Newsbites (Page 3)

Newsbites (Page 3) McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Winter 2001-2002 > Newsbites > Newsbites (Page 3)

Force of the Future

Photo PHOTO: M. Marc Robitaille

Provincial politicians and university bigwigs gathered at the Capitole de Québec in Quebec City for a gala to cheer on some outstanding students and student groups being recognized at the annual Forces AVENIR awards in October, and several McGill students were among the evening's honorees. The Forces AVENIR awards were begun in 1997 to encourage student involvement in their communities and reward distinguished Quebec university students at all levels and in a broad base of categories.

This year, the members of McGill's Experimental Medicine Graduate Student Society (EMGSS) were winners in the health category for their work organizing a successful student conference at the University. Called "A Meeting of Minds," the event saw graduate students from across the University come together under the common interest of biomedical research. "We tend to be dispersed all over McGill -- in different departments, at Macdonald Campus, in the teaching hospitals," EMGSS president Galit Alter, BSc'99, told the McGill Reporter. "To keep up in science, you need to know about new approaches, new products, new techniques. This was an opportunity for us to exchange information and to increase the contact between the different laboratories."

The event was backed with $9,000 in sponsorship from two pharmaceutical companies, as well as funding from the Post-Graduate Students' Society. EMGSS organizers booked keynote speaker Dr. Chris Marshall from Britain's Institute for Cancer Research, and had 200 participants in their day-long congress. Alter (pictured above on the right) says they'll hold the event again in February.

Kimberley Ducey was a winner in the graduate student category for her organization of a seminar series for graduate students, dealing with subjects like how to be a teaching assistant, how to get published and how to apply for grants. And Astrid Christoffersen-Deb, a recent McGill graduate currently studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, was recognized in the undergraduate category for her community-minded efforts, including the Bedtime Stories Program for patients at the Montreal Children's Hospital, humanitarian work in India, and serving as president of the United Nations Student Association of McGill University.

The Forces AVENIR event sees over $115,000 in grant money distributed to student winners.

G'Day, McGill


Some unexpected guests hopped on over to a McGill reunion held at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia, as this photo sent to us by former McGill staffer Andrew Pentland shows. Pentland is now Executive Officer of USC's fundraising program and was also one of the organizers of the first-ever McGill event in Queensland. The mob of kangaroos are said to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves and are planning to make the trek to Montreal for Homecoming next year.

Science silly and serious


McGill epidemiologist Peter Barss has a sense of humour -- a good thing since he was singled out this year for dubious recognition as the winner of an Ig Nobel prize. The Ig Nobels are sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a magazine which pokes fun at science and promotes such organizations as the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. According to AIR, the awards honour people "whose achievements cannot or should not be reproduced."

Barss was rewarded in the Medicine category for a paper he wrote in the 1980s called "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts." Not a big concern for most of us, perhaps, but at the time, Barss was working at a hospital in New Guinea and treated some serious injuries as a result of people being hit by the giant seeds. Most Igs are given for less weighty research -- this year's winner in the Physics category studied why shower curtains billow inwards, and the Literature prize went to the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

The awards ceremony is a sell-out event at Harvard University and prize recipients are cheered and pelted with paper airplanes. When Barss exceeded the 90-second time limit for his acceptance speech, he was interrupted by nine-year-old Miss Sweetie Poo who appeared at his side and declared she was bored.

Barss did have time to tell the crowd that the coconut research "really set him on his career path" because it sparked his interest in injury prevention. Thanks to his award, he has been interviewed by everyone from the New York Times to Italian state radio, and the attention has given him the opportunity to talk about his work with the Red Cross over the last 10 years to prevent drowning deaths.

"Our collaboration has been the most satisfying and exciting part of my work. It is absolutely great to be able to work with an organization that operates with volunteers and programs in nearly every community in the country. Since they started using research-based programs, we have seen an 80% drop in infant drownings and a 40% decrease in toddler drownings in Canada," says Barss. He adds that doing their surveillance and research and preparing their national reports each year hasn't allowed him much time to write his own research papers, but the impressive results are their own reward.

"The impact of helping the Red Cross bring out their scientific reports has affected the prevention programs of many groups across the country, including the Canadian Coast Guard and other organizations." Nothing ignoble there.

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