McGill researchers share their knowledge as a service to society

Winners and runners-up of 2022 Principal’s Prize for Public Engagement Through Media named
Principal Suzanne Fortier announces the 2022 winners of the Principal’s Prize for Public Engagement through Media at the Faculty ClubOwen Egan / Joni Dufour

Whether it was by creating access to self-care, working to eliminate stigma in women’s health, or providing thoughtful commentary on topics ranging from the spread of COVID-19 to how the government spends its money, McGill researchers have once again gone above and beyond to share their knowledge and be of service to society this academic year.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier has announced the 2022 winners of the Principal’s Prize for Public Engagement through Media. The prize was created six years ago to recognize exceptional scholars from across academic fields who share their knowledge with the media and the public. The competition, in which awards are given to individuals and groups at all stages in their academic careers, underlines the University’s commitment to public-facing scholarship.

“I know [working with the media] takes time away from your time and your service to the university, but it’s important,” said Principal Fortier at the award ceremony on April 29 at the McGill Faculty Club. “I congratulate you, but mostly, I thank you.”

There were 87 applications across categories this year. Those of us who work in the Media Relations Office know the number of requests coming from media for McGill experts remains high. We appreciate that there are many others across the university who didn’t apply for the prize this year, but who have consistently and generously responded to these requests.

Working to eliminate stigma in women’s health

The winner of this year’s Prize for Groups is Medical Herstory, an organization that works to eliminate sexism, shame and stigma from women’s health experiences through storytelling, medical education, and patient advocacy. The jury was impressed by the many techniques and platforms the group used for exchanges on topics relating to women’s health.

The runners-up were Brain Reach, who work with large numbers of volunteers to inspire a love of science and neuroscience in particular in students of all ages and at all stages, and Sex[M]ed, whose mission is to provide comprehensive, inclusive, and diverse sexual health education to healthcare practitioners and trainees.

The self-care spotlight

The number of applicants for the Prize for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows grew significantly this year, with a total of 38 applications – the highest number ever.

This year’s prize is awarded to Stephanie Zito, a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology who, building from her own experiences of anxiety during the pandemic, created the self-care spotlight to share evidence-based information, mainly through social media, about healthy coping mechanisms with students and schools.

“It feels great to be recognized for an initiative that not only aims to bridge the gap between research and the public but also de-stigmatizes talking about mental health openly and honestly,” said Zito.

As runners-up, the jury chose Alexandre Grant, a master’s student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology who has dedicated himself to supporting and educating rare disease patients on their conditions, and Anais Remili, a postdoctoral candidate in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences who launched a science communication platform, Whale Scientists, to give early-career marine mammalogists a voice and allow them to share their knowledge with an international audience

COVID-19 and children

Jesse Papenburg, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics wins the Prize for Emerging Researchers. His ongoing presence in social and traditional media has provided the public with information on the science behind COVID-19 and the uncertainties of school attendance for children.

“For the past two years, as a pediatric infectious disease specialist, it just seems like there’s been no end to the amount of work that I could do,” said Papenburg. “To have this external recognition, I’m very grateful.”

The runners-up were Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies, who is compelled by the persistence of race-based inequities to share his expertise with the public in the hopes of inspiring change, and Ananya Banerjee, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, who highlighted the ongoing structural racism and health inequities among marginalized groups in Canada and globally.

Political perspectives

The winner of the Prize for Established Academics is Daniel Béland, James McGill Professor, in the Department of Political Science and Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. In choosing him as the winner, the jury underlined his extensive presence in local, national and international media. They noted that Béland presented well-informed views about a wide range of political topics – from the federal budget to the trucker convoy in Ottawa – in a thorough and accessible way.

The runners-up in the category this year were Parisa Ariya, Full Professor in Departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Chemistry, who shared important information about aerosol transmission and pandemic management, Catherine Hankins, Full Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health who co-chaired Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, and Taylor Owen, Associate Professor, Max Bell School of Public Policy, who built the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy.

Our 2022 Changemaker: Cindy Blackstock

The Changemaker Prize is one for which you cannot apply but must be nominated and is awarded on an occasional basis to individuals whose dedication to sharing their knowledge with the media and the public has had a major impact on society. Professor Cindy Blackstock is our 2022 Changemaker.

Professor Blackstock is a Full Professor in the School of Social Work. Her dedication and outstanding work with media over the past years has drawn attention to the systemic inequities faced by Indigenous children. She is committed to the idea that education lies at the heart of reconciliation, and her media work has played and important role in effecting important changes in policy, most notably in relation to this year’s $40 billion federal settlement for Indigenous welfare.

“What a privilege it’s been to work in the company of the collective of the ancestors and in light of  the spirits of the children in the unmarked graves, who left us a legacy to do the work to ensure this is a generation of First Nations children who don’t have to recover from their childhoods,” said Blackstock. “That is not the work of one person; it is indeed the work of a country.”

Read the press release.