a child is nursing or if a mother is a single parent. “We think that archaeology and other disciplines would be able to better retain women if they were able to cover childcare costs during fieldwork, regardless of the age of their children or their marital status,” she says.

Potential solutions

Increased hiring will be essential in curbing gender inequality. But this will be a challenge post-COVID as many universities face hiring freezes and budget constraints. However, another potential avenue could be boosting the Canada Research Chairs program with high targets for women scientists, say the researchers.

“The onus is on us to scrutinize how we train and prepare women in the field. We also need to scrutinize our hiring practices to find out why women are hired less often, especially in Canada,” Overholtzer says.

The authors note that their analysis was limited to gender, but other inequities likely exist along intersecting factors of identity, including race, class and parental status. As next steps, they plan to explore these, and assess the impact of the pandemic on career advancement, research productivity, and well-being among Canadian archaeologists.

Read the study

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In memoriam: Baldev Raj Nayar (1931-2021)

Campus news - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 17:21

With great sadness, we announce the passing of Professor Baldev Raj Nayar, on February 9, 2021, at the age of 89 years. Soon after a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, he peacefully passed away at his home in Ottawa, Ontario, with family by his side.

Based on his distinguished career as an academic and prolific author focusing on South Asia, one might hardly guess the circumstances that preceded his professional achievements.

He was born October 26, 1931, in Saro Chak, India (presently Pakistan) to the late Jamna Das and Durga Devi (Marwah) Nayar. At the age of 16, he was forced to give up his secondary education, due to his family’s necessary migration during the Partition to New Delhi, India, and the subsequent death of his father.

Baldev Raj Nayar, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, peacefully passed away on February 9 at the age of 89 years

Determined not to be deterred by their refugee status and loss of financial means, Nayar embarked on various forms of employment in order to take care of his mother and four brothers and sisters – as a railway clerk, as a typist (having put himself through secretarial school), and later, due in large part to his skills of English which he had cultivated on his own, as a secretary at the American Embassy in India.

Working for his BA and MA degrees, primarily through correspondence school, and through an almost unfathomable grit and determination, Nayar managed to earn a scholarship to the University of Chicago’s PhD program in political science, where he focused on India. While attending university, he continued financially to support his mother and siblings back home.

At the University of Chicago, he met the woman who would become his future wife, Nancy Ann Skinner. Together, they spent a year in India where Nayar completed research for his PhD dissertation. That work would become the first of his 20 books, Minority Politics in the Punjab. Published by Princeton University Press, it received the Watumull Prize in 1966.

Nayar joined McGill in 1964, as an assistant professor in McGill’s political science department, where he swiftly earned associate and then full professor status. He taught in the Leacock Building for 30 years, while continuing to publish such works as The Modernization and Indian Planning (1972); India’s Mixed Economy (1989); monographs on India’s shipping and aviation industries, as well as on its pursuit of technological independence; and later books on globalization, including Globalization and Nationalism (2001), The Myth of the Shrinking State (2009), and Globalization and India’s Economic Integration (2014). His publishing record spans 50 years. He retired from full-time teaching in 1991 and was immediately awarded the status of professor emeritus.

“His works have been very influential for generations of scholars of South Asia and India,” recounts his former colleague, Professor T.V. Paul, with whom he co-authored India in the World Order (2003). “He was one of the rare Indian scholars who combined political economy, comparative politics and security studies. I recall as an MPhil student at JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi] reading his works on public sector and geopolitics [and their] making a powerful impact on me and many others. His unending commitment to scholarship and writing was always an inspiration for me. Even after taking retirement, he was devoted to scholarship and he came to the McGill library almost every day doing the hard work that produced many significant works.”

Nayar’s final book, published in his 88th year of life, was his autobiography, a moving account well reflected in its title: Overcoming Tragedy: The Story of One Refugee Before and After the Partition of the Punjab (2019).

Nayar’s dedication to his scholarship was only surpassed by his love and devotion to his family. He will be dearly missed by Nancy Ann Nayar, his wife of 60 years, and his three daughters, Sheila J. Nayar (Thomas W. Shields) of Park City, Utah; Kamala Elizabeth Nayar (Jaswinder Singh Sandhu) of Vancouver, British Columbia; and Sunita Maria Nayar-Kingwell (Stephen Kingwell) of Ottawa, Ontario. He was also the beloved grandfather of five: Shardha Kaur Nayar; Rohan Raj Kingwell; Sangeeta Kaur Nayar; Shaan Peter Kingwell; and Anika Marie Kingwell. He also leaves behind his sister Indra Rani Nanda, of New Delhi, India; and brother Yuvraj Krishan Nayar, of Mississauga, Ontario. He will also be missed by members of his extended family, as well as his many colleagues and friends.

Nayar was exceedingly proud of his long career at McGill University.

