Graduate Speaker Series


The Graduate Speaker Series is a monthly event held at Grad Room. It invites graduate students from all departments of the University of Toronto to discuss their research and ideas in an environment that encourages interdisciplinary learning and intellectual dialogue.

Every month, Grad Room selects a topic and invites two graduate students to come and present their ideas, their hypotheses and research to a general audience of graduate students. We hope that students will be able to learn about the research in academic disciplines other than their own, and that these discoveries may open doors for interdisciplinary learning and collaborations. For the presenters, it is a great opportunity for improving presentation skills and sharing research in non-technical terms.

Grad Room hopes to make the Graduate Speaker Series a permanent fixture of its programming, and we hope that students will take the initiative to come talk to other students about their research, their ideas and their hypotheses.

... So come to the Grad Room and let's talk!

We are always looking for graduate students to present at the Graduate Speaker Series. All graduate students (Master's and PhDs) at any stage of their degree are welcome to present. If you are interested in presenting your research at the Graduate Speaker Series, please email Sofiia or Liam at or


Join us on in January 2019 for our next Graduate Speaker Series.

Past Events


December 4, 2018 6-7:30pm

Emily Blamire, PhD candidate (Department of Linguistics)
Judging talkers: how speech affects our perceptions of each other

Humans convey a great deal of information with their speech, far beyond the actual messages we say with our words.  Small changes in the sounds of our speech can have large and wide-ranging effects on how we are perceived as people.  Humans can not only recognize familiar individuals from just hearing their voices, but we can also make various judgements about a person’s emotional state, gender, and age, and even judge attributes such as attractiveness and personality.  Using data from perception experiments, this talk explores which aspects of the speech stream we are listening to when we make some these judgments, as well as how we go about recognizing the voices of people we have had limited exposure to.

Julien Carrier, PhD candidate (Department of Linguistics)
Cultural renewal and language changes in Inuktitut

Inhabiting the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, the Inuit did not face the same socio-cultural and historical changes that most other Indigenous groups in North America had already experienced until the beginning of the 20thcentury when traders and missionaries began to take an interest in them. In fact, Inuit language varieties are believed to have remained quite similar until 1900 and to have diverged rapidly afterwards following these numerous transformations (cf. Dorais 1993, 2010). Indeed, many studies on the Inuit language report on dialectal distinctions and language changes (e.g., Johns 1999; Carrier 2012; Yuan 2018), but none of them present detailed statistics to support their claims or establish correlations with socio-historical factors. On the other hand, there are sociolinguistic studies that analyze the socio-cultural or historical changes that the Inuit have gone through, like the increasing bilingualism across the Inuit population (cf. Dorais &Sammons 2000; Patrick 2003), but no study has ever made a convincing correlation between them and dialectal distinctions or language changes. My dissertation fills this research gap. In this talk, I present and discuss results of my statistical analysis in North Baffin Inuktitut with natural data across speakers born between 1902 and 1998, and the interaction between some language changes observed in this Inuktitut dialect and different social and linguistic factors. 

November 6, 6-7:30 pm

Matthew Marinett (SJD Candidate, Faculty of Law)
"Competition among Social Media Companies as Internet Regulators"

Increasing academic and mainstream attention is being paid to the reality that social media companies are acting as de facto regulators of Internet content. The vast user-bases of services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, and the power of network effects to maintain their user bases, give them the ability to regulate users' privacy, speech, and use of intellectual property. However, the policies and enforcement mechanisms between social media platforms differ considerably. For example, Facebook has increasingly attempted to crack down on hate speech, fake news, and obscenity, while Twitter has been far more reticent to do so. In the intellectual property space, YouTube's Content ID system has created a unique enforcement mechanism that may be widely copied in the future. This presentation considers whether innovative or user-preferred regulatory policies and enforcement mechanisms are, or can be, significant competitive advantages in the social media space. It concludes that despite some evidence of user migration based on policy differences, recent events, as well as academic work on privacy policies end-user license agreements, suggest that policies and enforcement mechanisms are more likely to respond to governmental intervention than user preference. The presentation then offers some possible reasons why users are unlikely to make choices based on social media regulatory policy and enforcement.

