Innovative research celebrated at 2019 Scholars Reception

From the LGBTQ experience in South Asia to epileptic zebrafish, a range of cutting-edge research was on display at the 2019 Graduate Studies Scholars Reception.

Held on Wednesday, November 20 at the Schulich School of Business’s Executive Dining Room, and hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the event was an informal opportunity for FGS to celebrate the more than 200 current graduate students who have received federal, provincial, and other major external awards. These include SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council), CGS (Canadian Graduate Scholarships), Vanier, and Ontario Trillium scholarships, and many more.

photo of from left, Dr Alice Pitt, Anna Veprinska, Azizia Wahedi, and Dr Thomas Loebel

Vice-Provost Academic Dr. Alice Pitt (far left) and Dean Thomas Loebel (far right) with Thesis and Dissertation Award winners Anna Veprinska (PhD, English) and Azizia Wahedi (MSc, Biology)

“This event recognizes the various ways that together we make York University into the university – the university that we want and need for pioneering research,” said FGS dean Thomas Loebel in an introductory speech.

“The diversity of the student body achieving success in external scholarship competitions is significant and a source of real pride at York. The multi-rational, cultural, and so often intersectional list includes first-generation students, LGBTQ-identified students, Indigenous students, and those entering or re-entering university at a later stage of life and career.”

Three students presented a brief outline of their research, and discussed the importance of the scholarships in supporting their work.

Shraddha Chatterjee (Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies) has focused her research on the relationship between right-wing nationalism and queer sexualities (particularly among underprivileged people) in South Asia. “The current political situation in India is worrisome, with an escalation in the recent public discourse and the rise of authoritarianism, coupled with the increased economic instability and erosion of free speech,” she told the audience. As a Vanier CGS SSHRC scholarship-holder, “I’m now able to an ethnography of the field for a ten-month duration without being hemmed in by TA schedules or worrying about the costs incurred during fieldwork. I’m also able to offer the participants in my research some compensation, which I believe is ethical as a researcher located in the first-world context researching on South Asia.”

Nima Dehghansai (Kinesiology) has focused on examining key factors that contribute to the successful development of para-sport athletes – in particular, examining the training processes of Australian and Canadian Paralympic athletes to gather information to help make sports more accessible. Conducted over six years, his research has “provided sport-specific as well as system-wide findings which have influenced policy and provided us with knowledge that we can provide more resources to athletes … to be able to access facilities, coaches, and equipment.” Dehghandsai holds a SSHRC CGSD scholarship, which has “allowed me to travel across Canada and Australia to meet coaches, attend camps, establish networks across the two countries, and establish this collaboration between two international communities to be able to facilitate and gather such rich information that continues to provide knowledge.”

Paige Whyte-Fagundes (Biology) studies a particular protein channel in the zebrafish that could lead to important developments in understanding epilepsy. She has been able to induce seizures in fish that are only seven days old, and then she can poke a needle into the fish’s brain and record their brain activity (“It doesn’t hurt, so don’t worry,” she told the audience) so that she “can actually record the brain cells communicating instantaneously, and see some type of seizure activity.” With approximately 40% of (human) epilepsy patients still unresponsive to treatments and medications that are available on the markets today, her Susan Mann Dissertation Scholarship-winning work could lead to breakthroughs.

In addition, FGS dean Thomas Loebel presented awards to this year’s Thesis & Dissertation Prize winners: Azizia Wahedi (MSc, Biology) for her “Characterization of the Adipokinetic Hormone/Corazonin-Related Peptide Signalling System in the Mosquito,” and Anna Veprinska (PhD, English) for “The Skin of Another: Empathetic Dissonance in Twentieth-First-Century Poetry after Crisis.”

In a speech, Rebecca Pillai Riddell, Associate Vice-President Research, noted York’s strong commitment to fostering graduate research. “York hosts one of the largest cohorts of graduate students in the country, and York’s graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are key drivers of the university’s research and scholarly success. Students and fellows come from all four corners of the globe, and are supported with prestigious national and international research scholarships and fellowships.

“York is committed to enabling our students to acquire, advance, and apply their skills and knowledge to providing exceptional supervision, engagement and instruction that supports a high-quality educational experience for all of our graduate and postdoctoral fellows.”