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What to do in Kingston this summer…. Part 4

I’m now in the midst of my sixth Kingston summer. Between the Masters and PhD, I’ve been here for a few years, and every year I find myself looking forward to the same things every time the campus clears out and the summer starts up (I’m a creature of habit, what can I say). But Kingston still surprises every year, and new things show up every year that keep things interesting. Amanda, Sharday and Rachel have all weighed in, and now it’s my turn! :)

 

The chocolate raspberry smoothie from Sipps is crazy delicious.

The chocolate raspberry smoothie from Sipps is crazy delicious.

1) Best summer eats

This is a toughie. Rule 1: Everything is better on a patio. Woodenheads, Atomica, The Toucan, their food is just better when you’re sitting outside enjoying it. I’m a big fan of the Pomegranate Italian Soda at Atomica, but this year I “discovered” the raspberry chocolate smoothie at Sipps. It was delicious, and I highly recommend it.

I’ll also add in the Kingston Olive Oil Company. It’s got lots of gourmet olive oils and vinaigrettes available, and is a great way to spice up a meal with some fancy olive oils accompanied by fresh bread from Pan Chancho. I recommend the fig vinaigrette and garlic olive oil, but you can try them all out in the store and see if one strikes your fancy!

2) Best ice cream place

Ice cream!! Is there a more summery meal? I think not. My favourite place by a mile is White Mountain – mainly because you can get ice cream, then wander down to Confederation Basin and watch the boats come in. It’s a great way to spend an evening. As Rachel pointed out though, they only accept cash, so come prepared!

3) Best spot for drinks

I’m a big fan of the patio at the Brew Pub – it’s got a nice, secret garden-esque vibe going on. Plus the food there is delicious! Try the salted pretzels with a beverage of your choice. It’s a great post-work-pre-dinner snack (thanks to Kim for showing me the light on that!)

4) Best summer locations

I love Confederation Basin. Sitting out, watching the water and the boats, and chatting with friends is one of my favourite ways to spend lazy summer days. People are milling around, some have blankets out, there are families walking their dogs and children playing. It’s just a really nice atmosphere. And it’s super close to the aforementioned ice cream.

5) Best summer festivals

Two of my favourite events are Movies In the Square and the Kingston Buskers Festival (July 10 – 13). The former is a great outdoor experience (bring your own chair though!) and they show the classics. This year, they’re showing Jurassic Park, Princess Bride and Space Jam (among others)!

The Buskers Festival is another fun one to watch – especially the fire show. The Buskers are incredibly skilled and really entertaining for the whole family, and they really bring the city to life. It culminates with a final show at Confederation Basin with the best Buskers pulling out all the stops to really blow you away. I highly recommend it!

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This marks my final post on Gradifying, and so I’d like to thank all my co-authors – Sharday, Megan, Rachel, Amanda – for their input and support, as well as Colette Steer for her guidance with this position. I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys do next!

This lab went on a coffee run. What they did next will surprise you…

THEY VOTED.

THEY ALL WENT TO AN ADVANCE POLLING STATION NEAR THEIR WORKPLACE AND VOTED.

We’re going to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about the 2014 Ontario Provincial Election. The election is currently scheduled for June 12, and stations will be open around the country at many different locations.

But why wait?

 

You can go and vote here. Over lunch. It’s that simple.

 

Right now, you can go to the JDUC and vote. Easy as that. Show up with a photo ID with your current address in Kingston. Or, if you’re like me and don’t have your current address on your drivers licence, show up with your existing ID (such as a drivers licence), and something else that proves that you live in Kingston. I used my Telus phone bill, but I’m sure you can use other things. You’ll have to fill out some paperwork, but that’s straightforward and the clerks are more than happy to help you. It’ll take you the same time you’d spend waiting in line at Tim’s during exam season.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY – ALMA MATER SOCIETY
Location: LOWER CEILIDH LOUNGE
Address: 99 UNIVERSITY AVE, KINGSTON, ON K7L 3N6.
Access for people with disabilities: Please contact the Returning Office below for information on the accessibility of this location.
Days and Hours of Operation: 1/6, 2/6, 3/6, 4/6, 5/6, 6/6/2014. 10 AM to 8 PM.

