Research projects lead to prestigious awards for two Queen’s students

Two PhD students from Queen’s University have been recognized with a prestigious award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Madison Robertson, a research fellow and fourth-year PhD student in the Health Quality programs in the School of Nursing at Queen’s University, and Hannah Hunter, a PhD student and cultural, environmental, and historical geographer, were among the five winners of the national 2023 Storytellers Challenge.

The students were challenged to “tell the story of how social sciences and humanities research is impacting our lives, our world, and our future for the better,” drawing on their own research experiences.

Robertson’s project – entitled Till Death Do Us Part: Spousal Separation in Long-term Care – explores couples’ experiences of loneliness and depression due to long-term separation when one or both spouse is admitted to a long-term care facility. According to Progressive Marketing Innovations Ltd. on behalf of the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences, the research uniquely involves the participation of a group of seniors living in long-term care facilities, who are actively involved in the design, execution and dissemination of the study.

“When most people think of getting older, they worry about losing their spouse to death or illness, not imposed long-term separation, yet this is the live reality for many seniors in Canada,” said Robertson, explaining that the reason comes down to a growing number of older adults in Canada, resulting in additional stress on the long-term care system, limited beds and increased wait times.

“To start with, loneliness and depression are major concerns for long-term care residents and they are further exasperated when these residents are separated from their spouses.”

With many long-term care facilities in Canada unable to accommodate both spouses in need, Robertson’s drive to explore the mental health effects of involuntary separation on aging couples will allow policymakers and long-term care staff to understand the experience of spousal separation and what works to best to support residents, according to the release.

Older adults don’t have a say in staying with their spouse,” she emphasized. “The social and power dynamics that exist within long-term care facilities have often repressed older adults’ voices, leaving residents unable to advocate for themselves or their partners.”

In a vastly different — but no less important — vein, Hunter’s work, entitled Listening to Birds at the End of the World, explores the collection and afterlives of extinct and endangered bird sound recordings – with more than one million accessible online through Cornell’s Ithaca, NY-based Macaulay Library – including digitized historical sounds, which offer immersive encounters with lost species.

“U.S. and Canadian bird populations have fallen by three billion since 1970, and to make matters worse, modern noises mask their calls, reducing their ability to communicate and our ability to hear them. In another way, though, we’re able to hear more birds than ever before. Since the advent of portable recording technologies in the early 20th century, people have travelled far and wide to capture the sounds of birds,” Hunter said.

“Through archival research, interviews, and analysis of academic literature, I trace the lives of these sounds, asking what they tell us about human-nature relationships of the past, present and future,” she explained. “These recordings have also had an important role in searches for critically endangered birds, being played out in forests to trick any surviving birds into responding.”

According to the release, Hunter is now launching a podcast series, called Last Call for Lost Birds, which tells stories about and through the sounds of extinct birds, with the goal of offering listeners unique, rich connections to lost species.

To participate in SSHRC’s Storyteller’s Challenge, postsecondary students were tasked with featuring their own research or a professor’s research project in a video or audio clip of up to three minutes, or a text or infographic no longer than 300 words, according to the release. Their stories demonstrated the value of social sciences and humanities in improving lives.

The five winners were announced during the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2023), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place from May 27 to June 2, 2023, at York University in Toronto.

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2023 serves as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide, according to Progressive Marketing Innovations Ltd. on behalf of the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. With more than 9,000 scholars, graduate students and practitioners participating, the event focuses on reckoning with the past and reimagining the future, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just society.

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with York University, Congress 2023 is sponsored by SSHRC, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Mitacs, SAGE Publishing, and University Affairs.

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