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Grad student research recognized with thesis, dissertation prizes

Grad student research recognized with thesis, dissertation prizes

York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) has awarded six graduates with 2024 Thesis and Dissertation Prizes for their outstanding contributions to the local and global community. The prizes, valued at $2,000 for doctoral dissertations and $1,000 for master’s theses, are given out every spring to honour theses defended in the previous calendar year. The award-winning work among the early-career scholars ranged from high-risk data collection to an award-winning film.

Doctoral Dissertation Prizes

Alison Humphrey (PhD, cinema and media studies) for “The Shadowpox Storyworld as Citizen Science Fiction: Building Co-Immunity through Participatory Mixed-Reality Storytelling”

Humphrey’s dissertation involves a mixed-reality storyworld—a fully immersive, interactive storytelling experience—co-created with young people on three continents, imagining immunization through a superhero metaphor.

The research-creation dissertation recounts the design and testing of three experiments in a single science fiction storyworld, titled “Shadowpox.” Humphrey’s first experiment was a full-body video game exhibited at the UNAIDS 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, and at Galleri KiT in Trondheim, Norway. The second was a networked narrative – a story created by a network of interconnected authors – which was workshopped and presented at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and with the Debajehmujig Storytellers, a multidisciplinary arts organization in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Reserve in northern Ontario. The third component, an online video game necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, was available worldwide, and was included in the United Nations COVID-19 Response Creative Content Hub in 2020.

The examining committee praised the project and described it as “careful theory-building through sound methodological praxis” and “a new standard for research-creation dissertations in Canada.”

Alison Humphrey

A photo of Alison Humphrey

Inbar Peled (PhD, law) for “Professionalizing Discrimination: Legal Actors and the Struggle Against Racialized Policing in Multicultural Societies”

Through her project, Peled examines the role of lawyers in perpetuating racialized police violence in multicultural societies. While much of the work on racialized police killing and police violence focuses on the police themselves, the role of lawyers in enabling these incidents is often ignored. To unpack the ways lawyers and judges support, resist and confront racism in their practices, Peled interviewed prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges in Israel. Her groundbreaking work argues that the solution to the problem of racialized policing will have to include transformation within the legal profession.

Her defence committee unanimously commended the work, saying, “the real genius of Peled’s project is that it merges theories of identity (self and others) with professionalized role competence. This combination demonstrates not just that lawyers are – like all people – influenced by race and racism in their decision making but also that legal norms and rules also play a role in the failure to address racialized police violence.”

Inbar Peled

A photo of Inbar Peled

Jennifer Porat (PhD, biology) for “RNA methyltransferases Influence Noncoding RNA Biogenesis and Function Through Catalytic-Independent Activities”

Porat’s innovative study encompasses various aspects of ribonucleic acid (RNA) biology – a molecule essential for most biological functions – while focusing on the lesser-studied functions of a set of eukaryotic RNA modification enzymes. The dissertation provides evidence supporting the multifaceted nature of these enzymes and underscores their importance in many fundamental biological processes. The pinnacle recognition of Porat’s scholarly excellence is exemplified by her recent Scaringe Award that acknowledges outstanding achievement of young scientists engaged in RNA research presented by the RNA Society, an international scientific society with more than 1,800 members dedicated to fostering research and education in the field of RNA science.

The examination committee Chair, Professor Emanuel Rosonina, stated that Porat’s work “fundamentally changes how we think about RNA-modifying enzymes.” He continued, “It is not common that a student forges new ground and concepts like this. Hers is among the most impressive PhD theses and defenses that I have seen at York and beyond.”

Jennifer Porat

A photo of Jennifer Porat

Master’s Thesis Prizes

Pooya Badkoobeh (Master’s, film) for “Based on a True Story”

Badkoobeh’s thesis film, Inn, is a 20-minute minimalist short film set in Tehran, Iran, inspired by the real-life story of an old couple who planned to commit suicide together. The film’s central theme revolves around the core meaning of life in the face of planned and seemingly certain death. Employing minimalist storytelling and a hybrid of fiction and documentary style, the film uses long takes and distant camera placements for a distinctive effect. The script features very little dialogue and long silences, illustrating the characters’ inner lives and allowing the viewer to fill in their background. The same year of his defense, Badkoobeh’s thesis film was named North America’s Best Film by CILECT, the International Association of Film & Television Schools.

“His film embraces the core value of what it means to be human in the cinematic form,” shared Manfred Becker, Pooya’s supervisor. “It is an exceptionally sensitive and disciplined work of art, executed in a minimalist style, which matches the complexity of its subject matter.”

Pooya Badkoobeh

A photo of Pooya Badkoobeh

Nina Garrett (Master’s, biology) for “Measuring neotropical bat diversity using airborne eDNA”

Garrett’s thesis develops the novel technique of capturing airborne environmental DNA (eDNA) for the detection of tropical bat species. Garrett successfully demonstrates that airborne eDNA can accurately characterize a mixed-species community with varying abundances and that the type of sampler does not impact DNA concentration or read count. This study was extremely high-risk science because no one had ever attempted this type of work under field conditions with wild animals. At the time she started, there were only three published scientific works in existence demonstrating that airborne eDNA collection was even possible and all had been conducted under extremely controlled and artificial conditions (i.e. in a zoo).

Garrett’s two data chapters were published in PeerJ and Environmental DNA journals. Additionally, she has been acknowledged for her advanced academic and research leadership, having received prestigious awards for her master’s studies, including the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Master’s graduate scholarship and recognitions for her research presentations at provincial and national conferences.

Nina Garrett

A photo of Nina Garrett

Haider Shoaib (Master’s, electrical engineering and computer science) for “Performance Modeling and Optimization of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles With Reliable Wireless Connectivity”

Shoaib’s cutting-edge project tackles vehicular network connectivity challenges, which are expected to be of increasing concern with the rise of electric vehicles. The project explores the fundamental question of how to maximize vehicle traffic flow while maintaining a minimum network connectivity requirement. Specifically, Shoaib’s thesis develops innovative network performance models for 5G- and 6G-enabled vehicle communications that consider critical parameters such as traffic flow, wireless channel impediments and network density.

This type of optimization has not been considered to date in either the telecommunications or transportation domains, and it includes several important constraints to ensure quality of service and to avoid collisions.

Haider Shoaib

A photo of Haider Shoaib

Additional prize

In addition to the above Thesis and Dissertation Prizes, FGS nominated Humphrey and Porat for a dissertation prize presented by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS). The CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes Canadian doctoral dissertations that make significant and original contributions to their academic field. Winners receive a $1,500 cash prize, a certificate of recognition and an invitation to attend the Annual CAGS Conference.

For more information about the prizes and how they are awarded, visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.