Research Matters blog: A look ahead

Greetings.

Patchen Barss here, Managing Editor of the Research Matters website and blog. We’ve been at this for a couple of years now, and I thought it might be time to say hello, and thank you for reading.

Even if you’ve been with us for a while, you might still be wondering, “What is Research Matters?” Fair question, given that there isn’t really anything else quite like it. Here’s the deal: Ontario is home to 21 publicly funded universities. Each of those universities has a Vice President of Research. For years, these VPs have met on a regular basis to trade ideas, discuss emerging fields of research and allow each individual institution to become part of a larger community of Ontario researchers.

This community in itself is unusual: universities compete – for funding, professors and students. But big and small universities alike are increasingly finding that their greatest gains come through collaboration rather than competition. Ontario happens to be ahead of the game on this front.

Research Matters emerged from that cooperative culture: it’s a public outreach campaign that serves not just a single community or city, but reaches out to all Ontarians. This might not seem so surprising – after all, the university system relies on Ontario taxes, and universities are therefore accountable to Ontarians. Nevertheless, no region in Canada, and possibly no region in the world, has ever achieved this kind of deep multi-institutional cooperation on a public outreach initiative.

Research Matters has entered its third year. It’s a multi-platform initiative, designed to give as many entry points as possible into Ontario university research. Today, I wanted to tell you specifically about the plans for the Research Matters blog over the coming year.

(At least) once each month, we’ll release a series of daily blog posts based on a certain theme. The themes we’ve chosen all relate to everyday life – to come up with ideas, we combed newspaper sections, bookstore departments and popular magazines. Starting tomorrow, we’re going to kick things of with the theme, “Your Health.” Of course, this being university research, you’ll get more than just fitness and diet tips – we’ll bring you some of the latest ideas, technologies and theories that are shaping how we understand personal health.

In September, the Research Matters blog goes Shopping. In October, we’re going to explore Spirituality and Personal Belief. We’ve got other sections planned on Business, Better Homes and Gardens, Style, Travel, Romance and more.

We hope you find the blog interesting, useful and fun. We hope you’ll stick around and see what we’ve got on offer this year. And if you want to send us a note and let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at yourontarioresearch@cou.on.ca

Thanks again for reading.

Patchen Barss
Managing Editor

 

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Teens with cellphones at anti-cyberbullying rally.

Understanding cyberbullies

Sharon Oosthoek | September 1, 2015

Roughly one in four children and adolescents say they have been bullied on social media, according to a recent Canadian report. This statistic worries parents and educators alike: not only does cyberbullying put victims at greater risk of depression and academic difficulties, it has been linked to some high-profile suicides. Despite the media attention, remarkably little is known about how social media affects teens' motivations for posting mean messages or embarrassing photos, says Wilfrid Laurier University psychologist Danielle Law. "How we deal with cyberbullying depends on what motivated them to post harmful things," she says. "It's extremely important to look at intent." Law's study of more than 700 youths between the ages of 10 and 18 in British Columbia showed that those posting mean messages or embarrassing photos were more likely to do so because they were reacting to a perceived provocation and not because they were deliberately malicious. In other words, they interpreted another adolescent's comments on social media as threatening and felt the need to defend themselves. "They think, 'Oh, this person is being mean to me,' so they send a mean message back," says Law. "But in reality that person meant no harm and the statement was misinterpreted." It's easy to misinterpret things online because of the lack of non-verbal cues and tone of voice. This explains why previous research, including Law's work, shows adolescents' assumptions about others' behaviour can be wrong. Which is why experts suggest the best way to deal with reactive cyberbullying is to help young people communicate with one another more clearly. That is, thinking about how their message might be perceived by others before posting it and also thinking about how to respond to a perceived provocation before replying. This is especially important in the world of social media where conflicts can escalate more quickly than in face-to-face situations. "In real life, a victim may not fight back because they are smaller or more timid," says Law. "But online, anyone can post pictures and say mean things. This is why we tell people not to respond aggressively because they in turn become a bully and it escalates." A different kind of bully Her study also uncovered a small group of adolescents whose cyberbullying entailed creating hostile websites dedicated to demeaning their target. This group was deliberately malicious and more motivated by what Law calls "proactive reasons" designed to gain power or obtain specific goals. Strategies for dealing with this type of malicious cyberbully include working toward understanding the underlying reasons behind their behaviour. "What is currently happening is that we employ 'band-aid' solutions like detention, suspension, or reprimand by police – when really what we need is system that cares for the bully and helps them overcome the issues that have led them down this path," says Law. The ultimate goal of these strategies is of course to prevent cyberbullying, and Law's research was among the first to show what works and what doesn't. Controlling children's and teens' use of technology through strict rules or monitoring software is not effective, she discovered. Rather, open lines of communication between parents and adolescents are most closely linked to reduced cyberbullying. "Families with a strong sense of cohesion and ability to talk to each other openly and create boundaries together, rather than top-down approach, are most highly correlated with responsible use online," she says.
immigration canada document