Patrick Garon-Sayegh (SJD Candidate, Faculty of Law)
"Uncertainty, Expertise and the Law"

We live in times of unprecedented techno-scientific evolution. And with this evolution comes a multitude of risks--both known and unknown. We expect the law to regulate some of these risks. But in order to regulate, law-makers need guidance with respect to the nature of the risks and the extent of the uncertainty surrounding them. This presentation discusses the role of techno-scientific experts in law-making. It will outline why experts are needed, and highlight the complexity of the task of crafting laws to manage techno-science, its risks and its uncertainties.

October 2, 6-7:30 pm

Topic: Biomedical Engineering

Nathan Soucier
MASc student, Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engeering

Meghan Wright
PhD candidate, Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engeering

June 6, 5:30-7 pm

Samantha Chang, PhD candidate, Graduate Department of Art
"Listening to Painting: Intersensoriality and Correspondences between Music and the Visual Art"

Representation of music in painting acknowledges the interactivity of the senses. Rather than relying on the sense of sight as the basis of the interaction with images, depictions of musical instruments and sheet music unifies the senses of hearing and touch. Drawing on Baxandall's concept of the "period eye," this paper will explore the intersensoriality and correspondences between music and the visual arts in the sixteenth century through a "period ear" and a "period skin." The great attention to acoustic openness in the sixteenth century can be credited to the development in religious discourse and early modern science. The rise of Protestant theologies and the discovery of the Eustachian tube in the mid-sixteenth century contributed to the rising interest in the ear and the sense of hearing (McDermott 2013). Although it is often assumed that music is an art of the ear and painting an art of the eye (Howes 2017), a reexamination on the interrelationships between music and painting will offer insight on the purpose and the reception of music in the visual arts in the early modern period.

Margeaux Feldman
PhD candidate, Department of English, Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies
"#hospitalglam: Documenting Chronic Illness on Instagram"

Margeaux's dissertation, "Hideous Girls, Sick Women: Refiguring Intimacy and Sexuality in America," traces the long history of pathologizing female adolescent sexuality, beginning with Freud and Breuer's work on hysteria at the turn of the 20th century. Margeaux then looks at stories of teenage pregnancy, depictions of female friendship, and the criticisms thrown at young women authors who write about sex in order to argue this pathologizing is still alive and well today. Her dissertation ends with an analysis of chronic illness memoirs and instagram, arguing that hideous girls and sick women are  using social media to reclaim the figure of the hysteric and foster new forms of intimacy. 

March 275:30-7:30 pm
Topic: Healthcare Technology and Bioengineering

Stephanie Cheung, PhD candidate, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering

"Perturbing children's voices to learn how they speak"

Auditory feedback, the sound of our own voices, is an important source of information for the correct production of speech sounds. To understand how this feedback contributes to speech development, children's auditory feedback can be experimentally perturbed in real time, and their compensatory speech productions recorded and analyzed. Novel analyses methods reveal that younger and older children may compensate differently, suggesting that auditory feedback plays different roles in the children's speech as they mature.

Rachel Reding, MHSc candidate, Clinical Engineering
"Designing a wearable device to monitor the performance of prosthetic knees"

Approximately one in every 150 North Americans currently live with an amputation, 20% of which have an amputation above the knee. Above-knee amputees rely on prosthetic knees among other components (foot, socket, pylon, etc.) for ambulation. Studying how these knees perform and tuning the knee to provide amputees with a gait as optimal as possible can be a challenge given that gait analysis equipment is expensive, and a large portion of amputees live in the developing world with limited or no access to advanced measurement resources. Moreover, a system does not currently exist that can directly monitor the internal components of a prosthetic knee during daily gait activities. To solve this problem, this research provides a proof-of-concept device, usable in a wide variety of environments, which directly measures the function of the prosthetic knee. The goal for the final device is to be sent to countries around the world to gather data from a vast number of amputees, and to use this data for improving current and future prosthetic knee designs.

