Outside the box research on display

A varied mix of student biologists, designers, artists and the occasional performative gastronomists showcased unique research last Wednesday at the first-ever Individualized Program research exposition (INDI).

Six master’s students and 11 PhD students were selected to present their work to the Concordia community, with such titles as “The Performative Cocktail: Food Making as Representation Methodology.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out,” Dr. Ketra Schmitt, director of the INDI program, said. “We were able to get support from all over the university.”

The program, which has existed for over 20 years, supports graduate students working towards earning a master’s or PhD via unusual interdisciplinary research.

“The majority of students who come to us have an idea that is just so weird that it won’t fit anywhere else,” Schmitt said.

Take Adam van Sertima’s PhD work, which uses the Microsoft Kinect technology of motion-sensors on determining whether there is an actual person on the other side of a contest of tug-of-war.

“I spent a lot of my life pulling stumps out of the ground,” van Sertima said. “You try pulling a stump out and you say, ‘Oh, I got it,’ and then the stump pulls back! We anthropomorphize everything.”

Van Sertima hopes to develop a toolkit for game developers to use to address these kinds of problems, but that they aren’t necessarily the point behind the project. “The interesting stuff that I’m doing is not just the end product, but the methodology, because nobody is doing this,” he said.

The ability to work outside of disciplinary borders is exactly why Shea Wood applied to the program. Wood, a drama therapist and PhD student, is researching how performance art married with focus groups can help viewers understand different family life experiences.

Her performances are based on real experiences, which she believes may influence how viewers perceive performances.

“When I applied, I was having a hard time finding a place where my research fit because it’s not in a box,” she said. “I needed somewhere to go that I actually would feel like I actually fit in, and INDI is that place.”

It is also a place for students who want to do research in an area that Concordia does not yet offer, and may just lead to a new branch of inquiry. Concordia’s PhD programs in biology and math are the results of the INDI program, according to INDI program coordinator Darlene Dubiel.

There’s even a home for linguistics here. Ivanna Richardson is currently doing her master’s degree in the INDI program with a Farsi linguistics project when it came to certain grammatical constructs.

Richardson hopes her work will show that existing parameters in syntactic theory are not specific enough to account for Farsi’s flexibility.

“INDI can only exist with incredible institutional support,” Schmitt said of the challenges behind the triumphs. The Faculties of Engineering and Computer Science, Arts and Science, and Fine Arts all contributed to the research exposition, as well as the Office of the Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies and several research centres. Schmitt also underscored the ‘incredible’ staff support needed to make things happen.

Students in the INDI program have also received support and grants from external organizations such as the Canada Council for the Arts.

Five prizes were awarded during the exposition – two each for the master’s and PhD students and one for the People’s Choice.

Qian Qian Zhou won first place for the master’s students for a presentation focusing on how a difficult childhood can modify oxytocin receptor genes, while Nikolaos Chandolias was the master’s runner-up for his project on orbital resonance.

The first place prize for PhD students was given to Morgan Raucher, who researches how machines influence the way we work with and interact with materials while creating sculptures. The runner-up prize was awarded to Erin O’Loughlin who studied how young adults use exercise-oriented video games.

For more information on INDI, visit concordia.ca/offices/sgs/individualized.html.

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