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U of T to create new institute dedicated to Indigenous health

Institute to address inconsistency in health status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities

On June 20, U of T announced its plan to establish a new institute at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health that will serve as the headquarters for an integrative research program focused on improving Indigenous health. 

The institute was made possible by a $10 million donation from Michael and Amira Dan. It will provide the opportunity for Indigenous representatives, U of T faculty experts, and student researchers to collaborate and find solutions to key issues in Indigenous welfare.

Howard Hu, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said, “The creation of this institute will … create new partnerships with Indigenous communities, and markedly strengthen U of T’s ability to generate the community-based research and new scholars critical to improving Indigenous health in Canada and around the world.”

Earlier in June, U of T announced plans to host the 2014 Indigenous Health Conference this November.

With files from U of T News

Student Summer Work: The trials of charitable canvassing

It’s only for the thick skinned — get ready for rejection

For the first four hours of my shift I brought in nothing but $20; an average night’s quota is $120. Most people didn’t open their doors, either because they weren’t home, or they weren’t interested. Many told me they had already done their donating for the year, that I was the fourth canvasser this week to come by, or just that they never gave at the door.

Some people were rude. One man laughed the moment I started my pitch about BPA in baby bottles, and said, “Yeah, cool,” before closing the door. Another scolded me in frustration as he was “literally sitting down to dinner.” The last house I knocked at, I made someone furious. A chorus of small, yappy dogs started up from behind the door, startling me. After a few moments, a young woman appeared. She tilted her head up and rolled her eyes in the most exaggerated way possible, and then fixed me with a look of hatred that startled me more than the dogs. She proceeded to yell at me for making her dogs bark and waking up her baby before slamming the door. I still had only $20 and my shift was almost over.

The thought that “I can’t do this” echoed in my head over and over. I needed to get off the street, away from the stress and humiliation. I took a walk. Once I reached another road, I sat on the sidewalk to rest for a few moments and attempted to suppress tears of frustration. The pity parade needed to end. I stood up and took a few more breaths. I walked back to my street.

The door of the next house I went to was opened by a kind woman who was interested in what I had to say. She ended up giving a monthly donation. This was my first one, and meant that I made quota for the night.

I managed to stick canvassing out for a month and a half. Unfortunately, making quota was never easy, and I brought the stress of that home with me after every rough shift. It’s discouraging to work hard for five hours and have nothing to show for it, and if you have too many of these nights you have to worry about job security. Eventually, I was verbally accosted by someone at their door with serious anger issues, and I quit. The stress was too much.

I would only recommend canvassing work for those with a thick skin and an extraverted, assertive personality. You must be able to deal with constant rejection and occasional loathing. You must also be able to accept that luck is as much a factor in your success as hard work or talent.

Furthermore, be careful choosing a company to work for. Do your research; there are scams. It is usually better to work directly for an organization or charity than through a for-profit third party. Mixing charity and profit is pretty disconcerting. Some organizations may “hire” five or six people when there is only one position, and what seems like a job offer may really be an audition.

To all of those people on the other side of the door: that person holding the clipboard is a person. Maybe you’ve had a few of them knock on your door recently, maybe you’re really busy right now, or maybe your many dogs barked and woke up your baby. But this person deserves your respect. If you are not interested, please politely decline.

Sage Irwin is a third-year student at Trinity College studying women and gender studies and English

Pulitzer Prize winner talks politics, journalism, and career advice

Jason Szep, Varsity alumnus, won 2014 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting

Pulitzer Prize winner talks politics, journalism, and career advice

In 1989, Jason Szep, then a literature student at Innis College and a staff writer at The Varsity, landed a job at the Reuters Canada Toronto bureau. This past year, Szep and his colleague, Andrew R.C. Marshall, were awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize — the most prestigious award in journalism — for International Reporting.

In the past two and a half decades, Szep has had stints in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Boston, and Bangkok.

Although Szep ended up one and a half credits short of what he needed to graduate from U of T, he attributes much of his career success to the experiences he had during his time at The Varsity.

