U of T student given Most Valuable Professional award by Microsoft CEO

Sabrina Smai reflects on her tech journey and how AI can spark global change

U of T student given Most Valuable Professional award by Microsoft CEO

Inspired by a technology course she enroled in by accident, fourth-year U of T student Sabrina Smai decided to switch gears from the world of medicine to the world of technology. Smai is a philanthropist who is deeply concerned about making a positive impact on the world. She is a strong proponent of using artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool to drive change.

This year, given her involvement and dedication to the field of AI, Smai was recognized by Microsoft and was given the Most Valuable Professional award by the CEO of the company, Sataya Nedella.

According to Microsoft, the Most Valuable Professional award is given to experts in the field of technology who “bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems.”

Smai said that when she received the award in the mail and saw Nedella’s signature on it she “started freaking out.” Smai added that “there are over 10 million people in the tech community around the world and only 4000 people get the award for the MVP.” According to Smai, she is one of the younger nominees to receive the MVP award and believes it was one her most memorable achievements.

Given the significance of the award and her expertise in AI, it is perhaps surprising that Smai went into U of T with the intention of studying life sciences in hopes of one day becoming a doctor: “growing up I always wanted to impact the world in some sense. I just didn’t know how! And the obvious choice was to be a doctor because you would see [the] direct impact you have on the world by helping patients.”

Smai, left, has been working in the tech field since she came to U of T. Photo courtesy of John W.

What caused this switch? Smai said that as a doctor she would “impact one person at a time.” However, in technology she “could impact the world in [a] very, very fast way.” Smai continued saying, “I wanted to be a part of a movement, as opposed to smaller change.”

And so, a drive towards greater impact on a global scale, led Smai to pursue her career in AI. Throughout this career, Smai has participated in several hackathons particularly related to artificial intelligence. It was through these hackathons Smai was first introduced to Microsoft Student Partners. “It’s a program run by Microsoft to help students gain more knowledge in cutting edge technology and really [get] in touch with the tech community. So, I got really involved [with] that.”

While working with technology, Smai has contributed a start-up called E-Terview. E-Terview is an application that uses facial recognition to help people gain confidence in their interviews: “essentially, you record yourself answering interview prompts and through the recording and [the application] would pick up at what part you were feeling nervous and at what part were you not as confident as you were in other areas of your interview,” explained Smai. In helping students succeed and overcome potentially difficult obstacles, Smai said her work on this application was one of her highlights working with AI.

Through projects like E-Terview, Smai could transform and create many other cutting-edge AI tools. These projects were no easy task as they required Smai to work long hours and have a strong dedication to her work. Passion and grit are essential in a field that requires these long hours, and Smai says in a quest to find a job it is beneficial to focus on one’s upheld values and beliefs. Smai is a strong believer in philanthropy and ultimately knew that her “end, end goal” was to help others through technology.

Blues hockey come up short against rival York Lions

Defeat brings Blues' record to 2-2

Blues hockey come up short against rival York Lions

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team lost 4–1 against the York Lions on Friday, October 27, a result that pushes the Blues’ record to 2-2 on the season.

There was no scoring in the first period, as the Blues outshot the Lions 11-4. There were quality chances at both ends, but the Blues were unable to capitalize on two power play chances.

Six minutes into the second period, Lions forward Reid Jackman broke the scoring off a great setup from Nik Coric and Derek Sheppard on the power play. The second period featured a total of six penalties, three for each side. York looked to have scored another goal off the rush, but it was quickly waved off due to goalie interference, and the Blues were awarded a power play. York had the edge in shots this period, outshooting Toronto 11-8.

Scoring picked up in the third period, when Jackman scored his second of the game off a rebound in front of the net to make it 2–0. The Blues were able to sustain pressure in the Lions zone for most of the period. With seven minutes remaining in the game, Blues forward Louie Kereakou put one home off a scramble in front of the net to make the game 2–1. The Blues pulled their goalie to try to make a final attempt to tie the game. Despite generating chances, the Blues offense fell short as York scored an empty net goal off a shot near centre ice. With the Blues goalie back in the net, York scored another power play goal off a slapshot from the point to seal the game for the Lions.

The Blues outshot York 29-23. Toronto’s power play went 0-8 on the game.

The Blues’ next home game is on Friday November 10 against the Ryerson Rams at 7:00 pm at Varsity Arena.

No pain, no gain

Understanding your pain tolerance and limits

No pain, no gain

As a competitive athlete, ‘no pain, no gain’ is no less a way of life as it is a motto. If I didn’t feel the burn after working out, then I’d feel like I didn’t exercise hard enough. It made sense to me: in order to gain muscle, you have to work your muscles repeatedly and with increasing weight in order for them to grow and develop.

I ended up learning the hard way that pain and muscle soreness are not always the same. What might seem like an indication of a successful workout could actually be the start of an injury. But at what point does pain no longer equate to the gains we actually want? And why is the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ an unhealthy one?

Let’s start with the physiological basics.The human body is composed of hundreds of skeletal muscles, which are composed of myofibrils and sarcomeres that form muscle fibres. These fibres are responsible for all basic movements and contractions. The skeletal muscles contract when they receive signals from motor neurons in the brain. The easier it is for the skeletal muscles to receive those signals, the better the body becomes at contracting the muscles, which leads to more strength gains.