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Neurolingo talks to demystify complex science

Campus news - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 17:42
From left to right: Hilary Sweatman, Hyo Min Lee, Alice Morgunova and Hannah Jin taken at the café on Jan. 31, 2020, when the four students decided to launch Neurolingo

Hyo Min Lee recalls the date and place precisely.

“It was January 31, 2020. The four of us were at a café, I pitched the idea and they agreed to join me. I was so happy that we took a photo of the four of us. For me, it has a very emotional value.”

One year later, “the idea” has become reality. Lee and his three colleagues from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (the Neuro)– fellow PhD candidates Alice Morgunova and Hilary Sweatman, and MSc student Hannah Jin – have now launched Neurolingo Winter 2021, a Public Neuroscience Conference they conceived, created and organized.

The live virtual event on Feb. 20 will feature eight 10-minute TED-like talks by McGill grads, five PhD students and 3 MSc students. Each will be followed by a question-and-answer period, and will include a French-language interpreter.

The Neurolingo organizers have one simple goal: to demystify complex neuroscience subjects. More than 700 people have registered for the event so far.

Lee, a Van Gelder-Savoy Scholar and Neurolingo’s conceptor, said that “we have to do more to communicate science. Although the general public appreciates science, they don’t really understand what we do. A lot of us felt the disconnect between what people know about us and what we actually work on.”

“It’s really apparent when you talk to a random person who asks you what you do. You say ‘I’m doing a PhD in neuroscience’ and their immediate response is; ‘Are you going to be a brain surgeon? Or a neurologist?’ A lot of people don’t know the difference between an MD and a PhD, the difference between the kind of research we do at McGill and a clinical practice they are familiar with.”

“So we have to be better at communicating and raising awareness about our research.”

Scientists in training

At the outset, the students reached out to two McGill administrators, Jacky Farrell, the Science Outreach Program advisor in the Faculty of Science, and Dr. Josephine Nalbantoglu, the Dean of Graduate and Postgraduate Studies, who gave them guidance on launching the program.

Then, in search of advice on how to communicate difficult concepts to a lay audience, the students knew whom to approach; Prof. David Ragsdale, an associate professor in Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery who has given scores of talks on neuroscience, including a TED talk, and Prof. Edward Ruthazer, also an associate professor at the Neuro, who holds the Tier II Canada Research Chair in Neural Circuit Development.

“They both have a lot of experience in science communication, they’re very passionate about it and they’re very popular within the program for being such great instructors,” said Lee. “We’re very happy that they joined us as faculty advisors.”

The students were also strongly encouraged to seek an expert in communication from outside academia to train the Neurolingo speakers.

“You need to have the perspective and experience that people outside the academic world bring,” said Lee.

The student group hired speaker trainer Nicholas Belliveau, head of marketing at Fintech Cadence, a Montreal non-profit, and a public speaker himself. He put the students through a series of training workshops, giving his input at every step, which the students found “very valuable” with specific tips on structure and body language. The faculty advisors focused on the science aspect.

“Their idea,” said Ragsdale, “was that they wanted students in our graduate program to have the opportunity to explain what they do to a general audience. It’s good for them to practice giving talks to non-experts. They do give talks, but to colleagues, and they’re very technical.”

“It’s a totally different kind of skill to learn to take very technical stuff and make it something that people who are just interested can understand. They’re scientists in training and that’s a very valuable skill.”

Ragsdale was particularly impressed that the students not only worked diligently to organize the event, but also persevered when COVID-19 hit.

“They worked really hard to create a high-quality event, and they kept working at it despite COVID. They didn’t give up.”

The original concept was a live, in-person event at the Montreal Science Centre at the Old Port, but the pandemic forced the move to a virtual event.

The talks have been pre-recorded but an emcee will introduce each presenter prior to airing the video and will moderate live Q&A sessions, for which the speakers will be on hand.

Critical research

When neurology students speak to scientists, things get very critical fast, Lee noted, and the presentation tends to take on a defensive tone, anticipating criticism. That’s a good and necessary scientific process of peer review of research and concepts.

“But the emphasis is on totally different things with a public audience, because they don’t really care about that,” added Lee. “So we’re modelling Neurolingo on TED-style talks so that it can be entertaining and engaging as well as informative.”

The public needs to trust science to inform public policy decisions, he noted. People will wear masks, respect social distancing and wash their hands more if they have a basic understanding of the issues, for instance.

“The work of scientists is also supported by society, tax money,” added Ragsdale, “so it’s important that students be able to explain and justify that what they do is valuable. And people are interested in the brain.”

“What these graduate students do a daily basis involves equipment and methods that are completely foreign to most people. But they’re addressing problems [that many people can identify with] like Alzheimer’s disease or mental illness.

“What they actually do daily is incredibly obscure and difficult for people to understand, so bridging that gap is important.”

Lee and his three partners are targeting science enthusiasts initially, and then hope to broaden their scope with the help of social media and some news outlets, as well as through the McGill libraries.

