Future-ready researchers

Laurier Students Share Their Findings

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Research is a dynamic, creative pursuit for students, leading to skills development, career advancement and intellectual growth. Wilfrid Laurier University offers experiential learning opportunities across all disciplines to shape the future-ready researchers of tomorrow.

In summer 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic left many students unable to secure summer jobs, Laurier partnered with Mitacs to fund a unique research training program. Mitacs, a non-profit organization that develops research partnerships across Canada, awarded 15 Laurier students with a paid, 12- to 16-week internship. The recipients came from various faculties and included undergraduate, master’s and PhD researchers, all of whom gained hands-on experience completing a research project of their choosing.

We asked eight of Laurier’s Mitacs Research Training Award winners to share their findings.


Rishita De

Undergraduate student, Economics and Global Studies

What I studied: I investigated the mental health impacts of climate change on ecological farmers – farmers who are committed to sustainable agriculture. More specifically, my study focused on women farmers and issues of food sovereignty and security. My supervisor and I partnered with World Accord, an NGO which works directly with farmers in Asia and Latin America, where a lot of women take up agricultural roles when men are working overseas.

What I’ve learned: As female leadership in agriculture has increased, we have seen an increase in sustainable farming practices. There is a gap in academic literature on the mental health impacts of climate change, but I see many women farmers sharing their daily challenges with each other on social media. Our work with World Accord is focused in Honduras, where women face a lot of economic and ecological stress as climate change affects crop yields, without the same level of government support we offer in Ontario. Even still, many Honduran women are resilient and trying to bring about change by adopting sustainable best practices.

Why it matters: My research is supporting the development of a partnership between World Accord and the Ecological Farmer Association of Ontario (EFAO). They are trying to build a knowledge-transfer network between farmers in Ontario and Honduras who are facing similar challenges.

How research makes me future-ready: The experiential skills I’m gaining will help me pursue a career in international development, specifically focused on matters relating to women and climate change.

Claire Palvetzian

Master's student, Education

What I studied: I assessed the pros and cons of the HyFlex education model, a combination of in-person and online instruction. HyFlex is different than a traditional hybrid model because students can choose from week to week whether they prefer to attend class in person, learn synchronously with their classmates online, or complete the course work asynchronously on their own time.

What I’ve learned: I read lots of articles written by faculty who have taught using the HyFlex model and plan to conduct qualitative interviews to learn more about the teaching experience. I anticipate hearing that HyFlex requires more effort from faculty, but I’m hoping they also feel that the benefits are worth the extra work. Research has shown that HyFlex makes education more accessible for students with mental health needs, transportation issues, children or sick loved ones at home, as they can choose the learning environment that best suits their needs.

Why it matters: COVID-19 has shut down campuses across the world. I teach part-time at Conestoga College and whenever it is safe to go back, I anticipate a gradual return to campus. We may not be able to hold classes at full capacity. Can we use this HyFlex option to benefit students who are unable to come in person? What will the challenges be if we try to implement this at Conestoga or Laurier?

How research makes me future-ready: Without this Mitacs award, I would have never been exposed to this level of research. In MEd programs, we do some research, but never this deep. This experience is setting me up for success if I decide to complete my PhD or pursue certain career goals.

Claire Palvetzian
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Zhuoyi Zhao

Zhuoyi Zhao

PhD candidate, Accounting

What I studied: I investigated the integration of data analytics into accounting information ecosystems. As part of my research, I learned how to use a popular data-analytics software called Weka, which helps users conduct functions such as predictive modelling and cluster analysis.

What I’ve learned: Generally speaking, these new data-analytics tools have many benefits for auditors and accountants. For example, cluster analysis is particularly useful for identifying fraud cases. On the other hand, there can be challenges integrating data analytics with human decision-making. Some of the papers I read found that smaller enterprises tend to believe machines more than their own expertise, whereas at larger companies, they tend to have a more critical perspective of the results. So, depending on the resources of the company, they might have different attitudes or biases toward new technology.

Why it matters: Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada requires accounting professionals to have data-analysis skills and the business world is becoming increasingly data-driven, so in order to prepare our students for the real world, academics need to expose them before they enter the job market. But within our profession, we don’t have enough professors who have those skills yet. This is a new area of both education and research. We need to know how these technological changes are influencing our profession and then update accounting and auditing standards to regulate people’s behaviour.

How research makes me future-ready: Most business schools are seeking ways to incorporate data skills into their curricula, especially in accounting. As a new grad with the most recent information about the market, my first teaching job will probably be in data analytics. I'm grateful to Laurier and Mitacs for this training opportunity.

Rashyka Ford

Undergraduate student, Communications Studies

What I studied: I was made aware of a study called Being Raced, which was conducted between 2016 and 2019 by a group of then-undergraduate students including Paige Grant, Joey Lee and Azka Choudhary, along with faculty and staff such as Laura Mae Lindo, Vanessa Oliver and Lauren Burrows. Being Raced investigated the experiences of racialized students on Laurier’s campuses. Along with my Mitacs supervisor, Ciann Wilson, I met with Professor Oliver to discuss the goals of the study and how my work for Mitacs could amplify its findings. We decided that I would write a manuscript based on the Being Raced data which would focus on the experiences of racism faced by students and the spaces on our campuses that they found safe.

What I’ve learned: Students reported a lack of diversity at Laurier and felt like there were too few racialized faculty and administrators. There were examples of individual students who brought forward racist experiences and felt like Laurier staff and administration didn’t know how to handle these encounters or even recognize them as inherently racist. Many of the issues seem to be tied to a lack of understanding of what racism is and what it looks like. Racism may not be overt – it can be covert or microagressive.