February 27, 5:30-7:30 pm
Topic: Social Innovation, Education and Literacy

Keita Demming, PhD OISE
"Building the future through social innovation"

Social innovation is a yet another site of struggle. Popular discourse frames social innovation as space of benevolence. Like a hammer, social innovation can be used to build beautiful things or can be used to destroy. Social innovation is about systems change and transformation. For social innovation to become a field or discipline, it must move beyond a discourse of benevolence. Social innovation is a framework for building the future. It is still to be determined if that future will be judged as positive, however we define the future.

Audrey Gardner, PhD candidate, OISE
"Embodied Knowing and Measured Deficits: Whose Knowledge Counts in Adult Literacy?"    

Hear Audrey present her thesis research on the (dis)connections between current policy about the meaning and measuring of literacy and learning and the self-knowledge of adult literacy learners. Drawing on concepts from New Literacy Studies and Disability Studies, and using Narrative Inquiry approaches, she will discuss how the prevailing norming practices in adult literacy policy discourse objectify and shame learners, treat them as bodies of deficiency, and obscure the embodied process of learning. She will also contrast such constructs of measured deficits with adult literacy learners embodied knowledge, particularly how they make meaning of their own literacy and learning.

January 30, 5:30-7:30 pm
Topic: Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence 

Dr. Makarand Tapaswi (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Computer Science)
"MovieGraphs: Understanding Human-Centric Situations from Videos"

Socially intelligent robots is an interesting avenue in artificial intelligence. This requires machines to have the ability to "read" people's emotions, motivations, and other factors that affect behavior. Towards this goal, we introduce a novel dataset called MovieGraphs which provides detailed graph-based annotations of social situations depicted in movie clips. These graphs capture details about human interactions, relationships, and also emotions, and are grounded in the video using time stamps. We provide a thorough analysis of our dataset, showing interesting common-sense correlations that emerge between different social aspects of scenes, as well as across scenes over time. We propose a method for querying videos and text with graphs, and show that: 1) our graphs contain rich and sufficient information to summarize and localize each scene; and 2) subgraphs allow us to describe situations at an abstract level and retrieve multiple semantically relevant situations. We also propose methods for interaction understanding via ordering, and reasoning about the social scene.

Justin Boutilier (PhD candidate, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering)
"Emergency Medical Response Optimization in Developing Urban Centres"

The lack of emergency medical transportation is viewed as the main barrier to the access and availability of emergency medical care in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). In this talk, we present a robust optimization approach to optimize both the location and routing of emergency response vehicles, accounting for uncertainty in travel times and spatial demand characteristic of LMICs. We traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, the sixth largest and third most densely populated city in the world, to conduct field research resulting in the collection of two unique datasets that inform our approach. This data is leveraged to develop machine learning methodologies to estimate demand for emergency medical services in a LMIC setting and to predict the travel time between any two locations in the road network for different times of day and days of the week. We combine our robust optimization and machine learning frameworks with real data to provide an in-depth investigation into three policy-related questions. Our results provide practical insights for emergency response optimization that can be leveraged by hospital-based and private ambulance providers in Dhaka and other developing urban centers.


November 2017, 6-7:30 pm

Tuesday, October 17, 6 - 7:30 pm
Global Affairs and the Rule of Law

Haim Abraham, SJD Candidate (Faculty of Law)
"The Combatant Activities Exception and The Rule of Law"

If a person carelessly breaks your arm, she will have to compensate you for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering. This notion is enshrined in tort law, the body of law that is applied by courts in civil cases to provide compensation for individuals wronged by others. Yet, if such injuries are inflicted by states on civilians during war, no compensation is awarded, leaving civilians with no mechanism of obtaining a remedy for their injuries. The reason for this lack of liability lies in the "combatant activities exception" that states have in their domestic legislation, which provides them with blanket immunity from any tort liability for injuries inflicted during war. However, this immunity from liability for losses caused by states during battle is an exception to the rule of law, as it provides states special privileges. Hence, the immunity increases the risk of infringements of rights on the battlefield. This presentation will offer a review of the combatant activities exception and its development. Furthermore, it will demonstrate the risks the exception poses to the rule of law by drawing on examples from Canada, Israel, and the United States.