“We obviously want to grow the Neurolingo program and establish it,” said Lee. “We have this opportunity to show the public all this great research at McGill. But what we really want to do is [train] the next generation of neuroscientists.”

You can register here to watch and/or participate in the event on Saturday. February 20, from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Neurolingo is sponsored by the Tannenbaum Open Science Initiative at the Neuro, the Integrated Program in Neuroscience, the Douglas Research Center and the Graduate Student Association for Neuroscience.


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Audrey Moores wins Green Chemistry award

Campus news - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 16:12
“I first thought of all the wonderful people with whom I have had the pleasure to work with over the years, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduate students,” says Audrey Moores. “Frankly, none of it would have been possible without them and I share this award with them, as a celebration of their talent.”

Audrey Moores remembers the exact moment that chemistry won her over. She was 12 years old, in school in her native France when her chemistry teacher asked for a volunteer to help him with a demonstration of the solid state reaction of iron and sulphur powders followed by hydrochloric acid.

“I was the only one in the class to agree to hold the test tube,” says Moores, noting the resulting reaction, a “really gross rotten egg smell,” was the catalyst for her future career. “Since then I was convinced I’d work in chemistry,” she says.

Moores’ fascination with chemical reactions resulted in a singular honour last week, when she won the Canadian Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Award for Green Chemistry.

Sponsored by The Canadian Society for Chemistry, the award “is presented to an individual working in Canada who has made significant contributions to advance green chemistry and/or engineering, including the technical, human health and environmental benefits.”

Green chemistry better for people and the environment

Moores, an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, is a leading expert in the field of catalysis using metal, metal oxide and biomass-based nanomaterials.

“For the last 14 years here at McGill, my research group has been working on designing chemical processes which are greener for the environment and safer for our health,” says Moores.  “We have focused on two main areas of research: How can we make better catalysts, these little additives we use in chemistry to make reactions be more efficient; and how can we design better materials and make them more sustainably.”

“For instance, we are using the power of light to enhance the performance of our catalysts and allow them to work with less energy input,” she continues. “In another example, we have pioneered the fabrication of nanomaterials – used for cancer detection, for instance – by methods drastically reducing or eliminating the use of toxic or wasteful solvents. More recently, with the support of the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative, we have developed an integral research scheme to test the toxicity and assess nanomaterial for their greenness.”

Moores’ passion for the field stems from her belief that Green Chemistry is a crucial tool in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.

“Green Chemistry is absolutely central in solving some of the most important challenges facing us,” she says. “Whether you look at global warming, plastic pollution or the way we exploit natural resources, chemistry is at the heart of the question and will have to be the solution.”

Mentors, guides and inspirations

Moores says she is fortunate to have had so many mentors to guide and encourage her.

“I’ve had a few fabulous chemistry teachers over the years, in high school and the equivalent of CEPEG in France,” she says. “They really pushed and inspired me … to never give up my dream to become a chemist.”

Her passion for Green Chemistry was stoked by scholars such as her PhD supervisor Pascal Le Floch and her Postdoc advisor Robert H. Crabtree. Encouraged by the latter, Moores attended a “Green Chemistry summer school” in 2006. It proved to be a seminal moment in her burgeoning career. “There, I met Paul Anastas, one of the two founders of the Green Chemistry movement, a lot of its most influential practitioners, as well as a lot of young chemists like me who later became leaders in the field,” she says.

Not surprisingly, when asked about her reaction to winning the Green Chemistry Award, Moores shares the spotlight. 

“Well, I was a little shocked and really honoured. This award has acknowledged a lot of amazing researchers before me, including my friend and colleague at McGill, C.J. Li,” she says.

“I first thought of all the wonderful people with whom I have had the pleasure to work with over the years, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduate students… Close to 90 people have tirelessly contributed their curiosity, ingenuity, hard work and passion. Frankly, none of it would have been possible without them and I share this award with them, as a celebration of their talent.”

Inspire others to fulfill their dreams

Working in a field traditionally dominated by men, Moores was lucky to receive a lot of support, but she acknowledged that women still face challenges in their careers.

“Thankfully things are changing, barriers are being broken, but we must continue to work on it,” says Moores, who has been an important figure at McGill to improve access to family care support for students and staff alike (“an important issue to address to ensure equity”).

Asked for words of advice girls and young women thinking about pursuing a career in science, Moores tells them to “be curious and bold and to believe in themselves.”

But it is also crucial that established scientists and researchers do their part to nurture the people who will, one day, carry the torch forward.

“It is essential to inspire younger generations,” she says, speaking both as a leader in her field and as that 12-year-old student holding a test tube for her teacher back in France, “so that they too can dream of becoming chemists.”


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COVID-19 Q&A: Impact of the pandemic on the Black community and the need for race-based data

Campus news - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 10:10
Alicia Boatswain-Kyte, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been bombarded with statistics. Almost every day, officials break down everything from infection rates and fatalities, to hospitalizations and how many people are intensive care. You can find statistics on the hardest hit regions in Quebec and comprehensive data on every neighbourhood in Montreal.

