The OpenThink Initiative

Are you an OpenThinker?

Offered by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the OpenThink Initiative empowers a select group of PhD researchers to engage with communities beyond the university. Dal's OpenThinkers are equipped with the communication skills and platform necessary to inform public discourse and influence policy. 

The application deadline has now passed. We look forward to announcing the 10 OpenThinkers in January 2020.

What does it mean to be an OpenThinker?

Guided by communications experts from Dal, the University of King's College and NATIONAL Public Relations, OpenThinkers receive training in how to reach public audiences and share their knowledge. They participate in a series of communications skill-building workshops during a one-year term.

In return, they become ambassadors for graduate studies at Dal and for their own work by sharing their research and ideas via social media, blogs, public speaking opportunities, media interviews, articles and op-eds.

Learn more about what you'll do as an OpenThinker

Why it pays to OpenThink

First, it actually does pay. As an OpenThinker you will receive a scholarship of $1,500 and are eligible to apply for OpenThink funding to travel to relevant conferences and workshops. And, because of the emphasis on actually creating products, you will graduate with rich experiences and hard skills you can take into your career.

Whether choosing a life in academia, industry or beyond, employers are searching for people with the ability to communicate complex ideas to the public. OpenThinkers build a CV and skills that get noticed.

Meet OpenThinkers from the 2018-2019 pilot program

Jenny Weitzman

Shaping our sustainable seafood sector 


Fish farming is a growing industry in Atlantic Canada that brings millions of dollars into the economy and can improve the livelihoods of people throughout the region. But it also comes with environmental and social risks which have put the industry in a negative media spotlight and threatened its growth.  My research seeks to build a framework to help guide decisions about where and how to develop fish farms to ensure they are in balance with the natural environment and communities that surround them. Fish farming is caught between many stakeholders with different values, interests, and priorities. There is a way to satisfy these potentially conflicting priorities, and my research is focused on finding it. Ultimately, my research supports a fish farming industry in Atlantic Canada that can provide stable jobs for the future, promote economic growth, and maintain social and environmental integrity in coastal communities.

Learn more about Jenny's research at Science Direct

Read Jenny's article on responsible fish consumption in The Conversation


Colin Conrad

What happens when you don’t pay attention?


It seems obvious that our ability to pay attention affects how well we learn from e-learning technology. However, scientists don’t have much evidence to support this intuition because we can’t measure attention easily. I have developed a novel way to measure attention during e-learning using Electroencephalography (EEG) and artificial intelligence. Using this method, I can see how attention changes throughout e-learning videos and how it impacts our ability to learn. I am also using this technology to build a new type of e-learning software that adapts to users’ attention state. This new generation of adaptive e-learning technology may ultimately lead to e-learning systems that can better keep our attention and teach more effectively. 

Grant Sullivan

How do we move jobs to rural regions?


Halifax and other Atlantic Canada cities are relatively small villages within a global context.  This presents challenges but also many opportunities.  Knowledge workers participate in the global market using their intellectual expertise.  I have helped to attract them to this region for over 15 years and I know there is a competitive process when firms choose a region to supply their knowledge workers. It is imperative to understand what influences leaders to move their knowledge work to Atlantic Canada and similar regions so we can improve our prospects for growth.  My research has highlighted areas for action such as an Ambassador program (ensuring potential new firms have an independent experienced professional to help them review their fit with our region), workforce development programs (directly supporting firms that leverage and develop human capital), and client visit processes (where there is an active link between the client’s experiences and further improvements). If we get it right, we could attract billions of new dollars into our local economy and improve the lives of Atlantic Canadians. We can also help other “small villages” to get it right too.

Emily Pelley

Young refugees in Halifax: where is the support?


Canada has long been a haven for refugees looking to start a new life. Many of these refugees are children and youth displaced by war and armed conflict. Yet we still do not know a lot about young people who have fled violent conflict and been resettled in Canada. My research is looking at how smaller cities, like Halifax, respond to them. I want to understand what we have in place to support refugee youth as they settle in their new home, and where the gaps are. Sharing these findings with service providers and policy makers will help us to do a better job of  supporting the integration of young newcomers in our communities. We need to make sure we do right by our newcomer youth, because their future is Canada’s future.

Read more about Emily`s research in The Conversation

Emily's paper on Refugee Youth is published in Policy Options

Madumani Amararathna

Let’s eat nature’s medicine, “HASKAP” berries.

Cancer has become an epidemic today. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly half of Canadians are at risk of getting cancer at some point in their lifetime. Standard cancer therapies used in clinics cause adverse side effects, which can be very hard to manage. As a cancer survivor, I am keen to explore less harmful natural remedies for cancer prevention and as an addition to standard treatments. Dietary bioactives have gained increasing attention due to their health beneficial effects. My research investigates the chemopreventive ability of haskap, a berry fruit grown in Nova Scotia, in reducing lung carcinogenesis. My research has the potential to give Canadians a brand new (and very tasty) way to combat cancer.

Read about Madumani`s prestigious award

Lindsay Wallace

Dementia in the elderly: what contributes?


As our population ages, the number of people developing dementia is higher than ever. Alzheimer’s disease is the #1 cause of dementia and there is no effective treatment. Many clinical trials have failed, likely because they target specific mechanisms that have been thought of as the ‘hallmark features’ of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, these hallmark features in the brain are not always good at predicting who will experience symptoms of dementia. I investigate the role that frailty plays in the expression of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease. Particularly, how the hallmark features of Alzheimer’s interact with frailty to produce dementia. Understanding mechanisms of dementia development are important clinically: preventing frailty may reduce the burden of dementia; and in research: designing clinical trials that embrace the complexity of age-related disease, such as dementia, will help identify more meaningful treatment targets. I hope this research will help to prevent dementia and improve treatment options.

Read about Lindsay's groundbreaking research findings featured in the Lancet, The Chronicle Herald, and more. 

David Foster

If we don't cut down the trees, what will we drink?


In water-rich Canada, we often take for granted the need for sustainable and clean drinking water. Forested watersheds like those common to Nova Scotia help provide clean water, but natural processes can also complicate treatment and increase costs. Locally, Halifax Water is aware of these challenges and already monitors Halifax’s water supply area. However, they constantly seek new environmental management tools to address emerging risks, such as climate change. My research combines knowledge from forest management and the study of water to help us make water treatment less expensive and maintain healthy and diverse forest ecosystems, while anticipating the challenges of climate change. Ultimately, I hope to show how sustainable forest management can contribute to the reliability of our drinking water supply. Ensuring cost-effective, clean, and reliable water is of vital importance, and, in the face of a changing climate, requires new tools for effective management. 

Read David`s recently published article in Atlantic Forestry Review