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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

  • Researchers watch brains get better
  • The staff conference, and other notes
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Runners posing under the trees]

A Terry Fox Run in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on the weekend attracted some 8,000 participants, including a team from Waterloo’s UAE campus even though it was reading week. Sean Nauth, an environment-and-business student doing a co-op work term at the campus, provided the photo of Waterloo participants warming up, and says he hadn’t taken part in a Terry Fox outing since childhood: “I came halfway around the world, and can participate in this truly Canadian event!" Talal Antar, a first-year civil engineering student, called the run (which brought in some $100,000 for cancer research) “an exciting and fun attempt to raise money for a cause that is really important to me. How neat that one man was able to accomplish all that he did. I am more excited to go to Canada now for my 2-plus-2 years."

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Researchers watch brains get better

A news release from the Association of Psychological Science

When psychotherapy is helping someone get better, what does that change look like in the brain? This was the question a team of Canadian psychological scientists set out to investigate in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder. Their findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science.

Social anxiety is a common disorder, marked by overwhelming fears of interacting with others and expectations of being harshly judged. Medication and psychotherapy both help people with the disorder. But research on the neurological effects of psychotherapy has lagged far behind that on medication-induced changes in the brain.

"We wanted to track the brain changes while people were going through psychotherapy," says McMaster University PhD candidate Vladimir Miskovic, the study's lead author.

[Moscovitch]To do so, the team — led by David Moscovitch (left) of the University of Waterloo, collaborating with McMaster's Louis Schmidt, Diane Santesso, and Randi McCabe; and Martin Antony of Ryerson University — used electroencephalograms, or EEGs, which measure brain electrical interactions in real time. They focused on the amount of "delta-beta coupling," which elevates with rising anxiety.

The study recruited 25 adults with social anxiety disorder from a Hamilton, Ontario, clinic. The patients participated in 12 weekly sessions of group cognitive behaviour therapy, a structured method that helps people identify and challenge the thinking patterns that perpetuate their painful and self-destructive behaviours.

Two control groups — students who tested extremely high or low for symptoms of social anxiety — underwent no psychotherapy.

The patients were given four EEGs — two before treatment, one halfway through, and one two weeks after the final session. The researchers collected EEG measures of the participants at rest, and then during a stressful exercise: a short preparation for an impromptu speech on a hot topic, such as capital punishment or same-sex marriage. Participants were told the speech would be presented before two people and videotaped. In addition, comprehensive assessments were made of patients' fear and anxiety.

When the patients' pre- and post-therapy EEGs were compared with the control groups', the results were revealing: Before therapy, the clinical group's delta-beta correlations were similar to those of the high-anxiety control group and far higher than the low-anxiety group's. Midway through, improvements in the patients' brains paralleled clinicians' and patients' own reports of easing symptoms. And at the end, the patients' tests resembled those of the low-anxiety control group.

"We can't quite claim that psychotherapy is changing the brain," cautions Miskovic. For one thing, some of the patients were taking medication, and that could confound the results. But the study, funded by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, is "an important first step" in that direction — and toward understanding the biology of anxiety and developing better treatments.

The work might also alter perceptions of therapy. "Laypeople tend to think that talk therapy is not 'real,' while they associate medications with hard science, and physiologic change," says Miskovic. "But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of any program must be mediated by the brain and the nervous system. If the brain does not change, there won't be a change in behaviour or emotion."

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The staff conference, and other notes

Registration is open now for the fourth annual Staff Conference, to be held April 6-7. The Organizational & Human Development office promises to “build on the success of the previous conferences and provide two days of engaging keynote speakers and interactive workshops. Share expertise, experiences and best practices for your professional and personal development. Participate in workshops focused on change, volunteerism, productivity tools and the student success office.” A memo reminds staff that they’ve received an invitation to the conference: “Please discuss it with your co-workers so that together you select which sessions of the conference you wish to attend. Remember that several workshop sessions are duplicated to allow staff flexible registration choices while also providing the ability to spilt duties and times with co-workers. Register early as some sessions fill up quickly.” Registration will continue until March 31, and there’s more information can be found on the OHD website. A footnote: OHD is still looking for a number of volunteers to help out in various positions throughout the conference. “This is a great opportunity for staff to collaborate with other colleagues and participate in an engaging conference.” Anyone interested in volunteering should e-mail amdenny@