This past summer, Toronto Public Health released data proving that COVID-19 was disproportionately impacting people of colour there. Here in Quebec, however, the provincial government has been reticent to use race-based data.

In this interview with the Reporter, Alicia Boatswain-Kyte, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work, discusses how COVID-19 is impacting Quebec’s Black community and why race-based data is essential in directing a government’s policy making and resource allocation.

A social worker with over ten years of clinical experience working with marginalized individuals, families and groups, Boatswain-Kyte advocates for transformative social change within our institutions and social policies to ensure that everyone is able to participate as full and equal peers within society. She is involved with several community organizations aiming to improve the health and social outcomes for Black children and families in Montreal.

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on Black populations in Quebec? In Canada?

I struggle with answering this question. Canada’s refusal to collect race-based data makes answering this question difficult. In Quebec, we’ve assumed that the Black population faces disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection and death based on correlation with racial composition of neighbourhoods. However, we won’t ever be able to answer this question with certainty for all Black Canadians unless collection of race-based data becomes a government priority.

From what we know from certain jurisdictions in Ontario, where race-based data has been collected by selective private/grassroots organizations, is that rates of COVID-19 cases are seven times higher for the Black population than their White counterparts. Furthermore, when compared to the White population, Black people are three times more likely to know someone who has died from the virus and are more likely to say that their household finances have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

With all the COVID-19 statistics being churned out on a daily basis, why is there so little raced-based data?

When the pandemic first hit there was the outrage and outcry from the Black community regarding a lack of race-based data. This made media headlines as did Quebec, more specifically Montreal, for being the epicentre of the pandemic. We then started hearing about municipal “hot-spots” accompanied by silence on the racial composition of said hotspots.

Part of the reason we’re hearing very little about COVID-19 and the Black population is Quebec’s reluctance to recognize the concept of “race”. There is much more of a willingness to talk about poverty or migration, but separate from the intersection with race.

Having data confirming that Quebec’s Black population is disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 would warrant questions as to why – and there is a real fear of stigmatizing the Black community. How does a province that denies the presence of systemic racism answer that question?

Why is race-based data so important? How should governments use race-based COVID-19 data in terms of their policy making and resource allocation?

Data is knowledge and knowledge informs action. How do you effectively address something that you have no idea of the scope and impact?

This extends well beyond COVID-19. Failure to collect race-based data is ethically irresponsible and constitutes a form of anti-Black racism. It assumes that our responses and systems are colour-blind.

Our research project in collaboration with the Colors of COVID, has made the argument that race-based data during this pandemic will allow for an equity response. This response would recognize the intersections of race, poverty and underlying conditions faced by the Black community.

What is the Colors of COVID project and what is your role in it?

The Colors of COVID is an online platform developed by Influence Orbis. Their founder, Thierry Lindor who is a member of the Black community, was frustrated and angry at the government’s refusal to collect race-based data. He teamed up with Tiffany Callender, the Executive Director of the Cote-des-Neiges Black Community Association (CDNBCA) and she tagged me in. I’m a follower of the movement who responded to the call to action.

Last summer the three of us, along with Dr. Jill Hanley, applied for funding through SSHRC and were granted funds to conduct a pilot-project in Montreal. Influence Orbis has been working closely with the Federation of Black Canadians to replicate the project across Canada. We’ll be analysing data from the survey and conducting focus groups with various community organizations in Montreal to better contextualize our findings and ensure our recommendations our informed by the community.

How receptive have people been? 

We’ve had enormous success with the community sample. This is what distinguishes the project from findings that have emerged from Statistics Canada using crowdsourcing methods. Through this project we’re able to reach the most vulnerable, those who typically would not respond to surveys but do so because of the relationships of trust they have with their community organizations.

Why are Blacks so disproportionately impacted by COVID-19? What are the specific factors that have led to this situation?

I’m going to report what we all already know. The Black population is more likely to be “essential” workers, reside in low-income housing with poor ventilation, be less able to socially distance and be more likely to take public transportation.

Before COVID-19 my area of research focused exclusively on the overrepresentation and disparity of Black children and youth in Quebec’s child protection system. However, I am finding that there are similarities to both areas. I would argue that in both instances it’s anti-Black racism that is driving disparity.

The Black population faces disparate outcomes in health, education, justice, employment and housing. These disparities are not neutral, they are part of Canada’s ongoing history of settler colonialism. The lives of Indigenous and Black people have consistently been devalued throughout Canadian history. This is not the first epidemic that Canada has faced, we have numerous examples of how previous epidemics demonstrated the disposability of our First Nations communities.

This pandemic has highlighted the sociopolitical vulnerability of Black people through a system that continues to colonize through forms of structural violence. Failing to collect data to effectively respond to a virus that is killing Black people at disproportionate rates is violent. Failing to account for the reality of Black people in the decision-making and planning is anti-Black racism. Black people are not a homogenous group and so by no means am I trying to say that there is “one” response needed. However, one targeted response is better than none.




