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Grad Student Receives National Academic Medal

Claudio TurcoA natural leader and genuine humanitarian from the Department of Kinesiology was recognized with a Governor General's Academic Gold Medal at last month's Fall Convocation. 

Claudia Turco earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Psychology in 2016 and completed her PhD in Kinesiology this year. Claudio's PhD focused on using non-invasive brain stimulation to study neural pathways. She also created curriculum for an outreach program that helps elementary students learn how the brain works.

"It was a pleasure to supervise Claudia," says Aimee Nelson, Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Control and Professor in the Department of Kinesiology. "Claudia is incredibly motivated, a natural leader, deeply intelligent and a genuine humanitarian. Among other things, Claudia taught my lab the importance of reliability statistics in brain stimulation research. She developed new national and international collaborations that we will continue in her absence. I am honored to have been a part of her journey and look forward to our continued research and friendship."

Claudia is currently in medical school at the University of Alberta, with plans to continue her clinical research and go into neurology or physical medicine and education. 

Established in 1873, the Governor General's Academic Medals recognizes outstanding students for their scholastic achievements. Bronze medals are awarded at the secondary school level, collegiate bronze at the post-secondary diploma level, silver at the undergraduate level and gold for students who achieve the highest academic standing at the graduate level. Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Kim Campbell, Robert Bourassa, Robert Stanfield and Gabrielle Roy are just some of the more than 50,000 people who have received the Governor General’s Academic Medal.

Read more about Claudia in the Daily News.

5 Questions with Jennifer Heisz

Jennifer Heisz is the Canada Research Chair in Brain Health and Aging, an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, the Associate Director with the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence and, as of next year, published author. Jennifer's first book - Move the Body, Heal the Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity and Sleep - will be published by Mariner Books, a division of HarperCollins in March 2022.

Jennifer offers advice to other faculty members who've thought about writing a book about their research for a general audience.

How did you get started on your book?

It’s been my lifelong dream to write a book. I assumed this would be a retirement project. But thanks to the tremendous support I received from my colleague Martin Gibala, that dream was expedited. Marty paved the way with the publication of his own book The One-Minute Workout and he generously shared his industry contacts. From there, I secured a literary agent for my book.

How long did you work on the book from start to finish?

My book features research on exercise and the brain from my NeuroFit Lab, which I founded in 2013. The idea for this book came to me in August 2018 after I'd just registered for my first half ironman triathlon. I thought it would be fun to track my progress in training for this new sport and back it up with the latest science from my lab and other researchers.

From that point, it took me over a year to draft the proposal. The proposal included a synopsis of the book, a summary of each chapter and a sample chapter. After receiving feedback from Canadian publishers in November 2019 (think: revise and resubmit), I re-worked the proposal and secured a U.S. publisher in the summer of 2020. Their contract required me to deliver the book by March 2021 and all edits were finalized by August 2021. So, all in all, it took me three years for conception to final product. 

What was the biggest challenge with writing your book? What was most rewarding?

A major challenge in writing my book was making the time for it. I had to forgo time with friends and family so I could write, which was really hard.

Another challenge was translating the science in a way that would be interesting for a general audience but still accurate. I ended up creating personas from the average data point, which helped bring the evidence to life.

Finally, the biggest challenge for me was publicly sharing my own personal struggles with mental health, which I had never done before. It made me feel very vulnerable but at the same time it was very cathartic. 

The most rewarding aspect of writing my book was thinking about the potential impact it may have on people who are struggling with mental illness. I also gained incredible insight into my own research and devised new experiments that my students and I will test in the lab for years to come.

Why is it important to share research with the general public? 

The general public wants to have trusted information. Scientists have that information but we don’t always present it in the most accessible way.

Writing a book for the general public forces us to think more inclusively about the way we communicate our science. But rest assured, similar principles apply. For example, having a good method is key. My method? First, I synthesized the literature and identified the best studies to highlight. Then, I translated the science into a story that would be interesting and relatable. And finally, I verified that my story still accurately represented the science. The results? To be published in March 2022.

Would you consider write another book?

Yes, I will write another book. In fact, I’m in the process of developing a new book proposal right now. I expect it will be easier to write a second book… but that’s just my hypothesis. I’ll let you know when the data are in. 

New Collaboration with Fields Institute

The Department of Mathematics & Statistics and the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences are welcoming Chris Miller from Ohio State University next month.

Fields Institute logoChris is the first international researcher chosen for the new Dean's Distinguished Visiting Professorship position announced last month by the Fields Institute and McMaster University. Fields introduced a similar position with the University of Toronto in 2008.
The new position provides a stipend to an international researcher in the mathematical sciences. The researcher will participate in a full-term course related to a Fields Institute thematic program that can be taken for credit by graduate and advanced undergraduate students. The researcher will spend their five-month term at the Fields Institute’s Toronto campus and in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. 
Chris will be followed by Nicola Gigli from the Université de Nice next September for the second Dean's Distinguished Visiting Professorship position..

"I am honoured to accept the position," says Chris. "Fields has been an important part of most of my post-PhD mathematical career, beginning with a postdoctoral position in 1997." Chris shared an office at Fields with fellow postdoc Patrick Speissegger who's now a Professor with the Department of Mathematics & Statistics,  Chris and Patrick organized events at Fields and have co-authored several papers. Chris is currently supervising Nigel Pynn-Coates, a postdoc at Ohio State who completed his undergraduate degree at McMaster.  

