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Ambassadors Helping Future Co-op Students

Imtiaz Ahmed and Richa Alvarez are among a new team of ambassadors in Science Career & Cooperative Education who are helping students ace their first co-op work terms.

The team, who've each completed one or more co-ops, are also available for class visits to talk about their experiences with employers. 

The 13 student ambassadors represent Life Sciences, Molecular Biology & Genetics, Biology & Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Chemical Biology and Earth & Environmental Sciences.  Ambassadors have worked with a wide range of employers, including Shoppers Drug Mart, the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, MEDUCOM Health, the SickKids Research Institute, the Region of Peel, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Avelia Injury and Pain Management, Trillium Health Partners, AlayaCare, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, McMaster Children's Hospital and several labs at McMaster. 

Imtiaz helped Samantha Couch, Cooperative Education Program Manager, launch the ambassador program.

"I've loved the opportunity to connect with younger science students at McMaster," says Imtiaz about serving as an ambassador. "I've been a Co-op Mentor for two years now and  it's been very rewarding to help third-year co-op students through their first application cycle and share what I've learned. I'm glad that as an Ambassador I can offer this help to students earlier on in their journeys."

Like Imtiaz, Richa has taken part in co-op information sessions. "it's been a rewarding experience because I gotten to speak with first and second-year students and answer any questions they may have about co-op, from a student perspective and help ease their concerns."

So what does Richa, who was named one of the Faculty of Science's Co-op Students of the Year back in April, tell students? "Being a co-op student allows you to apply what you’ve learned at school in the workplace. On top of that, I’ve learned tons of new skills on the job and also gained a good understanding of what areas of work interest me. As a student in the workplace, you are exposed to new projects and ideas, with increased responsibility but also have the room to make mistakes which is incredibly helpful, early on in your professional development journey. Work experience also enhances your learning when you come back to McMaster after a work term."

Imtiaz agrees on the benefits of co-op. "I think co-op is a great way for students to test out potential careers and more accurately determine whether it is the right path for them before they have already graduated. It can also introduce them to careers that they might not have even considered before, like how I discovered career services, which can be helpful for students who are unsure of what they want to do with their degree."

Richa and Imtiaz are completing their final co-op working with Career Development and Cooperative Education and have impressed Director Alice O'Carroll. " Richa and Imtiaz have been instrumental in developing many wonderful initiatives in our office, from the Co-op Café and our Co-op Advisory Group to our Co-op Alumni Event, and the Ambassador Program."

Student Leader Chosen as Science's Valedictorian

Breast cancer researcher Shawn Hercules was chosen to be the valedictorian for the Faculty of Science's Fall 2021 graduating class. 

Shawn earned his PhD in Biology, with his research focused on understanding the epidemiological and genetic profiles of women of African ancestry in Nigeria and Barbados who have aggressive and difficult to treat triple negative breast cancer. 

Shawn HerculesShawn received the Mary Keyes Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service to McMaster earlier this year, in recognition of his work as President of McMaster's Graduate Students Association. 

“I am very happy for Shawn who was the most outgoing and charismatic of all my PhD students thus far," says Juliet Daniel, Biology Professor and  Associate Dean of Research. "Shawn thrives on science communication and I am excited to see what the future has in store for him.”

Before starting his PhD at McMaster, Shawn completed a Master of Public Health at the University of the West Indies - Cave Hill Campus in Barbados, where he focused on chronic diseases and social determinants of health research. 

"My time at McMaster has helped me to see science through a collaborative lens. I was grateful for the opportunities to collaboratively work with professors, clinicians and trainees across different departments and faculties at McMaster, as well as with colleagues both nationally and internationally. Working with these collaborators for my graduate research allowed me to fully see that complex scientific questions can be answered more efficiently when we bring our individual expertise and lived experiences together in a collaborative manner.

"Most importantly, my time at McMaster helped me to come to realize the power of authenticity and showing up completely as Shawn Hercules. This opened many doors for me, but especially through science communication. I co-produced “Science Is A Drag” which took place in July 2019 and March 2020 in Toronto in collaboration with RCI Science. These events featured scientists performing in drag and communicating their research to challenge cis-heteronomative stereotypes in science. These are just a few examples but every step of the way, I know that my time at McMaster has helped me to create a brighter world, perhaps in other ways that I may not know of right now."

Valedictorians are chosen by a selection committee based on the nominees' academic excellence, personal characteristics, as well as interpersonal and communication skills. 

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. 
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