Thursday, March 8, 2007

  • Work-and-health PhD starts this fall
  • Space: the psychologist's frontier
  • And a little of this and that
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[A mace, with a man carrying it]

'What is that thing?' I heard somebody ask recently, referring to the symbol that's on 50th Anniversary banners and posters. It's the UW mace, that's what, seldom seen now that it's not on regular public display, but pictured here as carried at Convocation in October by pure mathematics professor Frank Zorzitto. The mace, crafted of ebony and silver, was a gift to the university in 1965, and bears the coats of arms of UW on one side and Ontario on the other.

Link of the day

International Women's Day

When and where

GradFest continues with presentations for students about to graduate: exhibits from 10:00, Davis Centre hallway; workshops from 11:30, Davis room 1302; reception 4:30, with words from UW president David Johnston, Davis lounge; details online.

St. Paul's College Klassen-Harvey Annual Lectureship in Bible and Culture: Major Steven Moore, Royal Military College, in panel discussion, "The Praxis of Reconciliation: Theology, Faith and Reality", 10 a.m., MacKirdy Hall, St. Paul’s.

'Documenting Your Teaching for Tenure and Promotion' panel sponsored by associate vice-president (learning resources and innovation) and associate provost (academic and student affairs), 11:45 to 1:15, CEIT room 3142, registration online.

International spouses group discusses "How to Eat Canadian Food and Not Gain Weight", speakers from health services, 12:45 p.m., Columbia Lake Village community centre; children welcome.

Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology presents David DiBattista (left), Brock University, "Stay or Switch? A Learning Object to Promote Understanding of the Monty Hall Dilemma", postponed from January, 2 p.m., Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library, registration online.

Career workshop: "Interview Skills, Selling Your Skills" 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1208, registration online.

[UW Gamers present Guitar Hero, 4:30]

International Women's Day dinner 5:00 p.m., South Campus Hall, tickets $30 from Humanities box office, details online.

Sarah Harmer, Juno Award winner, attends showing of her film "Escarpment Blues" as a benefit for Alternatives Journal, 7 p.m., Princess Cinema, tickets $15 from Alternatives.

Ontario deputy minister of education, Benjamin Levin, speaks on "Research, Policy and Politics: How Government Decide", 7 p.m., PAS room 1229.

International Women's Week Concert 7 p.m. to midnight, Bombshelter pub, Student Life Centre: Knock Knock Ginger, Emm Gryner, Cara Wardell and others. Pay what you can, proceeds to Ugunja Women's Bike Project.

Multi-media performance linking UW drama department with Bradley University and University of Central Florida in Elmer Rice's drama "The Adding Machine", through Saturday at 9 p.m., Modern Languages room 117, free admission, details online.

International Women's Day Symposium: "Women in a Global World, Feminist Values and Human Rights Issues", Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Humanities room 334; keynote speaker Carol C. Gould, Temple University, at 5:30; sponsored by Humphrey Professorship in Feminist Philosophy.

March Madness 3-on-3 basketball tournament sponsored by campus recreation, Friday 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday all day, details online.

Rainbow Reels Queer Film Festival, Friday from 7 p.m., Saturday from 7 p.m., Sunday from 1 p.m., CEIT room 1015; admission free, schedule and film descriptions online.

Chinese Lantern Fest sponsored by Chinese Scholars and Students Association, Friday from 7 p.m., postponed from last Friday; music, dancing, cash bar, $5 in advance or $6 at the door, details online.

St. Jerome's University Scarboro Foreign Missions Lecture: Janet Conway, "Space, Place and Difference: A New Ethic of Politics at the World Social Forum", Friday 7:30 p.m., Siegfried Hall, free admission.

Stephen Lewis speaks at Wilfrid Laurier University's Global Citizenship conference, Friday 7:30 p.m., WLU Athletic Complex; conference information online.

31st annual bus push organized by Engineering Society, in support of Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, Saturday (postponed from last weekend), leaving Carl Pollock Hall 10:30 a.m. en route to downtown Kitchener.

[Stick figure juggler]Waterloo Juggling Festival show Saturday 7 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Explorations open house for grade 6-8 students, sponsored by UW faculty of engineering, Monday, tours at 5:00 and 6:45, registration and information online.

Campus Day open house for future students and family members, Tuesday, programming 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., details online.

'Unplugged for Darfur' benefit concert featuring Prize Fighter and Intransit, sponsored by UW Genocide Action Group and WPIRG, Tuesday from 7 p.m., Bombshelter pub, $5 at the door.

Bechtel Lectures in Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies by author Sandra Birdsell, "The Confession of a Reluctant Mennonite", March 15-16 7:30 p.m., great Hall, Conrad Grebel University College.

