Recognizing 2019‑20’s major graduate student award winners

- May 28, 2020

Grad student award winers (left to right) Beth Castle, Brandi Estey-Burtt, Britney Benoit and Kayla Joyce. (Provided photos)
Grad student award winers (left to right) Beth Castle, Brandi Estey-Burtt, Britney Benoit and Kayla Joyce. (Provided photos)

Dal’s outstanding graduate students may be celebrating graduation virtually this year, but the achievement is no less significant— and that’s even truer for Dal’s grad student award winners.

Announced at the end of each academic year, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) presented this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medals to Kayla Joyce from Psychiatry and Beth Castle from Microbiology & Immunology. The awards are given to the university’s most outstanding master’s graduates.

The Dalhousie Doctoral Thesis Awards went to PhD graduates Brandi Estey-Burtt from English and Britney Benoit from Nursing. They are also the university’s nominees for the 2020 Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS), which will be announced later this year.

The four winners are starting the next phase of their careers but were nevertheless happy to reflect on their time at Dal upon hearing the news of their awards.

Governor General’s Gold Medal: Humanities and Social Sciences

Kayla Joyce, Psychiatry

In a “state of disbelief” after hearing that she had won the Governor General’s Gold Medal, Joyce dedicated the win to every student who has struggled with their mental health during their degree program.

“While completing my MSc degree, I was faced with some of the most difficult and trying times of my life with respect to my own mental health and family circumstances,” said Joyce. “To have been awarded such a medal has really made me aware of my own resilience and perseverance. To anyone else who was, or is struggling, during their degree, you’re not alone. Reach out to those closest to you for help. This is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Joyce credited her supervisor, Dr. Sherry Stewart, and committee members Drs. Kim Good and Philip Tibbo for keeping her on track while she completed her thesis. Now living in Winnipeg, Joyce is completing her MA/PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba with the goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.

Governor General’s Gold Medal: Natural Sciences and Engineering

Beth Castle, Microbiology & Immunology

Upon being notified of her win earlier this month, Castle said she is “flattered and grateful to have received this award.”

“In working beside other graduate students, I have seen the effort, dedication and scientific thought that goes into this kind of research. It is an absolute honor to be recognized for my work while among incredible peers.”
While noting there is a long list of people who have supported her during her time at Dalhousie, Castle offered a special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Corcoran, “a phenomenal supervisor and mentor, whose thoughtful and considerate leadership made her lab a wonderful space to learn.”

Now enrolled in a PhD program in stem cell bioengineering at the University of British Columbia, Castle says she is currently working on a project to understand some of the key factors that drive the development of human blood cells.

Dalhousie Doctoral Thesis Award: Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Brandi Estey-Burtt, English

Dr. Estey-Burtt credits her committee members – Drs. Alyda Faber and Dorota Glowacka, and her supervisor, Dr. Alice Brittan – for their “rigorous thinking, generosity, and strong commitment to practices of justice and care” while working on her thesis, which is titled When the Messiah Comes: The Postsecular Messianic in Contemporary Literature. She also noted the support of her partner, Jon LeBlanc, with whom she recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.

Dr. Estey-Burtt is now a research associate with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick and the managing editor of Narrative Works, and a research consultant for various pedagogy projects. Saying that she “can’t quite leave writing behind,” she’s also working on her first book.

Dalhousie Doctoral Thesis Award: Engineering, Medical Sciences and Natural Science

Britney Benoit, Nursing

Dr. Benoit’s dissertation work focused on a clinical intervention trial completed with newborn infants comparing two pain-relieving interventions on neonatal physiological and behavioural measures of pain. The research was supported by research lab colleagues and clinical team members at the IWK Health Centre and involved the participation of families with newborn infants. Receiving the Dalhousie Doctoral Thesis Award was “very fulfilling,” said Dr. Benoit, who thanked her supervisors, Drs. Marsha Campbell-Yeo and Ruth Martin-Misener, and committee members, Drs. Aaron Newman and Margot Latimer.

Now a tenure-track assistant professor and Nova Scotia Health Authority Sciences Research Chair in the Rankin School of Nursing at St. Francis Xavier University, Dr. Benoit is happy to have taken the next steps in her career. “I feel very privileged to be able to complete clinical research to optimize maternal-infant health as well as my passion for nursing research and scholarship with students.”


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