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Past, Present, Future: Founder’s Day 2021 goes virtual

Campus news - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 16:41

On February 11, nearly 200 members of the McGill-Macdonald community came together virtually in honour of Founder’s Day, a celebration of Macdonald Campus founder Sir William Christopher Macdonald’s mission to support higher education and cultivate the next generation of leaders. This year’s event – whose theme was Past, Present, Future – was emceed by Paul Meldrum, Manager of the Macdonald Campus Farm, and drew audiences from across the globe.

Alumnus Marc Bieler, DipAgr’58, BA’64 – who recently made landmark $15 million donation toward the building of interdisciplinary teaching, research and experiential learning capacity in the McGill School of Environment – kicked off the event with a roundtable discussion alongside McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier, and Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Anja Geitmann. Bieler reflected on his time spent at McGill, his career in agriculture, and the importance of supporting the University in finding solutions to the environmental challenges we are currently facing.

When asked about his outlook on the future, he said, “You have to be optimistic; yes, we face challenges, but if we aren’t optimistic, it will be a disaster. We need to find solutions.”

Following the roundtable, Macdonald Campus students – through video submissions – revealed their perspectives on the future of McGill, the Faculty, the environment and the world. Associate Professor Jeff Cardille (Natural Resource Sciences and Bieler School of Environment) then moderated a live student panel composed of Nik Dworek (U2 student, Environment), Patricia Sung (U2 student, Environment), Anikka Swaby (RD, MSc student Human Nutrition), and Philip Addo Wiredu (PhD candidate, Bioresource Engineering), who shared their hopes and fears for the future and deliberated over how to move from feelings of hope to actionable change.

Finally, it would not be Founder’s Day without acknowledging the hard work and contributions of Macdonald Campus staff and students.

Award of Excellence

This year, Human Resources Advisor Danielle Côté – who has spent 25 years guiding and supporting Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Studies employees through the different stages of their careers – was the recipient of the Macdonald Campus Award of Excellence for Administrative and Support Staff. The award recognizes outstanding performance and contributions to the Macdonald Campus and community both in the execution of their duties and in the effort and commitment towards service.

“Danielle has one of the most difficult jobs in our faculty, balancing the application of the University’s HR policies and regulations against the best interest of the employee–this is no small feat,” said presenter Christine Butler, Director of Academic and Administrative Services, who also added.  “She’s thoughtful, thorough, judicious and fair in everything she does.”

2021 Gold Key honourees

The Macdonald Branch of the McGill Alumni Association selected seven exceptional recipients of the Gold Key Award in recognition of their leadership and excellence in the promotion and development of extra­curricular activities at Macdonald, to the benefit of the Macdonald community as a whole. The 2021 Golden Key recipients include:

Mohammed Antar, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Plant Science Through his roles in the Macdonald Campus Graduate Student Society (MCGSS) and the Association of Graduate Students Employed by McGill University (AGSEM), Mohammed has established himself as a respected representative of his peers in the university community, ensuring a collaborative link between the Macdonald graduate student body and the Faculty Administration. Mohammed has also shown a deep commitment to addressing issues related to diversity, equity and inclusivity in his role as a member of the Faculty Planning committee, as well as in his role as the liaison between the local IGA and the campus community, helping to distribute food donations to those in need. A talented organizer, Mohammed has been heavily involved in organizing Hot Bagel Breakfasts, movie nights, trivia and game nights for the graduate student community, and volleyball and soccer intramurals.

Mary Bergen, BSc (AgEnvSc)’20 MSE. Mary has actively participated in university life, first as a volunteer international student buddy and peer mentor, and later as President of the Macdonald Campus Student Society (MCSS), where she created a more visible and interactive relationship between the MCSS and the greater student body. An advocate for student health and well-being, Mary also collaborated with Student Services to organize a seminar series on mental health awareness. In her time at McGill, Mary has also dedicated herself strengthening the relationship between MCSS and the McGill Office of Sustainability – raising awareness of the multitude of sustainable efforts being carried out on the Macdonald campus – and was instrumental in the organization of the Climate Strike protests for the Macdonald campus undergraduates in the fall of 2019.

Nik Dworek, U2 Environment. In his various roles in the MCSS–from elected a member at large on the MCSS to current President – Nik has done everything from organizing student activities and represented their concerns to actively participating in the Memorandum of Agreement discussions with university administration. He has been instrumental in raising awareness of the Divest McGill movement on the Macdonald Campus, has represented student concerns with regards to COVID-19, and has worked diligently with Dean Geitmann to helped coordinate the administration’s emergency committee to shed light on student needs.

