Sociologist recognized by two scholarly societies

- Brad Buie

Six UVic researchers named to Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Science. Cecilia Benoit joins both.

Six UVic faculty members have swelled the ranks of two of Canada’s foremost scholarly academies, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS). The Royal Society—the senior body of distinguished scholars, artists and scientists in Canada—has named professors Cecilia Benoit, Ned Djilali and Judy Fudge to join their body as Fellows. CAHS, which provides assessment and advice on health issues relevant to Canadians, has named professors Benoit, Neena Chappell, Scott Hofer and Christoph Borchers as Fellows.

The election of Benoit, Chappell, Hofer and Borchers more than doubles the university’s representation at CAHS, where they join UVic’s Timothy Stockwell, Jeff Reading and Irving Rootman. “These four new Fellows are acknowledged leaders in their fields,” says Howard Brunt, Vice-President Research. “Their presence in this academy will help ensure health issues relevant to Canadians are addressed from a collective, multi-disciplinary voice.”

“I am deeply honoured to be elected to these national bodies,” says Benoit, who was elected to both. “I have learned they often work hand-in-hand to provide evidence-based reports on urgent health and social issues.”

Understanding marginalized populations

A sociologist and a scientist with UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Benoit has moved Canada a great distance towards understanding how the law, gender inequality and stigmatization affect the health and safety of vulnerable populations, including Aboriginal women and families, adults in the sex industry, substance-using pregnant women and street-involved youth. She wrote the first scholarly book on midwifery, the age-old female-dominated occupation that had become outlawed in much of the country. This and subsequent work laid the foundation for provincial legislation to legalize midwifery and for training programs to revive the practice.

Benoit’s insights have not been limited to her home or discipline. She has established close relationships with colleagues in Europe and Asia, agency partners, and the communities for which she displays such tremendous compassion.  As such, she has garnered considerable recognition both inside and outside of the academy, including the 2006 Royal Society Award in Gender Studies and a 2010 BC Community Achievement Award.

Engineering a greener future

Djilali was elected to the Royal Society under its Division of Applied Sciences and Engineering. He came to UVic’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1991 from the aerospace division of Bombardier and has since served as the Associate Dean of Engineering, as Executive Director of UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems, and as President of the Computational Fluid Dynamics Society of Canada. Djilali’s research concerns span electrochemical energy conversion, water purification, integration of renewable energy in smart grids and semi-conductor crystal growth—all areas that can fundamentally change the world for the better.

The RSC particularly acknowledged Djilali’s range of scholarly work, citing in particular his pioneering research on fuel cells. He combines theory, experiment, advanced diagnostics and simulations—including computational fluid dynamics—to answer questions about transport phenomena in fuel cells. His goal is to improve the architecture of fuel cells, increasing their performance and durability while decreasing their cost. Ultimately, these solutions will lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. The society noted that Djilali, through his research, had already made “major contributions towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

A leading social justice advocate

Fudge is an eminent legal scholar who has contributed to labour law in Canada, the European Union and at the international level.  Though she recently relocated to the University of Kent in the UK, she maintains the position of adjunct professor at UVic and continues to supervise graduate students. Her research interests— including labour regulation, feminist legal theory, constitutionalizing labour law, migrant work, and law and globalization—are marked by a passion for social justice. Her achievements were duly recognized when she received the SSHRC 2009 Bora Laskin National Fellowship in Human Rights.

Her passion also extends to the public arena. She has served as an expert witness in litigation in the Supreme Court of Canada and as an advocate in campaigns on behalf of workers. In her Royal Society citation, she is regarded as having “revitalized the field of labour law worldwide by providing an innovative approach to the regulation of work in contemporary labour markets.”

CAHS broadens its attention to health and wellness research

The three other faculty members elected to CAHS also display the diversity of research at UVic. Chappell, Canadian Research Chair in Social Gernontology and Professor of Sociology, is well known as a national leader in her discipline. Her research focuses on the aging population and how quality of life can be maintained when one does need health care. One of her projects examines caregivers’ perceptions of Alzheimer’s drug therapy from the perspective of the caregiver, something no researcher has done before. These caregivers offer insights that clinical assessments cannot measure. Chappell reminds us that though our bodies decline as we age, we continue to evolve and grow in experience, and that the community should value the contributions of our aging population. Even before her election to CAHS, Chappell participated on one of its expert panels. She says being named a Fellow is “an honour and a bonus. Those of us heavily committed to research find satisfaction in the endeavour itself —the discovery of new knowledge. To be recognized by one’s peers is not expected but greatly appreciated.”

Hofer is Professor and Mohr Research Chair in Adult Development and Aging in the Department of Psychology and Centre on Aging. His research focuses on cutting-edge questions of health and cognition over our lifespans—and his laboratory is massive. The Integrative Analysis of Longitudinal Studies on Aging network is comprised of more than 40 longitudinal studies, spanning eight countries, with a combined sample size of about 70,000 individuals. Data has already been collected on individuals aged 18 to over 100 with birth cohorts ranging from 1880 to 1980. The wealth of information has spurred Hofer on to further research on the early detection of health conditions such as dementia. “I am delighted to be a fellow of the CAHS and to have an opportunity to interact with others across Canada to improve the health of Canadians,” says Hofer. “This opportunity has already led to a potential research collaboration with another fellow of CAHS, related to the work of one of my graduate students.”

As Director of the UVic Genome BC Proteomics Centre, Christoph Borchers presides over a world-class facility with the highest concentration of state-of-the-art mass spectrometers of any Canadian university. His own research employs mass spectrometers for a variety of health-related applications, including identification of thousands of biomarkers. These biomarkers are key to diagnosis of diseases, such as diabetes. He and his team are also developing and implementing clinical assays through collaboration with clinical chemistry labs at hospitals in Victoria, Vancouver and Montreal. In 2011, Borchers was appointed the Don and Eleanor Rix BC Leadership Chair in Biomedical and Environmental Proteomics. The $4.5-million endowment will in part further advance Borchers’ research in health. Strongly committed to service, Borchers views CAHS as the ideal forum to assist other Fellows in evaluating developments in science and technology for their potential positive impact on Canadian health care.


In this story

Keywords: Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Health Science

People: Cecilia Benoit, Ned Djilali, Judy Fudge, Neena Chappell, Scott Hofer, Christoph Borchers, Timothy Stockwell, Jeff Reading, Irving Rootman

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