The Varsity reached out to Szep to discuss his time at U of T, changes in the global political landscape, and life as a journalist.

The Varsity: Tell me about your time at The Varsity and at U of T. How did it prepare you for your eventual career?

Jason Szep: I was at Innis College studying literature when I joined The Varsity.

I wrote a range of stories from a personal essay on Canada’s crosswalks to news stories about changes in the campus and theatre reviews. I used the byline J. Garton Szep, and wrote mainly over 1989 and 1990. It was a wonderful learning experience. Though I loved literature (and had some wonderful professors at U of T), I knew I wanted to be a journalist.

In 1989, when it came time to apply for internships at various newspapers, I ended up empty handed. I didn’t land an internship at the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, [or others]. Crestfallen, I decided to apply for internships at all the major foreign news organizations in Toronto: the [Associated Press], Reuters, and The New York Times. The Reuters Canada bureau chief gave me a shot. He told me my work at Reuters could last a day, a week, or months. There were no guarantees. I had no idea it would last more than 20 years.

I would attend classes during the day… After three years in the Toronto bureau, I threw my hat in the ring for an internal job advertisement. Reuters was seeking an economics correspondent in Australia. I was 23 and went for it… In 1996, I was posted to Hong Kong where I helped to cover the handover to China. From there I went on a succession of postings: Singapore, Tokyo and Singapore (again). In 2003, I did some short-term stints in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2005, I was posted to my native Boston as bureau chief…

In 2009, I was posted to Bangkok as bureau chief for Thailand & Indochina, a region that covered Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. And in 2011, I became Southeast Asia bureau chief, overseeing Reuters news in 10 countries. During those four and a half years in Bangkok, we covered the opening of Myanmar after nearly half a century of military rule. It was this reporting that led to my coverage of religious violence and persecution of Myanmar’s Muslims — the work for which I won the Pulitzer Prize with my colleague Andrew R.C. Marshall.

The Varsity newsroom was the first real place where I had an opportunity to float reporting ideas and have them be challenged. Without them, I’m not sure I would have taken the next step to Reuters. I think everyone should be aware of the great opportunity that student journalism provides.

TV: Have you always been interested in international affairs?

JS: Working for an international organization opened my eyes not just to the world, but to how companies and countries operate across borders, the world of diplomacy, which I found fascinating.

TV: What advice do you have for students looking to work and live outside of Canada? 

JS: If you have the desire to see the world, find a way to do it through your work. There is a big difference between living in a country, being a part of it for a few years, and visiting as a tourist.

TV: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen around the world during your time as a journalist?

JS: Without a doubt the rise of China, and how its influence is steadily expanding, especially across Southeast Asia where I most recently lived.

My first experience with that was in 1997 in Hong Kong, with the handover to China. There were lots of fears at the time that the world was ending. When you go to Hong Kong today, you see a city that’s thriving — although there’s still a long way to go in terms of political rights. I think there are very few people who would have predicted how Chinese culture in urban cities would develop. That’s one aspect that I’ve marveled at. 

The other side is seeing China become increasingly aggressive. It’s pretty clear that China’s becoming more assertive across Asia — particularly in Southeast Asia. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in the next five to 10 years, and how the [United States] responds.

TV: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

JS: Meeting so many interesting people, including [Burmese politician] Aung San Suu Kyi and producing work that can make a difference in the world.

TV: What advice would you give to students who are looking to pursue journalism as a career?

JS: Don’t ever think of any story as too small. There is always a bigger story underneath it. When you are given a story, try to report it out to its fullest. You’ll be surprised at stories that seem, on one level, mundane. If you dig, you’ll find a deeper story lurking.

TV: Tell me about your reaction when you heard you won the Pulitzer Prize.

JS: I was stunned. I really didn’t expect it. My father had won two Pulitzer Prizes as a political cartoonist (he also started in Toronto after attending the Ontario College of Art [and Design] before moving to Boston to work at The Boston Globe for 35 years). I was absolutely stunned.

