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25 top University of Toronto scholars named Canada Research Chairs

December 2, 2016

Toron­to, ON – Two researchers who are lead­ing efforts to trans­form the Cana­di­an social work land­scape for chil­dren and youth are among 25 new Cana­da Research Chairs award­ed today to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to.

Worth a total of $19.7 mil­lion, the posi­tions were announced by fed­er­al Sci­ence Min­is­ter Kirsty Dun­can at a nation­al news con­fer­ence held at U of T’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work. The gov­ern­ment is also pro­vid­ing $1.4 mil­lion in infra­struc­ture fund­ing to sup­port the chairs.

Meet U of T’s newest Cana­da Research chairs

Hold­ing the announce­ment at U of T makes sense, Dun­can said, because of the university’s rep­u­ta­tion as the home of many tal­ent­ed researchers across a broad range of dis­ci­plines, as well as the fact it holds 255 Cana­da Research Chairs in total – the largest num­ber of any uni­ver­si­ty in the coun­try.

She also praised U of T for the fact the major­i­ty of its new chairs — 16 in total — are women. This shows the work that is under­way with uni­ver­si­ties and gov­ern­ment to increase diver­si­ty, the min­is­ter said.

“Yes it does deserve a hand!” Dun­can said as the crowd, which includ­ed many of the researchers named as chairs, broke out into applause. “Sci­ence needs women. Sci­ence needs diver­si­ty. And sci­ence needs to reflec­tive of Cana­da.”

Her remarks were echoed by U of T Pres­i­dent Mer­ic Gertler who told the crowd: “It is won­der­ful to see their excel­lence more ful­ly rep­re­sent­ed among our Cana­da Research Chairs, and I have no doubt that this is a har­bin­ger of fur­ther progress in the years to come.”

All 25 of the U of T recip­i­ents are con­duct­ing glob­al­ly impor­tant research in a num­ber of fields with the poten­tial to pro­found­ly change our health and inter­ac­tions with the world ― from mem­o­ry research to spa­tial ecol­o­gy, mood dis­or­ders, trans­porta­tion, air qual­i­ty and ancient phi­los­o­phy.

They are among 203 new and renewed chairs at 48 post­sec­ondary insti­tu­tions across the coun­try, rep­re­sent­ing a $173-mil­lion invest­ment in cut­ting-edge research and infra­struc­ture from coast-to-coast, Dun­can said.

“I am pro­found­ly grate­ful and hon­oured to be a Cana­da Research Chair in Child Wel­fare,” said Bar­bara Fal­lon, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in U of T’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work, who col­lects and ana­lyzes data to help pol­i­cy­mak­ers make deci­sions based on evi­dence not per­cep­tion to help chil­dren in care.

“I often think about the first client I vis­it­ed as a young, inex­pe­ri­enced social work­er who remarked ‘This is who they sent to help? What do you know about my life?’” explained Fal­lon.

“I judge the val­ue of my research by my abil­i­ty to be account­able, near­ly 25 years lat­er, to her and her fun­da­men­tal ques­tion,” she said. “I hope my research will help pro­vide insight and direc­tion to a sys­tem whose man­date is to serve the most vul­ner­a­ble in our soci­ety.”

Cre­at­ed in 2000, the Cana­da Research Chairs pro­gram is “a cru­cial asset in our country’s abil­i­ty to attract and retain the world’s best and most promis­ing researchers,” said Gertler as he thanked the min­is­ter.

“The pro­gram has trans­formed research and schol­ar­ship in Cana­da and increased our glob­al com­pet­i­tive­ness,” added Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-pres­i­dent of research and inno­va­tion. “At U of T, our Cana­da Research Chairs are doing cut­ting-edge research in an amaz­ing range of sub­jects that is improv­ing qual­i­ty of life not only here at home but around the world.”

For exam­ple, we often think of the online world as one rife with abuse for teenagers. But for Canada’s sex­u­al and gen­der minor­i­ty youth com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­ers online about their strug­gles is often safer than meet­ing in per­son, said Shel­ley Craig, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in the Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work.

As the new Cana­da Research Chair in Sex­u­al and Gen­der Minor­i­ty Youth, Craig is work­ing on dig­i­tiz­ing and pilot test­ing smart­phone-enabled cop­ing skills to improve the resilien­cy of this country’s esti­mat­ed half a mil­lion  sex­u­al and gen­der minor­i­ty youth and help them thrive.

Research has shown sex­u­al and gen­der minor­i­ty youth in cri­sis, who often expe­ri­ence an array of dis­crim­i­na­tion and stres­sors at home, at school and in their com­mu­ni­ty, turn to their phones and social media for infor­ma­tion and help instead of reach­ing out to social ser­vices. This makes tech­nol­o­gy an impor­tant avenue to cre­ate and pro­vide new, inno­v­a­tive and wide­ly avail­able inter­ven­tions to help them cope and thrive.

Craig, who has worked with sex­u­al and gen­der minor­i­ty youth for more than two decades, said she often won­ders if her research is help­ing the young peo­ple she stud­ies but per­son­al feed­back from them helps make its impact real.

“Some morn­ings, I hear about a trans youth that has been kicked out of their home and I think — research — real­ly? Can it make a dif­fer­ence? And then I get an email like this one: ‘As a gay youth, I feel as if my com­mu­ni­ty is neglect­ed in these impor­tant men­tal health stud­ies. Thank you for chang­ing that. You are tru­ly mak­ing a dif­fer­ence just by ask­ing these ques­tions.’”

Ear­li­er in the morn­ing, Dun­can met with Fal­lon, Craig and stu­dents to dis­cuss their research in per­son. One of the stu­dents work­ing with Craig, PhD can­di­date Lau­ren McIn­roy, also used to take class­es from Dun­can when she taught at U of T.

“I am so proud of you!” Dun­can said, hug­ging her.

The 25 researchers announced today are join­ing U of T and its affil­i­at­ed hos­pi­tals’ total con­tin­gent of 255 Cana­da Research Chairs. The fund­ing from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment not only sup­ports impor­tant research but also helps the uni­ver­si­ty attract and retain the best and most promis­ing researchers from around the world.

In addi­tion to con­duct­ing research that improves our depth of knowl­edge and qual­i­ty of life, the chairs also train the next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers in their fields through stu­dent super­vi­sion and teach­ing.


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