Sourour Harfouch, U2 Dietetics. A former committee member of DHNUS (Dietetics and Human Nutrition Undergraduate Society) and current President of the McGill Global Food Security Club, Sourour has been described by many of her nominators as “a driving force in resurrecting the GFS club”, believing the GFS organization should be actively engaged in education and service roles aimed at alleviating global health disparities. She dedicates her time to CIME– a club that devotes their time and resources to helping asylum seekers – as well as to raising awareness about food insecurity through food drives, educational booths and events, including organizing the 75th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at Macdonald Campus in 2020.

Leela Riddle-Merritte, U3 Global Food Security. In her roles as VP communications and most recently VP external with the MCSS, Leela has undertaken many large projects – including the difficult task of re-writing the MCSS constitution to improve its transparency and legibility – and also led the efforts to obtain provincial accreditation for the MCSS as a student body, which is now recognized as an official student group and protected by government regulations. As a student senator and member of the Racialized and Ethnic Senate sub-committee, she has worked to assist McGill student groups’ solidify their commitment to help improve racial equality, while making the institution more aware of the racial inequalities that exist within its boundaries.

Keel Scruton, U3 Bioresource Engineering. Keel, as a former Business Operations committee member and current VP Finance for the MCSS, assists the committee in overseeing the financial operations of the student society. In these roles, he has carried out a detailed analysis of the MCSS budget and is always looking to improve the efficiency of spending. As such, he created a new club funding system that reduced the time required for MCSS to process club budget requests by 50%, while also managing to reduce the society’s budget deficit from $50,000 per year to the current $5,000 per year, and expects to have a balanced budget very soon. When he’s not dealing in finances, Keel acts as the voice of the Macdonald Campus undergraduate student body on the Board of Governors.

Meha Sharma Ph.D. Candidate Plant Science. Described as kind-hearted, bright and cheerful, Meha – the current President of the Macdonald Campus Graduate Students’ Society (MCGSS) and recipient of a Schulich Graduate Fellowship – has always been focussed on improving grad student engagement and the well-being of her colleagues throughout her time at McGill, organizing countless events for her peers and volunteering as an International student buddy for new graduate students. Meha and her executive team continued to find ways to serve incoming students during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating an informative video tour of Macdonald Campus and highlighting newly implemented campus safety measures while also sparking a new initiative that sees care packages distributed to new student arrivals.

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Dr. Michael Ngadi: Serving up solutions to food insecurity

Campus news - Tue, 02/16/2021 - 04:17
Michael Ngadi, James McGill Professor, Bioresource Engineering Alex Tran

Growing up in Nigeria, Michael Ngadi knew he wanted to make an impact on the world, and although the bioresource engineer always dreamed he would catalyze big, new ideas, his career path was not a linear one.

“I knew very early on that I wanted to do engineering for sure; that was quite clear in my mind,” he recounts. “I had decided on aeronautical engineering, but just as I was filling out my application form, it dawned on me that aeronautical engineering would not make sense in the Nigerian context.”

Ngadi was looking for more than just a career – he was looking to make a positive contribution to his chosen field, his community, and the world. “Agricultural engineering held so much potential. At that time, it was an opportunity to do something new and exciting, something that had not been done before,” he recalls.

That leap of faith changed the course of his life in many unexpected ways – leading him to Halifax on a Canadian government scholarship to work on control sensor development and later, to pursue his PhD in Biochemical Bio Processing Engineering. His evolving career also revealed an underlying passion for food engineering and with it a desire to use his skills to help solve some of the world’s most pervasive food problems.

The first wealth is health

Most recently, Ngadi and his research team traveled to remote communities in Bolivia, Laos, Zambia, Malawi and Ethiopia to examine elements of the local diets, assess their nutritional status, and build programs that would introduce nutrient-dense foods into local cuisines.

“Normally, if a project designer examines a rural area and determines that residents’ diet is mostly made up of high energy carbohydrates, he would likely introduce some meat, vegetables or legumes to increase protein in their diet, and bring in some vitamins and minerals,” says Ngadi. However, what is critical to the project’s success is not simply the introduction of nutrient-dense foods but giving people the skills and knowledge that are necessary to incorporate new dietary habits into their regular routines, he explains. “That requires more than just the promotion of backyard gardens or poultry farming for the community – it requires education, training, and ongoing follow up and support.”

The result was the development of a unique ‘large scale nutrition communication method’ (LaScaN) to educate, train and assist vulnerable populations to own their dietary changes. Further, the three-year project – made possible through funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – involved not only local participation, but also buy-in from governments and key actors in the food development chain.

Tracking progress

With programs in place, the next challenge was to determine the best way to track participants’ adoption of these new dietary practices and to evaluate their impact.  To accomplish this, Ngadi’s team developed an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to collect appropriate metrics and evaluate the success of nutrition-sensitive intervention programs. And so, in partnership with an IT company, the Diet Tracker application was born.

“The idea is to give people either a phone or a mobile device and have them photograph their foods. The app is smart and recognizes what kind of food it is and then proceeds to analyze the nutritional profile of the food,” Ngadi explains. “Once the data is accumulated, it can be used to calculate relevant index and assign score for diet quality or diet diversity. That information can then help drive evidence-based decisions on nutrition-sensitive programs.”