After a workout, the body repairs and replaces all damaged skeletal muscle fibres by amalgamating them to form new, thicker myofibrils. Every time the body needs to repair and replace the damaged fibres, they increase in thickness and number, which equates to muscle growth. If the body is creating new microfibrils quicker than they are breaking down, there is more muscle growth.

This is how the idea of ‘no pain, no gain’ came about: you essentially need to be working out more, thus experiencing more pain, in order to gain more muscle. What many don’t realize is that general pain and muscle pain are not always the same; to understand the differences, you need to understand what muscle soreness actually is.

The medical term for muscle soreness is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). According to the American College of Sports Medicine, any activity or motion that the muscles aren’t accustomed to could lead to DOMS because motor neurons rarely, if ever, send those specific signals to muscle fibres instructing them to contract in those ways.

Most people believe that the origins of DOMS is a result of microscopic damages done to the muscle fibres involved in the motions of certain novel exercises.

Everyone is susceptible to DOMS — even professional athletes — especially when doing novel exercises or motions. However, the severity of DOMS can differ from person to person depending on how they have adapted to the novel exercises, the speed at which they perform the exercise, and how long they perform it. Just one bout of DOMS can end up having a partial protective effect on muscle fibres that will reduce the severity or even likelihood of experiencing DOMS the next time the body partakes in a specific exercise.

There is one aspect of DOMS that greatly contributes to why ‘no pain, no gain’ is only a myth: its longevity. The effects of DOMS don’t just last a couple of days — decreased range of motion and a reduction in muscle strength may last for as long as 10 days after the initial exercise.

That means individuals who do the same exercises, or more challenging ones, without taking time for rest and rehabilitation, run the risk of a more serious injury like a muscle strain or tear. These normally occur when the muscle has been overstretched or torn because of fatigue, improper use, or overuse. According to a study by scientists at John Hopkins University, the cause of muscle strains is not even restricted to rigorous exercises; they can result from walking. Individuals can even develop chronic muscle strains from doing repetitive movements daily.

So why do many athletes still swear by the notion of ‘no pain, no gain?’ Researchers believe it’s due to athletes’ high pain tolerance. Since they regularly put their bodies through rigorous and repetitive exercise routines, they’ve been unconsciously forced to adapt and be more relaxed in their attitudes toward pain.

Athletes employ the cognitive strategies of association and dissociation to strengthen their pain tolerance levels and achieve maximum performance. If athletes remind themselves that the pain they are experiencing is being induced by an activity or motion that they could reduce or even stop at any time, it can apparently relieve much of that pain.

Many experiments dealing with pain tolerance have shown that when athletes use this strategy, they can withstand pain for significantly longer periods of time. It is important to add that there is still much research that needs to be done on the physiological mechanisms and reasoning behind why these strategies work.

Other researchers believe that the idea of pain equalling gain stems from the way people tend to approach exercise in general. Dr. Jeffrey Berg, an orthopaedic sports medicine doctor who formally served as an orthopaedic surgeon and physician for the NFL team Washington Redskins, has devoted much of his research to this idea. He has found that the majority of people don’t ease into exercise as slowly as they should. Putting your muscles through vigorous exercises requires patience and a thorough understanding of your body’s limits. Berg believes that individuals confuse more serious joint, bone, and tendon strains and pains with the less serious DOMS. In actuality, these two types of pain are drastically different: the former is far more dangerous and can lead to lifelong injuries.

The take-home lesson is that before exercising, you should get to know your body. Understand your pain tolerance and limits, and if you’re planning on taking up a sport or serious exercise regime, be sure to get rest and be aware of sports injury rehabilitation. Not all pain will lead to beneficial gains, so prioritize your own health and safety.

Portuguese tuna band performs at U of T

The centuries-old style of music originated as a way for students to earn a living

Portuguese tuna band performs at U of T

On September 25, the Estudantina Universitária de Coimbra traveled from Portugal to U of T to showcase the ‘tuna’ style of music for the students of the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at U of T. This form of music — often performed by groups of university students — is one embedded in Portuguese culture, with origins as early as the thirteenth century. The Estudantina has been so successful that they frequently travel to other countries to share their music.

Tuna first became popular in Portugal when university student musicians would sing in the streets as a means of sustenance. They would receive food or money for their performance from the wealthier people in the town, and since then, students have stopped performing for their livelihood and now play simply out of a love for the music.

The band was founded in 1984 and has since grown to include 200 members. Bruno Sacramento, a band member for two years, believes that even after students leave university, they remain connected to the Estudantina for life. Sacramento described the group as akin to a family.

Joining the Estudantina isn’t limited to music students. In a post-performance interview, the members introduced themselves and their programs of study, revealing their diversity of programs. Some members even learned to play their instrument after joining the band, having limited prior experience.

The Estudantina played a variety of songs in the Victoria College quad, bringing some much needed energy to a swelteringly hot day. Their music ranged from upbeat pieces to traditional love ballads. The usual barrier between the audience and the performers was disregarded in this dynamic performance, with band members pulling students up to dance during fast songs and serenading professors during love ballads. The passion from the Estudantina was undeniable and their energy was contagious, opening the students to a new side of Portuguese culture that they may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Events like these remind students how learning new languages can be so exciting, emphasizing that there is a world vastly different from our own with its own rich beauty. “This type of music is really regarded as a very important symbol within Portuguese cultural heritage,” explained Professor Luciana Graça. “These groups… are authentic ambassadors of our culture, our traditions and, of course, our language.”

Putting language in context not only strengthened the students’ Portuguese language skills, but allowed them to see a global view of Portuguese culture.