Welcoming newcomers

Robyn Dugas | August 25, 2015

Most research into Canadian immigration focuses on its three largest cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Yet mid-sized cities such as Ottawa are just as dependent on newcomers to maintain populations, boost local economies and offset labour shortages. “Canada’s approach to managing the admission of newcomers is undergoing a fundamental change," says Western University social psychologist Stelian Medianu. "In particular, the new system that is taking shape will lead to greater involvement by employers and by colleges and universities.” But in places such as Ottawa, these organizations may lack the infrastructure and tools to help integrate immigrants. The answer, says Medianu, is interagency collaboration. Settlement agencies have the expertise — so why not bring that expertise to employers, universities and colleges as they help immigrants transition to Canadian society? Connecting with the experts Medianu’s research is just one part of the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership, a nation-wide alliance of university, government and community partners researching the integration of immigrants and minorities in Canada. He is working with an umbrella group representing Ottawa's settlement organizations called Local Agencies Serving Immigrants (LASI) Coalition. With the coalition's help, Medianu is identifying the needs of each stakeholder group: employers, educational institutions, immigrants and international students. He is also researching the most successful initiatives around the world to determine which ones could be put to use in the Ottawa region. His work is part of a year-long Mitacs Accelerate internship. Mitacs is a national non-profit organization that supports research partnerships between universities and partner organizations. Medianu is identifying how each LASI-affiliated settlement group is uniquely suited to furthering immigrant integration. "Each settlement agency has its own capacity and expertise," he says.  "Together they can create suites of services that better match the needs of employers, educational institutions and newcomers.” With that information at hand, Medianu has been  mapping potential partnerships between these settlement groups and the companies and institutions that could benefit from their expertise. At the end of the project, he’ll provide LASI with recommendations and research results that will help its member organizations build fruitful partnerships in the community and, ultimately, provide a streamlined settlement experience for new Canadians in mid-sized cities.

Tracking turtles

Sharon Oosthoek | August 24, 2015

James Paterson spent the spring of 2009 and 2010 hiding behind trees and crouching in the underbrush of Algonquin Park. Thus camouflaged, he allowed himself an occasional peek as he waited patiently for turtles to lay their eggs in the woods. But as soon as they left, he would dash out with a screen to cover the nests and protect the eggs from predators. read more »
Refugee children in settlement camp.

When exile drags on

Araina Bond | August 19, 2015

When James Milner visited Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in November 2001, they had been in place for almost a decade.  The camps are now nearly 25 years old and their occupants — mostly Somalis fleeing civil war and drought — number 350,000, making the camps the largest refugee settlement in the world. read more »
Research Matters team

Stories from the road

Katie Woodstock | August 17, 2015

Katie Woodstock is part of our Research Matters team touring the province this summer to spread the word about research breakthroughs at Ontario’s 21 publicly funded universities. This month’s theme of migration and long-distance travel is a good fit for the experience that Sarah, Alex, Badri and I have had this summer as we travel across the province to talk with people about why university research matters. So far, we’ve covered 10 cities and more than 10, 000 kilometres to promote game-changing discoveries, including insulin, Technicolor, and the Yukon Gold potato. It has been amazing to see the pride people feel in knowing just how many important innovations have come from this province. But these game-changers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discoveries from Ontario universities. While we have been teaching people about the huge diversity and significance of Ontario university research, we have been learning the same lesson ourselves. One of the highlights of the summer has been the opportunity to speak with a huge variety of researchers about their work. We met a team in Gravenhurst that looks at whether turtles living near roads are more stressed, a researcher in London who looks at how music affects our memories and a researcher from Leamington who investigates the anti-cancer properties of dandelion roots. I have seen the wide impact that university research has had in this province, which is one of the many things making our long-distance journey this summer so worth it. Interested in chatting with us? Come to one of our upcoming events and test your knowledge with our fun trivia game. We hope to see you there!
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