Ngadi points out that the tool – although it gives policy makers and project designers valuable insight into participants’ dietary status – does not necessarily indicate how to address the unique food challenges facing each of these communities. “A tool allows people to know the situation and to plan accordingly. Aligning appropriate planning and intervention is important for better outcomes in mainstreaming nutrition and dietary changes.”

His team has also developed a separate platform – the ‘multi-criteria decision system’ – to complement the AI tool. “This system allows evaluation of dietary situations based on data collected from a region or community and offers specific recommendations that can be used to optimize strategies to mainstreaming nutrition,” Ngadi says. The system also allows his research team to track implementation of the recommended strategies and to gauge the success of their outcomes.

Making an impact

To date, the preliminary design of the AI tool has been completed and is being tested in different countries along with the multi-criteria decision system. The goal is to establish an effective tool and process that will ultimately make nutritious, affordable and sustainable food options more accessible to the rapidly expanding global population.

And evidence on the ground suggests that their approach is working, says Ngadi. “We’ve been tracking these programs for about 18 months to see whether our intervention strategies work, and all indications show that they do – I’m told, for example, that our LaScaN has been adopted by the World Food Program in some of their projects.”


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Macdonald Campus Dairy Cow Pasture Project uses sustainable best practices to bolster education

Campus news - Tue, 02/16/2021 - 02:18
Tess Ryder, a third year student at the Macdonald Campus, and Maxime Leduc at the farm in summer 2019 during the first phase of the project. Dairy Cow Pasture project team

Nearly forty kilometres or a shuttle ride away from Downtown Montreal lies McGill’s abundant and innovative Macdonald Campus Farm. Despite the farm remaining hidden away from the day-to-day lives of several McGill community members, particularly those studying and working at the Downtown Campus, these pastures serve as both a sustainable natural environment for several species and an enriching educational demonstration site.

Since 2019, McGill’s Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) has helped to fund the Macdonald Campus Farm’s Dairy Cow Pasture Project. With a two-fold mandate, the project focuses both on the environmental sustainability of pasture operations and on educating individuals through integration with course curricula and public visits.

Best Management Practices

Led by Paul Meldrum and Maxime Leduc, the project is run by a team of dedicated McGill students and staff who help to maintain the operations of the farm’s new and efficient pasturing methods.

Using Best Management Practices (BMP) to tend pastures, implement animal-friendly fencing, and optimize water usage, the project’s rotational grazing systems help make the Macdonald dairy herd more sustainable overall.

“This system of pasturing uses the cattle to manage grass growth, and in return, the cattle get highly nutritious grass at the peak of quality while spending the spring, summer and fall outside in a natural environment,” says Meldrum.

Through its knowledge transfer strategy, the project also serves as an educational opportunity for numerous McGill students, dairy producers, and other visitors who are interested in learning about both the new rotational grazing systems and campus farm operations as a whole. Paired with McGill’s course offerings in Animal and Plant Science, Farm Management and Technology, and Natural Resource Science, the project equips students and local communities with the tools and knowledge needed to continually work towards a future with more sustainable farm practices.

Tess Ryder, in the third year of her Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is one of these students and has been assisting with several facets of the pasture project including landscaping and grazing management.

“It helped me develop a more well-rounded skillset, which was satisfying,” says Ryder. “Watching happy cattle out in their pasture is really fun and rewarding and I’m glad people can experience that at Mac Farm.”

Since its inception, the project has planted approximately 500 trees and shrubs and even held a field day in September 2019 with over 200 students, farmers, and agronomy professionals in attendance.

Award-winning efforts

The project team has also recently been recognized at the 2020 Catalyst Awards, as the winner of the Sustainability in Operations Award. Given to a team which encompasses activities that support the ongoing function of the University, the award recognized the Dairy Cow Pasture Project’s commitment to helping McGill reach its long-term sustainability target of carbon neutrality by 2040.

On top of its already numerous sustainable successes, the Dairy Cow Pasture Project is looking to further the unique progress it has contributed to the sustainability movement at McGill. As of March 2020, the project has entered a second phase of SPF funding which has already planted 1,200 additional trees and shrubs, created grass buffer zones to prevent erosion, and installed a portable irrigation system.

“It is extremely rewarding for me to work with such dedicated students and colleagues, and to know that what we have started will provide benefits to the Farm, the environment and the McGill community for many years to come,” says Meldrum.

Students plant trees and shrubs around the dairy cow pasture during the first phase of the project in summer 2019. Dairy Cow Pasture project team

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McGill researchers collaborate on potential design for Bank of Canada digital currency

Campus news - Thu, 02/11/2021 - 14:07
Katrin Tinn is an Assistant Professor of Finance at the Desautels Faculty of Management. Christophe Dubach is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering.