 

Here’s my beef. None of the political parties care about our demographic. And why should they – we don’t show up, we don’t vote, and thus, we don’t matter. The programs and policies they develop are aimed at the boomers because THE BOOMERS VOTE. We don’t. But if we start showing up, even if we’re not 100% sold on a party, we’ll start being noticed as an important voice. And once that happens, they will have to start tailoring messaging and programming to us. I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you are informed and pick the person who best represents you and your interests and hopes for Ontario.

So show up. Bring your lab. Bring your friends. Encourage everyone you know to vote and exercise their civic responsibility and make their voice heard. Make a field trip out of it. Because if we don’t vote, nothing is going to change.

“Voting is not a horse race, you’re not going there thinking “Gee, I gotta pick the winner so I can brag to my friends ‘Oh, I picked so-and-so and he or she won’”. Voting is voting your heart and voting your conscience and when you’ve done that, don’t ever, EVER let a Democrat or Republican tell you that you’ve wasted your vote because the fact is, if you DON’T vote your heart and conscience then you HAVE wasted your vote.”

― Jesse Ventura

For more information, go to:
www.wemakevotingeasy.ca
http://www.elections.on.ca/en-ca
http://www.cbc.ca/elections/ontariovotes2014/
http://www.cbc.ca/elections/ontariovotes2014/votecompass

Going to #CPHA2014

Toronto_at_Dusk_-a

The 2014 CPHA conference will be held in Toronto, ON | Picture courtesy Wikimedia
Commons

Next week, I (Atif) will be heading to the Canadian Public Health Association Conference, where I’ll be presenting at two different points.

I’ll be chairing a session titled “Youth Injury Prevention in Canada – Where should we direct our intervention resources.” It promises to be an interesting presentation, where we’ll be discussing injury in Canada, and where to start tackling the problem of injury. This session is scheduled for Wednesday, May 28th from 1:30pm – 3:00pm.

Injury represents one of the most important negative health outcomes experienced by young people in Canada today. Injuries inflict a large burden on children and adolescents and their
families and communities. Injury events are costly in so many ways, whether measured in premature mortality, or the pain, disability, lost productivity and emotional consequence of non-fatal events.

This panel will be made up of child injury researchers and advocates who will make their case for different forms of injury prevention intervention. At the end of this panel, delegates will: understand more about the burden of youth injury in Canada; be aware of at least four different avenues for injury prevention intervention (primordial intervention, context-level interventions, safe sport and peer-influence interventions); have identified the rationale, strengths and limitations of each intervention approach; and have learned more about ways to undertake and gain support for youth injury prevention (from the CPHA conference program).

logo_e

Click to go to the conference website

My second presentation is one of the studies from my PhD, titled “The influence of location of birth and ethnicity on BMI among Canadian youth.” This is a study that’s in press (woo!), and represents my own research focus. This one will be in the Kenora Room, on Thursday May 29th 2014, from 11:00am to 12:30pm.

Background:
Body mass indices (BMI) of youth change when they immigrate to a new country. This occurs by the adoption of new behaviors and skills, a process called acculturation.

Objectives:
We investigated whether differences existed in BMI by location of birth (Canadian vs foreign born) across 7 ethnic groups, both individually and together. We also examined whether time since immigration and health behaviors explained any observed BMI differences.

Methods:
Data sources were the Canadian Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Study and the Canada Census of Population. Participants were youth in grades 6-10 (weighted n = 19,272). Sociodemographic characteristics, height, weight, and health behaviors were assessed by questionnaire. WHO growth references were used to determine BMI percentiles.

Results:
Foreign-born youth had lower BMI than peers born in Canada, a relationship that did not decrease with increased time since immigration. Similarly, East and South East Asian youth had lower BMI than Canadian host culture peers. Finally, Arab/West Asian and East Indian/South Asian youth born abroad had lower BMI than peers of the same ethnicity born in Canada. These differences remained after controlling for eating and physical activity behaviors.

Conclusions:
Location of birth and ethnicity were associated with BMI among Canadian youth both independently and together.

Implications:
Our findings stress the importance of considering both ethnicity and location of birth when designing and implementing interventions. While currently either one or the other is addressed, our study shows there is heterogeneity in BMI by specific ethnic groups depending on whether they were born in Canada or not.

As always I’ll be trying to livetweet the conference. I’ll be using the #CPHA2014 hashtag, so feel free to follow along online! As always, there are a wide range of presentations and workshops, so I’m excited to attend.

