From podcasts to advisory panels, community-based research to collaborative reports, Dalhousie faculty are engaged well beyond the university. They contribute directly to public debates and policy discussions on issues as varied as vaccines and diversity, in fields from the sciences to the arts. Their knowledge ripples out into the community, the region and beyond, through media, in advisory roles and via community advocacy, fueling insight into some of the world’s most complex and pressing issues.
The first person that Dr. Robert Huish invited onto his Global Development Primer (GDP) podcast when it launched in 2019 was Eli Diamond, a Dal classics professor who specializes in ancient Greek philosophy. Dr. Huish, a faculty member in the Department of International Development Studies and an expert in issues such as global health and human rights, admits the pairing might have been seen as a bit of a head scratcher. As the two engaged during the episode, though, it became clear how helpful the ethical perspectives of past millennia are to understanding contemporary challenges and how they can open up new avenues of expression in a field sometimes littered with “inhospitable” academic writing.
“It was really rewarding,” says Dr. Huish of the episode, one of nearly 70 produced so far for the podcast, which has attracted listeners from more than 70 countries. Dr. Huish launched the show as a way to make complicated topics more digestible and it also serves as a core tool in his own teaching thanks in part to the appeal of the medium with students and the shift to online learning during the pandemic.
Dr. Huish has also tapped traditional media to share his knowledge and expertise. He’s a regular on CTV News and on local radio programs in Halifax. “The more we have that commitment to taking knowledge away from the academy and engaging the community with it, the stronger we all are as a result of it.”
More like this
- Canada Research Chair Dr. Christine Chambers uses social media to amplify research, partnering with well-known media personalities and creating collaborations to spread the word about pain management for children. See @DrCChambers on Twitter.
If you’re an infectious diseases doctor and you get an unexpected phone call on the weekend, you answer it. For Dr. Joanne Langley, one such call came in early 2003 from a microbiologist in Ontario who was seeking her help to combat SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a deadly new coronavirus spreading in the province. “He just said, ‘We need your help,’” she recalls. Little was known about the virus at the time. “We didn’t know how it was transmitted or how to interrupt transmission, and there were people who were really sick and dying.” Dr. Langley didn’t hesitate to step up, joining the Ontario Science Advisory Committee
The experience fighting SARS, which was contained by the middle of 2003, was a “defining moment” for Dr. Langley and hammered home the broader public importance of her work. “I think that infectious diseases, because they are communicable between people, naturally expand your focus beyond the individual patient. You consider the whole population very quickly,” she says.
As one of Canada’s foremost experts in vaccines and communicable disease control, Dr. Langley has answered the call on many occasions over the course of her career. She served for 10 years on the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization, including eight years as chair and vice-chair, as a liaison representative to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year was named co-lead on Canada’s National COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. And that’s far from an exhaustive list of her advisory roles, which she manages on top of her positions as professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health and Epidemiology and head of infectious diseases at the IWK Health Centre.
“You’ve got all this training and if it can in any way help solve these human health problems, then you are honoured to do so,” she says.
Sometimes, the call to collaborate on solutions is initiated within the university. That’s how the Reimagine NS initiative came to be. Rebuilding after a year like 2020 was never going to be easy. A life-altering global pandemic, the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, and ugly new manifestations of anti-Black racism and legacies of colonialism against Indigenous people in Canada were just a few of the many curveballs chucked at the world last year.
Seeing the toll of it all on Nova Scotians, Dr. Lori Turnbull and Dean Kim Brooks in the Faculty of Management (with support from senior leadership at the university) began to consider what Dal could do to help the province move forward in a positive way. The result was Reimagine NS, a project that brought academics together with influential community experts and practitioners to explore solutions around five key themes important to reconstruction efforts: care and connect, support and protect, learn and work, cultivate and consume, and create and commemorate. Reports were produced on each topic, with a series of public forums held last fall to generate broader interest.
“It’s not like it’s all about the economic component of rebuilding in the immediate sense, or the public health side of it like finding a vaccine,” says Dr. Turnbull, director of the School of Public Administration. “One theme that came out of a lot of these reports is that COVID has exacerbated some trends, challenges and realities that we already knew were there and now it’s making them a little more focused.”
Dr. Turnbull says some of the reports identify very clear next steps and recommendations about what can be done to target specific challenges in the province. Now, it’s up to members on each of the teams to determine what projects to launch next to carry out some of the ideas. “This was not intended as a major research project, but as more of a think piece. It was about finding experts in these different areas, getting them together and then identifying what we need to do now.”