The Bank of Canada has announced the top three proposals of the Model X Challenge, a project seeking new designs and business models from North American institutions for Central Bank digital currency (CBDC). These proposals help the Bank of Canada explore the best solutions for digital currency systems if the decision is made to issue a CBDC. Among the leading participants are McGill researchers, Prof. Katrin Tinn (Desautels Faculty of Management) and Prof. Christophe Dubach (Faculty of Engineering).

As the move towards digital payment methods increases, so does the need for more secure and compliant systems of digital currency. Their proposal, Central Bank Digital Currency with Asymmetric Privacy, investigates safe, accessible, and efficient applications of CBDC.

“We propose a novel, implementable technical solution using a Proof-of Authority-based blockchain and a Zero-Knowledge Proof approach for private coin ownership,” describes Dubach. “These design features have been chosen to ensure privacy of spending, system transparency and compliance with tax and anti-money laundering regulations, without compromising scalability.”

Privacy-Hybrid CBDC

Their solution, a Privacy-Hybrid CBDC, involves intentional asymmetry between the privacy of the digital currency spender and the privacy of the digital currency recipient. Using this model, the identity and transactions of the individual spender are protected, while those of the recipient are documented and validated for transparency.

“This type of hybrid design could help resolve many of the current privacy and compliance concerns associated with CBDC, and has the potential for financial institutions and technology firms to offer new and better services,” says Tinn.

A key aspect of the Model X Challenge was the partnership between business and computer science researchers. Through combining their economic and technical expertise, Tinn and Dubach were able to develop the Privacy-Hybrid CBDC model and address the challenges of previous designs. “The project offered an exciting collaboration opportunity between McGill’s Finance and Computer Science and Engineering areas,” says Prof. Tinn. “We also look forward to engaging in fruitful debates with the other teams.”

Read the complete report here.

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Happiness really does come for free

Campus news - Wed, 02/10/2021 - 19:43

Economic growth is often prescribed as a sure way of increasing the well-being of people in low-income countries, but a study led by McGill and the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) suggests that there may be good reason to question this assumption.

The researchers set out to find out how people rate their subjective well-being in societies where money plays a minimal role, and which are not usually included in global happiness surveys. They found that the majority of people reported remarkably high levels of happiness. This was especially true in the communities with the lowest levels of monetization, where citizens reported a degree of happiness comparable to that found in Scandinavian countries which typically rate highest in the world. The results suggest that high levels of subjective well-being can be achieved with minimal monetization, challenging the perception that economic growth will automatically raise life satisfaction among low-income populations.

Measuring happiness

To explore how monetization affects people’s sense of well-being, the researchers spent time in several small fishing communities, with varying degrees of monetization, in the Solomon Islands and Bangladesh, two very low-income countries.

Over a period of a few months, with the help of local translators, they interviewed citizens in both rural and urban areas a number of times. The interviews, which took place both in person and through phone calls at unexpected moments, were designed to elicit information about what constituted happiness for the study subjects, as well as to get a sense of their passing moods, their lifestyle, fishing activities, household income, and level of market integration.

In all, the researchers interviewed 678 people, ranging in age between their mid-twenties and early fifties, with an average age of about 37. Almost 85 per cent of the study participants were male. The disproportionate number of men in the study was due to the fact that cultural norms in Bangladesh made it difficult to interview women.

In the Solomon Islands, responses to the study questions from men and women were not significantly different. However, this is not necessarily applicable to the situation in Bangladesh, as men and women’s social realities and lifestyles differ so much. Further research will need to address whether gender-related societal norms impact the association found in this study.

Early stages of monetization may be detrimental to happiness

The researchers found that in the communities where money was in greater use, such as in urban Bangladesh, residents reported lower levels of happiness.

“Our study hints at possible ways of achieving happiness that are unrelated to high incomes and material wealth,” says Eric Galbraith, a professor in McGill’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the senior author on the study, which was recently published in PLOS One. “This is important, because if we replicate these results elsewhere and can pinpoint the factors that contribute to subjective well-being, it may help us circumvent some of the environmental costs associated with achieving social well-being in the least developed nations.”

“In less monetized sites, we found that people reported a greater proportion of time spent with family and contact with nature as being responsible for making them happy,” explains Sara Miñarro, the lead author on the study who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at (ICTA-UAB). “But with increasing monetization, we found that the social and economic factors commonly recognized in industrialized countries played a bigger role. Overall, our findings suggest that monetization, especially in its early stages, may actually be detrimental to happiness.”

Interestingly, while other research has found that technology and access to information from faraway cultures with different lifestyles may affect people’s sense of their own well-being by offering standards to which people compare their own lives, this did not appear to be the case in these communities.

“This work adds to a growing realization that important supports for happiness are not in principle related to economic output,” adds Chris Barrington-Leigh, a professor in McGill’s Bieler School of the Environment. “When people are comfortable, safe, and free to enjoy life within a strong community, they are happy – regardless of whether or not they are making any money.”

Read the study.

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