If you’re attending the conference, leave a comment with details of your own presentation so that other readers can attend your talks. And if you see me at the conference, be sure to say hi!

This was posted simultaneously on my blog PLOS Blogs Public Health Perspectives

So you want to be an Epidemiologist…

Last week, my Gradifying co-author Amanda highlighted how her degree is structured. Today, I’ll be talking about the degrees offered by the Department of Public Health Sciences.

There are six factors that differentiate programs: the degree structure, courses, comps, research project requirements, teaching and timelines.

 

The degree itself

In my program, research projects are wildly different in terms of substantive research area, and students come in with very different backgrounds. My lab buddy in my Masters had a degree in engineering, I had a background in Psychology, another colleague had a degree in political science. With these different interests comes different theses. I’ve seen students do molecular projects that are most similar to biochem/bio projects, students who have either obtained or are in the process of obtaining their MD that are clinical in scope (note: clinical research projects are also performed by non-clinicians), and then there are projects like mine that draw heavily from psychology and sociology. The intricacies are driven by the interests of the student and the supervisor. There is also the Master’s of Public Health program that is a course-based, professional degree offered within the Department of Public Health Sciences.

 

Courses requirements

For the MSc in Epidemiology program, students have to take 4 core courses, and 3 elective courses. Usually, students will complete all but one elective in their first year, and will take one elective in their second year. Core courses include biostatistics and research methods, both of which become vital to your career as an epidemiologist. In addition to this, they are expected to complete a Masters Research Thesis.

The Masters of Public Health program is structured as a professional program where students get a broad background in public health. Students in this program take seven core courses and three electives, as well as a skills class (that I have guest lectured). Finally, they complete a 16 week practicum over the summer after their first year.

The PhD is completely different. We have one full-year seminar course, and one advanced biostatistics course. The course requirement is relatively light in that regard – if you want further, specific, training, you can seek that out yourself.

 

Comps

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of comps, I will fear no evil …

In the PhD Epi program, comps are scheduled to occur in the summer of your first year. They consist of a 4 hour open-book written exam that covers basic epidemiology principles. Following this, you are given a paper in your substantive area, and given two weeks to prepare two presentations. This forms the oral exam portion of the comps process, and is given to three professors in the department. For the first, the candidate is expected to present a 20 minute presentation where they summarize and critically evaluate the paper. Following this, they are asked questions about the paper and how the authors evaluated core epidemiology concepts. The second part of the exam requires the student to design and present an appropriate follow up study, addressing the shortcomings of the previous paper. The process takes between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours.

Typically, comps occur in late-June to early-July. The cohort of PhD students will typically study together from around April onwards, and there’s a certain solidarity that develops from going through this process together.

 

Research Project Requirements

For the MSc Epidemiology program, students are required to submit a 2 page outline of their project. Upon approval of the outline, they then prepare and submit a 20 page proposal. The proposal forms the basis of an open oral defence, where peers can ask questions. There is also a designated faculty member who acts as a reviewer for the project. Once the student passes their oral proposal defence, they can then continue with their project. Finally, they have a Masters thesis defence, where they present their work to an examining committee, consisting of 1) a professor external to the department, 2) one internal to the department, and 3) the department head (or someone in their stead).

The PhD in Epidemiology follows a very similar process, except everything is bigger. Students submit a 5-6 page outline, followed by a 20 page proposal of the project. Again, the proposal is followed by an oral exam, with two faculty members acting as reviewers as opposed to one in the Masters program. Once approval has been granted, the candidate now proceeds with their project, culminating in a PhD dissertation. This is defended to a committee consisting of a professor external to Queen’s in addition to the members of the Masters defence committee.

At both the outline and proposal stage, students are given feedback that they can consider with their supervisors as they move forward. Due to the variability in projects, there are no expectations around the number of manuscripts that you should produce, although I’ve seen Masters students produce 1-2 from their thesis work, and more if they did RA work. Doctoral candidates aim for 3-4 core manuscripts, and again, produce more if they work as an RA. These can be written while in the program, which results in a “manuscript-style” thesis (see mine here), or a “traditional” thesis, where, after defending, the student will prepare manuscripts for publication. My Masters was a manuscript based thesis, and my PhD will be as well, but this really varies on the project and whether this is feasible for you. My PhD fits nicely into four self-contained projects, and so publishing as I go was the best way to approach my PhD (you can read more about the first study from my PhD here, and the Queen’s press release here).