TV: What is the most interesting story you have ever covered?

JS: The stories that were nominated for the Pulitzer were by far the most interesting and most involved. Back in late 2011, early 2012, Myanmar opened up. As a journalist, I’d been covering it since 2009 when I was posted to Bangkok. We always talked about how Myanmar was never going to open up. In late 2011, we recognized that it was actually happening. We started to go in, and getting journalist visas. In 2011 and 2012, we did a series of stories on the dramatic opening up of a country that had been shut to the world for nearly half a century. We went in and we did stories on the politicians, who were former generals. We looked at all sorts of different aspects of life in Myanmar, from the crony capitalists to political prisoners. As part of that series, we started looking into religious tensions. That brought us to the Rohingya, which were pretty much concentrated in an area of Myanmar called Rakhine state — an area of Myanmar that had really been isolated. We started to actually get permission to go into that part of the country and start to really look at the tensions. That set us on our way to really dig deep in the country.

I have enjoyed many other stories over the years, including those written as a “cub” reporter in Toronto.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

A look back at NXNE

Our writers break down highlights, surprises, and lessons learned from this year’s festival

A look back at NXNE

Learning to balance

My North by Northeast (NXNE) had plenty of highlights: Autre Ne Veut’s set at Tattoo, watching KC Accidental’s Kevin Drew shout, “I want to be a fucking teenager!” at the 159 Manning Barbecue headliner, and a very sweaty dance party lead by Le1f at the Edward Day Gallery on Friday night.

On Saturday, I was pretty set on calling it an early night in order to rest up for Sunday. However, as I was about to go to bed, my tendency to obsessively check social media led me to find out about the last-minute addition of Perfect Pussy to the Soybomb event. Perfect Pussy is led by an incredibly intelligent frontwoman, Meredith Graves, whose music empowers you with each listen.

Trying to properly immerse myself in NXNE this year was a lesson in learning how to balance having fun with actually making an effort to see new bands. I ended up not seeing many of the bands I’d initially intended to see — there are a few that will bum me out for a while, but I think I’ll survive. In the meantime, I’ll deal with the sadness by keeping my eye on 2014 concert listings — new bands have a tendency to go on multiple tours in a year.
—Sofia Luu


Underage festival-going

NXNE, you were stacked. I got a chance to see some of my longtime favourites, like St. Vincent, and artists that I had recently discovered, like Fresh Snow. The diversity of the lineup was remarkable and by far the highlight of the festival for me.

There were also a surprising number of all-ages showcases — meaning I saw more than I was expecting to. This is not to say that there were enough — outside of Yonge-Dundas Square (YDS) and Massey Hall, I was pretty much limited to punk shows, which were for some inexplicable reason all-ages.

YDS, please, get your sound together. Many of the performances at YDS were subpar because there was something wrong with the sound. I found this surprising considering that NXNE has hosted large shows at YDS for years now. Another shocking tidbit was how lopsided the NXNE schedule was; I found myself catching 10 acts a day for Thursday and Friday, and only seeing two on Saturday and Sunday.

Next year I’ll finally be of age, and I think my NXNE will change pretty drastically. There’s nothing worse than seeing your friends go to shows when your night is forced to end at midnight. I’ll also try to check out more of the interactive and art showcases — there’s so much music at NXNE that it can be overwhelming to consider all the other aspects of the festival.

—Ayla Shiblaq


Smaller venues for better shows

One of the highlights of my NXNE experience was all of the great, well-hyped female-fronted acts. Hands & Teeth, St. Vincent, Sleigh Bells, Beach Day, Dearly Beloved, and Courtney Barnett are just a few of the female acts that rocked the stages at this year’s NXNE. Music is just as much a woman’s game as a man’s — it was awesome seeing all these talented hardworking ladies kicking butt and getting their due.

The MiO Squirtcar with The Pizza Underground was amazing. It’s the quirky venues like a GAP store, streetcar, or ferry boat that sets NXNE apart from other festivals and really makes it a festival grounded in the city itself.