One click away

Delayed decision on north campus environmental reserve (Imprint)
'Treat for top students' as teens come to Unlimited (Record)
Math student hopes to be Miss World Canada
Alumni finds success as a size-14 model
Environmentalist coming from Wisconsin
Universities under pressure for 'more data'
'Palestinian universities dragged into sectarian clashes' (NY Times)
Universities develop guidelines for moonlighting faculty
RIM statement on accounting difficulties and board changes
Alberta universities: Let the good times roll
How the Royal Military College gets a president
Pamela Wallin to be U of Guelph chancellor
UW sociologist quoted on guaranteed income

Work-and-health PhD starts this fall

from the UW media relations office

With workplace stress soaring to alarming levels around the world, UW is launching Canada's first interdisciplinary doctoral program in work and health. The new program will graduate students skilled to deal with the issues of growing concern in Canada and around the world. Graduates with expertise in work and health could take up positions in universities, or in other related non-university settings, such as government ministries of labour and health and workplace health and safety associations.

A Canadian Mental Health Association survey reports that 51 per cent of Canadians said work contributed to serious stress. And a report by the International Labour Organization indicates that as many as one in 10 workers suffer from depression, anxiety, stress or burnout, leading, in some cases, to unemployment and hospitalization.

UW's collaborative program, recently approved by the university senate, will begin to admit graduate students in September. The program involves the departments of health studies and gerontology, kinesiology, and recreation and leisure studies in UW's faculty of applied health sciences.

"There is currently no program in Canada that offers students an integrative, multi-disciplinary training program with a specific focus on work and health and the breadth of our program," says Jim Rush, associate dean of graduate studies and research in AHS. "Despite the importance of work and health issues, and growing research activity and support, there has been a lack of training opportunities for students at the doctoral level. We want to offer students a richer, broader and more integrated graduate education in work and health than is otherwise available in Canada."

Nancy Theberge, a kinesiology professor who was instrumental in drafting the program, says work-related illness and injury are a troubling problem. For instance, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board reported more than 270,000 workplace illnesses and injuries occurred in Ontario alone in 2004.

"These work-related concerns are occurring in a context of rapid change in both the composition of the workforce and the nature of work," says Theberge, associate chair for graduate studies in the kin department. She notes, for example, that 60 per cent of working-aged women now work outside the home in Canada. "Social change, including technological change and an aging work force, has led to a shift not only in the kinds of work in which Canadians are engaged, but how and where they do it."

Rush, who is also a kinesiology professor, adds that to address these concerns, workplaces and governments are developing initiatives to reduce workplace injuries and violence as well as to enhance health and wellness. "All these developments point towards the need for students who are better equipped to face the challenges of work-related health issues in the 21st century," he says.

UW's program, Theberge says, will establish Waterloo as the leading Canadian educational training ground for students interested in pursuing multi-disciplinary doctoral studies in this area.

It also meets several objectives of the university's "Sixth Decade" strategic plan, which calls for more graduate students in professional fields, with grad enrolment rising to 8,000 from the current 3,100 full- and part-time students by 2017.

"This interdisciplinary program — truly unique among doctoral programs in Canada — is an example of the innovative and relevant work underway at the University of Waterloo," says Ranjana Bird, dean of graduate studies. "The next 10 years promise to be exciting ones for all involved in graduate education at UW."

Research interests in AHS include such work-and-health issues as risk management and disease prevention in occupational health, injury mechanisms at tissue and cellular levels, program evaluation in occupational health, workplace interventions to reduce injury risk, exposure to physical risk factors in occupational settings, work-and-family balance, health and well-being of health care providers, health issues and non-traditional work arrangements, epidemiology of workplace injuries, stress and coping in the workplace, and neuropsychological assessments of occupationally induced brain injuries.

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Space: the psychologist's frontier

edited from the Arts Research Update newsletter

Colin Ellard has spent much of his career studying the brains, behaviour and navigational prowess of gerbils. Now, he is turning his attention to humans.

[Ellard]“How do we manage the challenges of finding our way through space?” he asks. As it turns out: not very well. “When I started to do research with people, I was amazed at how poorly they did in comparison with gerbils, rats and mice!” says Ellard (left). Compared to animals, humans are remarkably — and sometimes disastrously — unsophisticated. Cats can find their way home, it seems, but without the aid of crumb trails, maps and GPS tracking devices, human beings have a strong tendency to get lost.

According to Ellard, our relationship with space — our spatial cognition — is extraordinarily complex, particularly our visual processing of the built and natural environments. To better understand just how we interpret, and sometimes misinterpret, the spaces that surround us, he is turning to the emerging technologies of virtual reality.

Ellard and his students are developing “immersive virtual environments”: simulated three-dimensional spaces. Outfitted with a visor containing specialized visual displays and a motion detector, users enter a virtual space that they are able to explore visually and (with the help of a joystick) walk through. “The setup is still pretty rudimentary,” says Ellard. “Very soon, though, we’ll be upgrading to a newer system that will enable a much richer and more realistic experience, where people will be able to walk around freely in virtual worlds, without the encumbrance of wires or joysticks.”