 

Teaching and Supervising

There’s no undergraduate program in epidemiology, and so teaching opportunities are limited. That being said, there are lots of opportunities to be a TA for graduate courses, and there are undergraduate courses that are offered. Many of the TA positions include opportunities to lecture and lead small group tutorials, which makes them a lot of fun and rewarding. Perhaps the most fun is the ability to really tailor your tutorials and classes to your own style and interests – I’ve taught several classes using data from the NHL to illustrate basic statistical concepts (what are the average number of goals scored, what’s the modal number of goals scored, why are they different).

 

Timelines

This is really left up to the student and supervisor – the department asks for progress reports by semester, but the onus is on the student and the supervisor to stick to the timelines set out in the proposal. I meet with my supervisors as required, and so we have gone 2-3 months without meeting in person if I’ve been working on a specific aspect of the project, and more often if I need feedback from them as I’m working through something. However, we touch base by email often, and this works well for us. Your mileage may vary – other students and supervisors work best with regularly scheduled meetings.

 

So while this is my experience in graduate school, I would suggest meeting with the department and potential supervisors if you are interested in joining the Department of Public Health Sciences. These are some of the core requirements and expectations, but these do change over time, and so if you’re finding this a year or more from now, be sure to check what the current requirements are.

 

This post was originally published on Gradifying

Judging science fairs: 10/10 Privilege, 0/10 Ability

Every year, I make a point of rounding up students in my department and encouraging them to volunteer one evening judging our local science fair. This year, the fair was held at the start of April, and featured over 200 judges and hundreds of projects from young scientists in grades 5 through to 12, with the winners going on to the National Championships.

President Obama welcomes some young scientists to the White House | Photo via USDAGov President Obama welcomes some young scientists to the White House | Photo via USDAGov

Perhaps the most rewarding part of volunteering your time, and the reason why I encourage colleagues to participate is when you see just how excited the youth are for their projects. It doesn’t matter what the project is, most of the students are thrilled to be there. Add to that how A Real Life Scientist (TM) wants to talk to them about their project? It’s a highlight for many of the students. As a graduate student, the desire to do science for science’s sake is something that gets drilled out of you quickly as you follow the Williams Sonoma/Jamie Oliver Chemistry 101 Cookbook, where you add 50 g Chemical A to 50 of Chemical B and record what colour the mixture turns. Being around  excitement based purely on the pursuit of science is refreshing.

However, the aspect of judging science fairs that I struggle most with is how to deal with the wide range of projects. How do you judge two projects on the same criteria where one used university resources (labs, mass spectrometers, centrifuges etc) and the other looked at how high balls bounce when you drop them. It becomes incredibly difficult as a judge to remain objective when one project is closer in scope to an undergraduate research project and the other is more your typical kitchen cabinet/garage equipment project. Even within two students who do the same project, there is variability depending on whether or not they have someone who can help them at home, or access to facilities through their school or parents social network.

Click here to continue reading!

Thinspo, eating disorders and the seedy underbelly of The Internet

Trigger warning: I’m going to avoid triggering language as much as possible, but I will be discussing eating disorders and body image in this post.

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We’ve all seen those photos. The inspirational quote, set to a background of a sunset, or a “One More Rep” picture with airbrushed model standing there, glistening ever so slightly while doing squats/deadlifts that is supposed to give us the motivation to push through. If we do that one extra rep, or run that one extra mile, maybe we too can look like that person. We all have that model in us, we just need to push through the pain to get there. However, what happens when this mentality goes too far?

The internet, like all tools, can be used for good and for evil, especially when it comes to exercise. Perhaps the biggest strength is the ability to get really good information from people you otherwise wouldn’t. Eric Cressey, Kelly Starrett and others give you access to information and videos based on sound science. They can push you to be stronger, workout smarter, and live the healthiest life you can. And sometimes, you can use those pictures of people being physically active as inspiration, a trend the kids these days call “fitspo,” a portmanteau for fit-inspiration. This can motivate you and gives you a goal to strive towards. Indeed, it’s a trope that has been used in movies ad nauseum. Who can forget the montage in Rocky IV where Rocky keeps looking at the picture of Ivan Drago in the mirror through his montage, eventually crumpling it in a most dramatic fashion (with heavy metal guitars playing in the background). The two ads featured here use the same idea to try and capitalize on this sense of greatness that we all hope is within all of us. However, like all behaviours, this is a balancing act, and can have devastating consequences.