More like this
- Dr. Mary R. Brooks, professor emerita in the Rowe School of Business, runs a consulting practice focused on transportation and global supply chain management and lends her expertise in policy work for governments and international organizations (impacting legislative reform and informing regulators on pathways to resolve industry issues). She has more than 40 years of service on for- and non-profit boards, recently taking on pro bono services for a European government organization and the U.S. National Academies.
- The Lord Dalhousie Scholarly Panel on Slavery and Race saw academics and community members join forces to produce a report offering a thorough accounting of the various intersections between George Ramsay (the Ninth Earl of Dalhousie who commissioned the founding of Dalhousie University in 1818, while serving as Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia) and the institution and legacy of slavery.
Like many Canada Research Chairs, Dr. Margaret Robinson has a big plate of projects on the go. “I tend to work on projects that I know are relevant and long-standing issues for the communities I’m a part of,” says Dr. Robinson, a bisexual and Two-Spirit scholar from Eski’kewaq, Nova Scotia, and a member of the Lennox Island First Nation.
She explains her approach as a response to many communities’ negative history with research. “A lot of the time,” she says, “research didn’t benefit the communities that took part in it.”
By engaging communities at the beginning of the research process and involving them throughout, projects reflect the real problems communities face, she says. “People will say, ‘Oh, I wish we knew this or someone should look into why that is happening,’ and when you put together a community-based research project it gives you the opportunity to find answers to those questions.”
Decolonizing research has been part of Dr. Robinson’s mission since her years as a post-doc at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto and as an independent investigator at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network. Filling in gaps in data—about Indigenous bisexual people or the impact of poverty on sexual and gender minority people—fuels her research today as an assistant professor in the Departments of English and of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dal.
Just as the research process is key to creating change, so too is the way it’s shared—whether by infographic, fact sheet, newspaper story, or academic article. “You think about who needs the information to do their job or to make social change or to make the world a better place. And how do they like to get that information?”
One example: In 2016, Dr. Robinson worked with a team of other bisexual women to create Coming Out As Bisexual, a disclosure kit to help bisexual women tell friends and family about their bisexuality. The kit fills a need by offering tips on coming out, and a section for friends and family, helping them to respond in ways that support well-being.
Dr. Kathleen Kevany’s work is also driven by connection to her community. An associate professor in the Faculty of Agriculture, Dr. Kevany’s work centres around sustainable food systems, plant-based diets, and community well-being—all informed by her incredibly diverse background. Trained as a psychologist and educator, she has managed her own counselling firm and served as director of two multicultural and refugee settlement agencies. She sat on town council committees and is an avid volunteer with community organizations. She has even run for provincial office in Nova Scotia.
Dr. Kevany sees her role not just as an educator but also as a “change agent,” working at the borders of community engagement, social progress, and applied scholarship. She acts almost as a consultant for local government and community development organizations, feeding in the latest research and ideas for consideration in the policy process. “To the extent that we are objective and as bias-free as we can be, we also have obligations to use the science to inform policy, with the best available evidence and then practice that best evidence in our lives,” she says.
As director of Rural Research Collaboration, a small research institute focused on rural issues and making connections between research and the people who shape rural life in Atlantic Canada and beyond, Dr. Kevany has led studies showing a resurgence of interest in rural living among young people and advocated for the principles of self-sufficiency and making more conscious choices about our food systems in the face of deteriorating public health, deforestation and a changing climate.
The community’s receptiveness to Dr. Kevany’s expertise could have a lot to do with how she approaches local dialogues and issues. “I like to frame my work in constructive ways,” she says. “Translating knowledge into helpful practice can be a challenge for all of us. To inspire people to invest their personal power into collective change processes, they need to feel valued, encouraged, and well-informed. The university has a key role in sharing knowledge to improve quality of life for all.”
More like this
- Dr. Nur Zincir-Heywood, a Computer Science professor, has championed initiatives designed to make her field more welcoming to women—both at Dal and in the broader Atlantic region—for more than two decades. Digital Nova Scotia awarded her its 2017 Women Leaders in the Digital Economy Award for her contribution to Nova Scotia’s information and communications technology sector. She has also been a columnist with CBC Information Morning since 2018.
- Describing himself as a “transnational, multigenerational by-product of empire,” Dr. Ajay Parasram’s research explores community-inspired research on everything from the experiences of racialization of Asian international students at Canadian universities to settler-colonial issues and the ethics and values associated with Indigenous sovereignty. His Safe Space for White Questions drop-in sessions encourage considerate conversation aimed at helping people better understand the impact of existing racial structures.