Then he’ll be able to examine such factors of human spatial cognition as depth perception, distance estimation, target location, and patterns of navigation. Rather than simply observing from the outside, he will be able to track from the inside, as it were: monitoring, recording, and comparing the precise behaviours engaged in by human participants as they move through a space.

The new VR technology will also open up possibilities in related fields. “I’ve spoken with architects and urban planners who are very excited about the prospects VR holds out for enhancing design,” says Ellard. “With VR, buildings and urban spaces can be ‘walked through’ and improved while still in the pre-build, design phase.” Likewise, social interaction researchers look forward to being able to use virtual environments. By observing social behaviour as it takes place in consistent, carefully designed virtual spaces, such researchers will be able to eliminate many of the variables that plague “real world” experiments. Psychologists studying human attention and collaborative cognition, too, have recognized the potential of VR technology to help them record how people work together to solve cognitive problems.

Finally, VR technologies hold out exciting possibilities for psychotherapists, particularly in the area of phobia therapy. A widely adopted behavioural intervention for individuals suffering from phobia is desensitization through gradual, repeated confrontation with the feared object or environment. Such therapy, however, can be impractical, socially awkward, at times even dangerous. VR technology will enable a realistic and more easily monitored and controlled simulation of such therapeutic interventions. Instead of having to buy a ticket and step onto an actual plane, an individual seeking to lessen a fear of flying would be able to engage in a virtual experience of boarding, waiting, and taking off.

“Virtual environment technology can be used as a tool to immerse human beings in all kinds of alternative realities – it’s almost like being able to do experimental metaphysics. Such a tool has obvious applications for experimental psychology, and for a wide range of other disciplines as well,” says Ellard.

When he’s not busy conducting experiments in spatial cognition or developing virtual environments for future studies, Ellard is at work on his forthcoming book, A Natural History of Space. To be published by HarperCollins in the fall of 2008, this book, aimed at a general audience, promises to provide an engaging introduction to space and human spatial cognition. Exploring the philosophical, psychological, and everyday dimensions of space and navigation, A Natural History of Space may not give the secret of how to find the way through and out of a mall, but it will likely explain our propensity for getting lost there in the first place. Excerpts are already online.

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And a little of this and that

One detail is clear now, anyway, as students move toward a vote later this month on a proposal for a compulsory Grand River Transit bus pass. Renjie Butalid, vice-president (administration and finance), of the Federation of Students has announced that the Feds' Board of Directors has officially called a referendum on issue, and the question makes the financial figure definite: "Do you support a Universal Bus Pass (U-Pass) at a cost of $41.08, plus an administration cost of not more than $9.50, subject to increases due to inflation and student demand, to be paid by each full-time undergraduate student per academic term, scheduled for implementation in September 2007, and which will be reviewed in three years?" An exact date for the vote hasn't been announced, but Butalid did say that a meeting to form the customary "Yes" and "No" campaign committees will be held this Sunday.

A "reminder email" was sent yesterday to all faculty members, graduate students, and a sample of undergraduate students, says UW's library, "about participating in the Library Service Quality Survey (LibQUAL+). Those completing the online survey have the opportunity to win one of eight $50 UW Retail Services gift cards. This LibQUAL+ is a standardized survey and part of an international effort to develop effective measures of library service quality and identify best practices. All libraries belonging to the Canadian Association of Research Libraries are participating in this year’s survey. The survey is confidential and should take approximately 10 minutes to complete online. The closing date for the survey is Saturday, March 17."

Writing yesterday about a thesis presentation on music and the environment, being held this afternoon in the Environmental Studies courtyard, I referred to student Hingman Leung as "he", but in fact he's a she. • I also wrote that a conference for residence admissions and technology staff from universities across the province, being held in Ron Eydt Village, was happening yesterday, but in fact it's today. • The professional development seminar in information systems and technology, tomorrow morning at 9:00 in the IST seminar room, will feature Trevor Grove talking about "Virtual Systems: Current Practices and Future Possibilities".

Two of UW's engineering professors definitely do windows, the engineering faculty's e–newsletter reveals: "The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers has presented its Crosby Field Award to Waterloo mechanical and mechatronics engineering professors Michael Collins and John Wright. Collins and Wright are working to build a better window by both modelling and measuring thermal performance. Their paper entitled 'Calculating centre-glass performance indices in windows with a diathermanuous layer' was named best paper published by the society in 2006."

Romy Shioda of the department of combinatorics and optimization sends word that "We are holding an Operations Research Contest this term, where students can win cash prizes by modeling and solving a real-world optimization problem of local interest. This will be a great opportunity for students to experience how mathematics can impact real-world decision making. The contest is open to all UW undergraduate students and will be held from March 10 to April 30. For further information, please see the OR Contest website or send an email to This contest is sponsored by the Mathematics Endowment Fund and the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization." The first such contest, held last summer, drew 22 teams, she says, with nine of them eventually submitting a full report. "All submissions were stellar, showing tremendous amount of time and effort. The first-place team consisted of students from pure math and C&O."


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