Click here to continue reading

Life in Grad School: A day in the life of Atif

The editorial staff at Gradifying decided that this month we would describe our experience in graduate school, especially given how different our experiences are. Last week, Amanda discussed her experiences as a graduate student, describing her “field season” and “the outdoors” and “early mornings.” My life is completely different. While Amanda spends her days knee deep in mud, I spend mine exploring databases. While Amanda is taking an ATV through abadoned fields and forests, I’m traversing the internet for PDFs and programming code. While Amanda is worried about mosquitos and horseflies, my biggest health concern is bad posture from being hunched over a keyboard all day.

My desk: Where the science happens!

My desk: Where the science happens!

So lets talk about a regular day for me. Three of my projects use data housed at KGH that I can access 24/7, and so my schedule is completely up to me. There are no external forces at work – I can work all day and all night if I want to, or I can leave for weeks at a time. The only limitation is that I can’t take my data off site, and so I need to work in my office. As you can imagine, this means I have to be SUPER DISCIPLINED. When nothing mandates I be in the office, I have to be that force. While many people would hate working with data all day every day, I love it. Trance/techno/dubstep (courtesy di.fm), a large double-double and a database? That’s a pretty awesome day in my books.

In addition to my main database, this year I started working with another database housed at the Research Data Centre (RDC) at Stauffer Library. The RDC is an excellent resource for those interested in using Statistics Canada data, and provides you access to very detailed data about the health and behaviours of the Canadian population. However, this level of information comes with serious security. Since the data available have individually identifying information available, you need Government of Canada Security Clearances to access these data. The Centre is not connected to the outside world through the internet, so if you don’t know something, you have to leave the facility to check or Google it. Finally, no electronics are allowed inside the RDC, which includes MP3 players. So if you’re one of those people who likes to listen to music while they work (see trance music comment above), you can’t unless you can get your hands on a Walkman or Discman somehow. In addition to these levels of security, the Centre is only open from 10am to 4:45pm Tuesday through Thursday. So when it’s open, you need to maximise your time there.

Simba and the Happy Hack(ey sack) give me company while I'm analyzing data.

Simba and the Happy Hack(ey sack) give me company while I’m working.

One thing I decided when I started my PhD was that I never wanted to bring work home. I’ll work late in the office, but, to paraphrase the great urban poet Kei$ha, once “I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back.” So I settled into a pattern of working from 9am to 5/6pm in the office every day, then hitting the gym and heading home, thus leaving my evening free for writing, watching sports (Go Sens! Go Texans!), whatever I want. I’m fortunate in that I can treat my PhD like a job, and can work those hours. The only time I’ll bring work home is if I have a presentation, and then it’ll just be practising it once or twice in the evening in my living room to see how it flows. One suggestion for those who need motivation to go to the gym: Purchase “greys” from the ARC. For around $18 /month, you get your own locker, as well as clean socks, shorts, t-shirt and a towel from the gym every time you go. If you leave shoes there, then there’s really no excuse to not go to the gym. You just show up and it’s all there. I highly recommend it.

Lego Batman reminds me that EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

Lego Batman reminds me that EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! (except for the angle of this photo, which I can’t figure out how to rotate) (Thanks Kim!)

Outside of grad school, I keep myself busy with various other activities. As you know, I write for Gradifying, but I also am the Editor for PLOS Blogs Public Health Perspectives as well as a Science Writer for PLOS Blogs Sci-Ed. The former focuses on Public Health and issues related to the health of societies, while the latter is focused mainly on science communication – how do we, as scientists, communicate to the public and explain complex ideas in ways that resonate with them. When I’m not writing, I’m usually playing ultimate frisbee through Kingston Ultimate, which takes up most of my free time through the spring/summer, between practice, training and games. If you’re ever walking through City Park on a Sunday morning and see a bunch of people doing laps, wind sprints and various other crosstraining activities, that would be us.

If you have any questions, let me know!

 

This piece was originally published on Gradifying!

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