Since I had a wristband I was hopping from show to show — at times I felt lonely, but at most venues I met great people, including grad students from Austin who were loving Toronto, women at the Horseshoe double-fisting Budweiser while adorned with platinum badges from Labatt, and a photographer who had taken photos of musicians ranging from Toronto darlings like Greys to international superstars like Iggy Pop. Being alone made me more aware of my surroundings, and afforded me a new perspective on the festival. I highly recommend solo show-going, especially for an event like NXNE where you can mix it up by going solo one night and with a group another.

As for what I might do differently next year, I think I would avoid the big YDS shows. The large free shows are awesome for the city itself, but the open-air venue doesn’t do most of the acts justice, and the crowds for the main headliners can be overwhelming. Much-hyped acts like St. Vincent, Sleigh Bells, and Juicy J all fell flat for me in a way I don’t think they would have if they’d been in a proper venue with a more dedicated crowd.  Next year, I hope to bike past the big crowds and make my way to smaller venues where I can properly appreciate the talent.

—India McAlister

Study: Measurement science revolutionized

U of T physicists use quantum mechanics to overcome significant challenge in science of measurement

Study: Measurement science revolutionized

Ask a theoretical physicist about the universal speed limit, and you will likely hear an answer on the order of one trillion kilometres per hour. According to special relativity, the speed of light cannot be exceeded by any matter or information in the universe. The wavelength of light also poses limits — specifically in terms of making precise measurements. Fortunately, physicists at the University of Toronto have recently discovered a means of utilizing light’s quantum properties to overcome these measurement limitations.

Making measurements by using light as a medium is possible due to the phenomenon of photon interference — the optical equivalent to the ripples caused by two stones dropped into a still pond. Interference is key to imaging, as well as photolithography, the technology used to create patterns on computer chips. Devices called interferometers are used to measure the effects of interference, and all of these technologies have historically been limited in resolution by the wavelength of light.

The resolution can be improved by sending more photons — discrete bundles of light energy — through the interferometer and by using entangled photons — photons that communicate instantaneously with each other. The technique of using entangled photons requires all the photons to reach the same detector. Professor Aephraim Steinberg and his research team at the U of T Department of Physics have successfully sidestepped the resolution limit by building on a proposal by physicist Mankei Tsang.

Tsang, then at MIT, proposed in 2009 that in order to create a system to improve measurement accuracy, detectors could be placed at every position a photon could reach so one could calculate the average position of all detected photons, without having to discard any of the photons. University of Ottawa physicist Robert Boyd tested this idea with two photons and two detectors, but Steinberg’s group has improved efficiency by using “an optical fibre ribbon,” a novel device created by the lab to collect photons and send them to 11 detectors.

“Sending independent photons or 2, 3, or 4 entangled photons into our interferometer, we saw clear evidence for the resolution advantage of entangled light,” Steinberg writes on his Department of Physics website. “While two photons are better than one, eleven detectors are far better than two: this work opens up a path for using entangled states of light to carry out ultra-precise measurements.” The researchers anticipate that, as technology progresses, their techniques can be used to measure more photons, thereby increasing the resolution of the measurements.

Measurement technologies are used widely, and it is difficult to predict just where a certain advance may lead. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the United States funds a quantum entanglement research program in order to benefit from advances in sensing and measurement technology. No matter the outcome, this technical advance brings more information to the scientific discussion about the nature of quantum entanglement and the relevant experimental techniques.

Graduate degree candidates Lee Rozema and James Bateman assisted in leading Steinberg’s research team, with major contributions from Dylan Mahler. The experiment was carried out at the University of Toronto. Additional collaborators included Alex Hayat, a former U of T postdoctoral fellow now at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology; and Ryo Okamoto of Hokkaido and Osaka Universities. The results of this study, “Scalable spatial superresolution using entangled photons,” are published in the June 6 issue of Physical Review Letters.


Correction: June 26, 2014: A previous version of this article contained factual errors.