From accessible design to frontline retail's COVID challenges: Dal award recipients explore critical social issues

Learn about Dal's latest SSHRC funded projects

- September 29, 2021

Dal researcher Haorui Wu explores how frontline retail workers were impacted by demands placed on them during the pandemic in a newly funded project. (Artem Beliaikin photo/Pexels)
Dal researcher Haorui Wu explores how frontline retail workers were impacted by demands placed on them during the pandemic in a newly funded project. (Artem Beliaikin photo/Pexels)

More than a dozen researchers from Dalhousie have received funding for novel social sciences and humanities projects that will explore such things as accessible design standards for an aging population to the challenges of being a frontline retail worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirteen selected projects received almost $791,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grants program, which distributed $39.5 million in total to 662 recipients. Two additional Dal projects were awarded a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant and a SSHRC Connection grant.

SSHRC is one of the three federal granting councils responsible for supporting the researchers and scholars who are strengthening science and evidence-based decision-making, while nurturing a culture of curiosity in Canada. Insight Development Grants are available to both emerging and established scholars for research initiatives of up to two years. These grants support research in its early stages, enabling the development of new research questions, methods, and ideas. Partnership Engage Grants provide support for research that will inform decision-making at a partner organization while Connection Grants support activities that facilitate the exchange of research knowledge.

“Congratulations to our latest SSHRC grant awardees,” says Alice Aiken, vice president research and innovation at Dal. “This essential funding allows our researchers to do important, early stage inquiry that will ultimately lead to a deeper understanding of how we interact with each other and with the world around us.”

Highlights of some of the successfully funded projects:

Olabisi Akinkugbe

Assistant Professor Viscount Bennett Professor of Law, Schulich School of Law

This research project will examine Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) in Nigeria and Ghana, the broader implications of IFFs for intra­African trade between the two countries and the potential impact on their sustainable development.

Illicit Financial Flows are transnational in nature and classified into four broad categories, including tax and commercial practices, illegal markets, theft­related and terrorism financing, and corruption. IFFs have far reaching impacts on the socio­economic development of developing countries.

The illicit activities of companies and business actors that trade between these two countries have led to different problems culminating in ‘regional trade wars.’ Dr. Olabisi Akinkugbe will visit Nigeria and Ghana to interview officials in the public and private sector, followed by an analysis based on the interviews.

Anika Cloutier

Assistant Professor, Rowe School of Business

Have you ever wondered how your boss attained their leadership role? Or why one of your colleagues was overlooked for a leadership position?

Such questions have for decades been a major focus of leadership research, which has overwhelmingly considered the stable traits that predict leader role occupancy. But one attribute that has not been considered is one’s mental health. The purpose of this research is to investigate how employees’ mental health affects their likelihood of attaining a leadership role.

Dr. Anika Cloutier will examine the idea that well­being may be an attribute that facilitates leader role occupancy while mental illness symptoms may derail emergence into a leadership role. She will establish whether those with a history of high well­being occupy more leadership roles later in life, while those with a history of mental illness occupy fewer.

Dr. Cloutier will also explore whether well­being and mental illness determine who applies to leadership roles and whether indicators of well­being and mental illness determine who is selected into leadership roles by committee members.

Sean Mackinnon

Senior Instructor, Faculty of Science

Statistics anxiety is a common fear for many students, involving a combination of performance fears, negative attitudes and poor self­concept in the domain of statistics education.

Dr. Sean Mackinnon will examine personality traits as risk factors for heightened statistics anxiety. Using a vulnerability stress model, he proposes that students high in personality risk factors will experience a disproportionate amount of statistics anxiety after receiving negative feedback about their statistics performance.

Understanding the interaction between personality and statistics assessment performance when predicting statistics anxiety will help statistics instructors identify at risk students. It may also help improve their teaching by providing them with a better understanding of the types of students who may be especially anxious.

Sandra Meier

Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine

Social interactions are essential to all aspects of our being, with social isolation known to serve as a key trigger for poorer mental wellbeing. Youth who receive less social support, have fewer friends and possess limited social competencies are more likely to experience emotional problems. However, few studies have examined why such youth are less successful in their social interactions. One theory is that the core problem lies in the perception of social cues and attentional bias which impact youth's ability to understand or recognize the emotions of their social interaction partners.

Dr. Sandra Meier will lead a research program aimed at employing static, dynamic and online stimuli to study attentional biases’ effects on subjective and objective problems in social interactions and mental well-being.

The proposed research will target 90 youth, who will provide reports on their social interaction and mental well-being. Youth will participate in experiments that use eye­tracking technology to measure attention to static, dynamic and online social stimuli. They will also use a mobile sensing app on their phone that objectively records their social interactions for two weeks.

The project brings a novel social psychological perspective to the study of social interactions by examining the potential effect of attentional biases in online social interactions. If attentional bias is an underlying problem in online social interactions this research may identify intervention targets.

Mikiko Terashima

Associate Professor, Faculty of Architecture and Planning

Adults 65 and older are the fastest growing age demographic in Canada and by 2036 will account for nearly a quarter of the Canadian population. Because of that, it is increasingly important to make sure the built environment accommodates the need for enhanced accessibility and allows persons with disabilities to interact with the outside world.

This research project will pilot a new type of accessible design standards based on lived experience while systematically showing visual case examples as a tool to better inform practices of planning, designing and building accessible spaces.

The research is novel in that it attempts to remedy the disconnect between the theory and practice of accessible space creation. The case examples the team will compile will show how the principles of design in theory contrast with the lived experience, and what public spaces can and should look like in reality.

Haorui Wu

Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Resilience, Faculty of Health

It quickly became clear as COVID-19 spread throughout the world that essential workers played an invaluable role in addressing the spreading virus. It also became clear that most citizens had great appreciation for their work, particularly those in healthcare. Frontline retail workers (FRWs) were, however, often given less attention despite being in roles that placed them at risk.

Dr. Haorui Wu and colleagues will look into this issue by measuring FRWs’ individual­/work-­family challenges during the pandemic. This interdisciplinary collaboration will carry out an online survey with FRWs to examine the coronavirus challenges they confront in the workplace, while trying to protect themselves and their families; analyse the impacts of these challenges on their own and their families’ overall well­being; and provide empirical evidence to apply at work and home to help manage the current crisis and potential future extreme events.

It is anticipated that the findings will enable the retail, other sectors and policy makers to improve workplace conditions for essential frontline retail workers.

The following researchers from Dal also received SSHRC Insight Development Grants:

·       Jonathan Anim Amoyaw, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

·       Colin Conrad, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Management

·       Jonathan Ferrier, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science

·       Shuna Ho, Assistant Professor, Rowe School of Business

·       Eric Poitras, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Computer Science

·       Drew Weatherhead, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science

·       Weina Zhou, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science

In addition, Dr. Joyline Makani (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Management and Killam Librarian) was awarded a SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant and Dr. Heidi Weigand (Assistant Professor Faculty of Management) was awarded a SSHRC Connection Grant.

For more information, visit the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s website.


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