Why it matters: Reading about what racialized students have experienced at Laurier is disheartening as a racialized young woman myself who has my own experiences. If you want to join the student union or certain clubs but you don’t see yourself represented or reflected in the composition, why would you join? You will likely feel like there isn’t a place for you. How do you focus on class when even in the classroom you are dealing with instructors who don’t understand your experiences and express their own racist microagressions? My manuscript will focus on how racism exists at Laurier and will provide recommendations on how we can make our campuses safer and more inclusive of racialized students.

How research makes me future-ready: I’m interested in analyzing information and developing solutions, and I want my work to have purpose and meaning. I want to make a difference in whatever I do, and research can definitely be a part of that.

Rashyka Ford
"I'm interested in analyzing information and developing solutions, and I want my work to have purpose and meaning."
Rashyka Ford
Tyler Pacheco

Tyler Pacheco

PhD candidate, Social Psychology

What I studied: I am reviewing existing studies on pandemics and epidemics, such as SARS and H1N1, to see how workers around the world were impacted by past crises. More specifically, I am also exploring how workers in precarious employment conditions – which include factors such as irregular shifts or non-standardized pay – are affected.

What I’ve learned: Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been a co-investigator on a study that focuses on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on full- and part-time Canadian workers. We have found that precariously employed workers seem to face additional stressors, so it’s therefore unfair to draw the same conclusions. Social distancing wears on everyone’s wellbeing, but it is compounded for people who are already dealing with job insecurity and financial strain.

Why it matters: There are many lessons to be learned from past outbreaks, and if I can synthesize them in an accessible way, policymakers can use that existing knowledge to help Canadian workers as we experience a second wave.

How research makes me future-ready: My long-term goal is to do industry research, so experiences like this bring me one step closer to achieving that. The opportunities and mentorship I’ve obtained at Laurier have helped me tremendously.

Vanessa Shivnauth

Undergraduate student, Biology

What I studied: My research focused on salicylic acid, which many plants use as a defence hormone. It helps them boost their immunity and live longer, but its production is quite vulnerable to warm temperatures. Different plants use different genes to help regulate the production of salicylic acid, kind of like a switch. I looked at how those genes are regulated and their similarities across plant species.

What I’ve learned: In every branch of biology, there is a model organism. In plants, we use Arabidopsis, which is a common weed. Arabidopsis uses the CBP60g gene for salicylic acid production, so I compiled a comprehensive list of plant species and identified all available homologous CBP60g gene and protein sequences. I then performed a phylogenetic analysis of each plant species, which examines the evolutionary relationship of the CBP60g genes in each species, followed by a comprehensive meta-analysis of all published gene expression studies to get some insight into how each plant uses these genes. Those results have all been uploaded to an online database.

Why it matters: As the climate changes, we are going to need to adapt and create the best crops that we can with the resources that we have. My project will provide the industry with easy-to-access candidate genes in different plant species – including important crops – that can be further manipulated and engineered for crop protection. 

How research makes me future-ready: For this project, I got to use bioinformatic software to analyze information, which is unlike anything I’ve done in my studies so far. It is valuable to learn a new skill that is essential for scientific research, as it will improve my technical expertise and enhance my competitiveness in the job market. 

Vanessa Shivnauth
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Jesse Wiley

Jesse Wiley

Master's student, Education (Student Affairs stream)

What I studied: I completed an analysis of queer service centres (QSCs) at Ontario universities. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most campuses, my research questions were focused on QSC webpages and what information is available there.

What I’ve learned: The blurbs on QSC webpages vary widely in the level of depth that describe what they offer. Across most of these institutional webpages are references to resources, advocacy and peer support. However, some QSCs have full separate websites linked to this institutional webpage, while others have a brief paragraph that forces the reader to translate those abstract words and decipher what events and services are actually available. From what I remember during my own university experience, these communities are very relational and deeply oriented in physical spaces, so I can imagine the shift from in-person to virtual programming makes it difficult to keep these communities together.

Why it matters: These services are really important to the students who are connected to them, but as someone who worked as a community worker, I know how fragile the centres can be. Most QSCs are student- or volunteer-run and have regular turnover as students cycle through. These centres need funding, stability and visibility, and so I hope to help validate their services through my research. It would be really impactful for service providers to be able to bring a study or report with them when asking for a budget increase or salary for a coordinator.

How research makes me future-ready: The award allowed me to focus on this work and will enable me to keep moving forward with this research beyond my master’s. I now have data to use as a baseline to apply for my PhD.

Samantha Tai

Undergraduate student, Community Music

What I studied: At the beginning of the pandemic, I noticed that musicians immediately moved to performing virtual concerts. Music is an inherently social act and research has shown that there is a strong relational aspect to attending live concerts: it literally strengthens connection between people in the room. Do virtual concerts provide the same benefits?

What I’ve learned: I found that when artists are adaptive and take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology, their virtual concerts have higher audience engagement and contribute to social connection. For example, audiences love when artists use a live-chat function to read and respond to messages during their performances. But simply performing a live concert over video doesn’t have the same effect.

Why it matters: As the pandemic goes on, musicians are realizing they need to use technology to continue creating shared experiences, even if people are watching their concerts alone. In the Faculty of Music, we are trying to figure out how to hold concerts this year, so I presented a list of best practices, along with the strengths and weaknesses of different streaming platforms.

How research makes me future-ready: The workshops and mentorship offered through Mitacs were extremely valuable as I want to continue doing research throughout my career. I’m planning to do my master’s in social work. I am interested in the intersections of music and social connection, and how we can use music to grow communities.

Samantha Tai