[Father and son with futsal ball]“I'm heavily involved in the sport of Futsal,” writes Carlos Radic of the mechanical design services unit in plant operations, seen in the photo (right) along with his son, Alexander, a student in applied health sciences, who has played the game in Europe and Brazil and now in Canada. Radic senior will serve as assistant coach when the Canadian team — including Alexander — heads for Colombia this month for the AMF Futsal World Cup tournament. “The squad and technical team is completely amateur,” he says. “Most players and staff must make great sacrifices both personal and financial. We are in great need of funding.” So he’s helping to sell tickets, $10 apiece or three for $20, in a raffle with prizes that include a trip to Cuba and a 52-inch plasma television. “Futsal is a very demanding, action-packed sport,” says Radic, calling it “a cross between basketball and handball”, although other descriptions frame it as an indoor variant of soccer. “The court is a 20x40m wooden surface, with a low-bounce ball. Physical contact and the use of the hands to push off is not allowed and penalized. Many outdoor players can’t adjust since they would require a new skill set.” The Canadian squad will face Catalonia, Uruguay and Peru in the tournament’s first round, starting March 16.

[Witschel]The German ambassador to Canada, Georg Witschel (left), will be on campus today and will officially open a photo exhibition in the Modern Languages building at 3:00. The exhibit is sponsored by the Waterloo Centre for German Studies to mark “20 years of German national unity”, reckoned from October 1990. Part of the exhibit is “The Beier Collection”, the result of a lifetime of devoted photography by Manfred Beier, a teacher who took some 60,000 photos of everyday life in the GDR, the former East Germany. “With great meticulousness,” an announcement explains, “Beier documented each photo, thereby creating a unique and invaluable archive which was only discovered by his sons after he died in 2002. The collection provides genuine insights into daily life in the GDR and provides a different view than the official material of the GDR government.” Also in the exhibit is “The Ideal World of Dictatorship”, consisting of photographs by Harald Schmitt, who worked for six years in the GDR as a photo journalist, documenting the daily reality of ordinary citizens. The exhibition has actually been in place since mid-February, and continues through next week. Following the 3 p.m. event, the ambassador will speak on “International Law and the War on Terrorism” at 3:30 in Modern Languages room 245.

Ontario University Athletics will recognize some top female scholar-athletes from across the province at the eighth annual Women of Influence Luncheon today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The event honours “female student-athletes who have excelled in their chosen sports, fields of study and community involvement”. [Holden]Guest speaker will be tennis star Venus Williams. The Waterloo athlete among the group being honoured is Reanne Holden (right), who graduated in 2010 with a chemistry degree and played three years for the Warrior women’s basketball team. “The Peterborough native dedicated her time to many community causes,” says an OUA tribute, “and excelled on and off the court with her academics and athletics. Reanne won the first ever Rotary Club Athletics Community Citizen Award last April for her contributions to the community. She was a speaker in the athletics Team-Up program, served on the Interuniversity Council, and in the summer of 2009, was part of the Global Youth Network, leading a humanitarian aid team on a month-long trip to Tanzania. In addition to her tireless community service work, Reanne was awarded the 2009-10 OUA and CIS Joy Bellinger Award, presented annually to a female student-athlete in recognition of outstanding service to the sport and to the advancement of university athletics. The four-time academic All-Canadian volunteered for the Well Fit program, implementing individual exercise programs for recovering cancer patients.”

Police were busy at the Mathematics and Computer building on Monday, investigating incidents of what the experts call “break and enter”. Says Dan Anderson, director of police and parking services: “Seven rooms were entered on the sixth floor. A couple of laptops were taken and a projector. The Waterloo Regional Police forensic identification unit was on-site gathering evidence.”

The University of Waterloo Management Consulting Club is hosting its second annual Management Consulting Case Competition, says a note from one of the organizers, Ming Zuo. Registration deadline is March 3 — tomorrow. The competition is open to all Waterloo students, in teams of three or four (“sign up as a team or individually to be matched with other individuals”). It’s a business case competition judged by industry professionals from top global management consulting firms; the case will be released on March 9, giving teams three days for preparation before the actual competition on March 12. There’s a fee of $60 per team. Details and registration are online.