“An important part of what makes the Fields Thematic Programs work is having senior people here, but it can be a challenge for researchers to get away," says Fields Institute Deputy Director Deirdre Haskell. "The Dean’s Distinguished Visiting Professorship position gives them the freedom to come to Toronto and Hamilton for four to six months."
The Dean's Distinguished Visiting Professor is selected by a committee representing the Fields Institute and the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. While it is expected that the position will be filled by a researcher associated with a thematic program at Fields during their period of residency, candidates may also be nominated by any faculty member of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. Nominations can be made either to the Fields Institute Director or to the Chair of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics.
This new position solidifies a longstanding and close relationship between the Fields Institute and McMaster, says Chair Matheus Grasselli. The University has been involved with the Institute since its founding in 1992 and at least two directors and three deputy directors of the Fields Institute have come from McMaster.
“McMaster is one of the founding Principal Sponsoring Universities of the Fields Institute and has benefited tremendously from participation in its programs and activities," says Matheus, who served as Director of the Fields Centre for Financial Industries from 2017 to 2020. "We have also been deeply involved in the governance of the Institute. The Dean’s Distinguished Visiting Professorship further strengthens our long-standing relationship with Fields. This new initiative will leverage the prestige of the Institute to bring leading international researchers to our campus. The Department of Mathematics & Statistics looks forward to welcoming and collaborating with Chris in the new year,”

Fostering global research collaborations is one of the priorities in the Faculty of Science's 2020-2025 strategic plan. "Collaborating with the Fields Institute to introduce a Distinguished Visiting Professorship advances that key priority in our strategic plan and further enhances our global partnerships and reputation for research excellence,” says Dean Maureen MacDonald,

The Fields Institute is internationally renowned for strengthening collaboration, innovation, and learning in mathematics and across a broad range of disciplines. Annual programming includes a full slate of long- and short-term events, such as specialized, six-month-long thematic programs, multi-day workshops and conferences, public lectures, recurring seminars, outreach activities, and start-up incubation. The Fields Institute promotes mathematical activity in Canada, helps to expand the application of mathematics in modern society, and makes mathematics accessible and engaging for all audiences. 

Get to Know New Faculty Member Elli Papangelakis

Elli Papangelakis is joining the School of Earth, Environment & Society as an Assistant Professor and the Fairly Gadsby Research Chair in Fluvial Geomorphology next month from the University of British Columbia.

"My academic background is a bit of a mixed bag," says Elli. "For my undergrad, I completed a double major in Physics and Physical Geography at the University of Toronto. From there, I went on to to my MSc in Geography at UBC. I returned to Ontario to complete my PhD at the University of Waterloo in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department through the Water Institute program. 
"My research focuses on the geomorphology of urban rivers. In other words, I investigate how urbanization affects the physical process of rivers such as the transport of sediment, erosion and aquatic habitats.    I have a strong focus on translating that research into tools that can be used by industry and policy-makers to improve how urban rivers are conserved, restored, and managed. 
"I come from a family filled with scientists, and so was exposed to science and research from a young age. Both my parents are scientists in very different fields who encouraged me to ask questions about the world and learn about all types of science.

Outside of work I enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and camping. When at home, I enjoy playing the piano, cooking new recipes, and spending lazy afternoons with my dog, Watson. I am also part of a curling club and love to curl once a week."

Students Helping Students Start Strong

A new student-run club is looking for faculty members and TAs to make guest appearances at workshops and events for first-year students in the Faculties of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences.

Angela SchmidtTransition State McMaster was founded by Angela Schmidt, a third-year Biochemistry student. “Growing up in a small town and coming from a high school that wasn’t STEM-focused, I found the transition to university especially difficult," says Angela.

"My personal experience, along with similar experiences for many friends, motivated me to start Transition State. I believe that every student from every background deserves an equal chance at achieving their academic goals."

The club's mandate is to take a proactive approach in helping first-year students prepare for university, both in and beyond the classroom. The club runs year-round programs and workshops, 

One of those programs - STEMRep - connects first-year students with more than 30 upper-year students from Mathematics & Statistics, Kinesiology and Integrated Science and other programs from across McMaster. Using a Discord server, the STEMReps answer student questions and host monthly themed Q&A sessions. STEMReps also volunteered as panelists during Transition State McMaster's Summer Pathway Program for Life Sciences students. The club is looking to expand this program for students in other first-year STEM entry programs.

The club has also opened study channels on Microsoft Teams for students in Biology 1A03 and 1M03, Chemistry 1A03, Math 1LS3, Physics 1A03 and Psych 1X03.

This month, the club is focused on helping students prepare for their BIO 1M03 PBL assignment and BIO 1A03 lab report. Transition State is also hosting a bonfire for first-year students at the Altitude Pit on campus Nov. 19 and working with Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences Associate Professor Michelle MacDonald to run their first scientific writing workshop on Nov. 24.

Next month, Transition State McMaster will host a one-on-one peer editing session for the BIO 1A03 lab report, a first-year exam prep event and their third Q&A session focused on second-year specialization.

"We hope to build a rapport with professors and TAs and have them join our events as guest speakers," says Angela. If you are interested in being a guest speaker and helping first-year students have a strong start in the Faculty of Science, please contact Transition State VP of Outreach Jonathan Monteiro at montej2@mcmaster.ca.
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