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Link of the day

Texas independence

When and where

‘So You Think You Can Dance Waterloo’ auditions continue through Thursday; competition March 19. Details.

Tech Leadership Conference sponsored by Communitech, 7:30 to 5:00, Bingemans Conference Centre, Kitchener. Details.

TEDxLaurier “Ideas Worth Spreading” event with local speakers and video from Los Angeles, today, Turret nightclub, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Career workshops Wednesday: “Career Exploration and Decision Making” 10:00, Tatham Centre room 1112; “Writing CVs and Cover Letters” 12:00, Tatham room 2218; “Thinking About Optometry?” 5:30, Tatham 1208. Details.

 ‘The University, Retirement and You’ with Sue McGrath and Wanda Speek of human resources, organized by UW Recreation Committee, 12:00, Davis Centre room 1302.

Free noon concert: Justyna Szjna (piano) and Amber Ghent (cello), 12:30, Conrad Grebel UC chapel.

‘Racism in the Media’ panel discussion sponsored by Federation of Students, 3:00 to 5:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room.

Rainbow Reels Queer Film Festival co-sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, Wednesday-Sunday. Details.

Design Exchange Waterloo open forum 6:00 to 9:00, Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Volunteer Appreciation Extravaganza organized by Federation of Students, 7 to 9 p.m., Federation Hall. Details.

Free the Children fund-raiser sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, Thursday 7:30 to 2:00, South Campus Hall.

Career workshops Thursday: “Exploring Your Personality Type”, first of two sessions, 10:30, Tatham Centre room 1112; “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” 2:30, Tatham room 1208. Details.

Career Café March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31: career advisor on site at Student Life Centre, 11:30 to 1:00.

Waterloo Centre for Advancement of Cooperative Education research seminar: Rocco Fondocaro, co-op education and career services, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask Employers about CUDLEing” (Co-op Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations) Thursday 12:00, Tatham Centre room 2218.

TEDx Waterloo video and live speakers Thursday 1:00 to 8:00, Centre in the Square. Details.

Library workshop: “Keep Current in Your Field” Thursday 1:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Region of Waterloo Rapid Transit Project public consultations, drop in between 3 and 8 p.m.: Thursday, Albert McCormick Community Centre; March 9, First United Church. Details and other dates.

Staff career seminars Thursday: “Networking Is Not a Dirty Word” 3:30, “Job Search Solutions” 4:30, Tatham Centre room 1112. Details.

Fine arts department artist talk: Dana Schutz, New York painter, Thursday 7:00, art gallery, East Campus Hall, reception follows.

Innovation Series: ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ Thursday 7:00, Stratford campus. Details.

DaCapo Chamber Choir, based at Conrad Grebel UC, reception honouring composer Don Macdonald, Thursday 7:30, Clay and Glass Gallery, tickets $10. Details.

‘Narratives of Violence, Narratives of Healing’ conference at Wilfrid Laurier University, March 3-4; keynote speech by peace activist James Loney, Thursday 7:30 p.m., Maureen Forrester Recital Hall. Details.

Adam Growe comedy and quiz show at Bombshelter Pub, Student Life Centre, Thursday, doors open 8:00, $7 advance or $10 at door.

Explore Islam: exhibition on Islam, Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Student Life Centre great hall; “The Advent and Revival of Islam” Friday 4 to 7 p.m., SLC multipurpose room, presented by Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association.

Black Forest Coffee House Friday-Saturday, St. Paul’s U College, $7 one night or $10 both nights (at the door).

‘Canada’s International Image’ Global Citizenship Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University, Saturday; keynote speaker, Lloyd Axworthy, 6 p.m., WLU Arts building room 1E1. Details and tickets.

Oracle Financial System downtime March 10 at 12:00 noon to morning of March 16.

Positions available

On this week's list from the human resources department, viewable through myHRinfo:

• Project manager, Canadian Index of Wellbeing, applied health sciences, USG 10
• Building serviceperson I (mason), plant operations
• Financial aid assistant, registrar's office, USG 6
• Manager, The Water Institute, USG 13 (part-time secondment or contract, six months)

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