Omar W. Bitar, MGA (Munk School of Global Affairs)
"Responsibilities Without Rights: Debating the Legality of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)"

Exemplified in recent memory by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) illegal use of force in Kosovo in 1999, "just" military interventions conducted in the name of human protection pose a moral challenge to contemporary international law. The converse scenario, a technically legal albeit iniquitous breach of a state's territorial integrity for humanitarian reasons, is no less problematic. Where moral and legal rationales for employing military means toward humane ends do not overlap, the so-called "humanitarian intervention dilemma" arises from the tension between law as it is and law as it ought to be. In response to the international community's failure to avert multiple instances of mass atrocities in the 1990's, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) arose as a normative attempt to reconcile the moral imperatives of the international human rights regime with the prerogatives of state sovereignty laid out in Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations (UN). By shifting the emphasis from a moral right to intervene to a legal responsibility to protect, R2P's norm entrepreneurs sought to consolidate moral qualifications into an otherwise absolute legal concept of sovereignty, thereby rendering it conditional and dependent for its legitimacy on the fulfilment of the basic duty of human protection. 

While this new language of humanitarian intervention might incentivize states to "work" to achieve the legitimacy of their sovereignty rather than simply take it for granted, I argue that it has failed to address the very question by which it was initially motivated: Under what conditions does the validity of international law become compromised? How one approaches this question determines their legal interpretation of NATO's military interventions in Kosovo and Libya; President Donald Trump's recent military strikes on a government-controlled airbase in Syria; and retroactive justifications of the Iraq War. Largely absent from academic and policy analyses of such contentious cases involving the use of force against a sovereign state, the landmark debate between H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller in 1958 indirectly attempted to address this question by offering competing perspectives on the nature of the relationship between law and morality. In support of my argument, I revive the exchange between the two legal theorists, employing each of Hart's legal positivism and Fuller's natural law theory to reveal the legal shortcomings of R2P as an institutionalized norm of human protection in the international community.

Tuesday, September 19, 6 - 7:30 pm
Astronomy & Astrophysics

Jielai Zhang, PhD candidate (Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics)
"Discovering the unknown unknowns: Milky Way's Dark Twin"

What happens when you can suddenly see parts of the Universe you could never see before? You are bound to learn new things. The Dragonfly Telephoto Array is a novel telescope hidden in high altitude regions of New Mexico, USA. It has been observing the faintest, never seen before parts of the Universe for the last 5 years. In this talk, you will learn about the new discoveries made by this telescope, including Milky Way's dark twin.

Ryan Cloutier, PhD candidate (Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics)
"The Long Path Towards Finding Habitable Exo-Worlds"
Although we are still decades away from discovering life on worlds outside of our own solar system, much progress is being made today to identify the best potential candidates for hosting such life. In this talk I will discuss what we currently know about so-called exoplanets and how we know it. I will then highlight the steps that will be taken in the not-so-distant future to further our understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres and potentially even their surface conditions using extreme telescopes in hope that one day these efforts will culminate with the probable detection of Earth-like life elsewhere in the galaxy.

Wednesday, July 26, 5:30 - 7 pm

Human Geography


Michael Chrobok, PhD candidate (Human Geography)
"Disrupting the Food Desert/Oasis Binary: Ethnic Grocery Retailers and Food Access in Humbermede, Toronto"

The term "food desert" has been used to identify residential areas where people may have a limited ability to access healthy, high quality, and affordable food due to an absence of grocery stores. Such food deserts have been seen by some to exist in opposition to "food oases," areas where grocery purchasing venues are abundant. The recent literature on food deserts, oases, and access more broadly, however, often disregards '"ethnic" grocery retailers as sources of food, or assumes them to be attractive shopping sites for all individuals. Moreover, this body of research frequently frames access as an issue of spatial proximity to grocery stores. Drawing on interviews I conducted with residents of Humbermede, Toronto, I explore how food accessibility is perceived and experienced in a culturally-diverse neighbourhood where the only grocery retailers present are ethnic in nature. I argue that cultural identity-related factors and class-based aspects of one's life circumstances -- not merely distance -- coalesce to influence understandings of one's food retail environment and one's store choices. Because these characteristics can differ on individual bases, multiple interpretations of the level of food retail provision in a neighbourhood are possible. These findings highlight the limitations of using simple labels ("deserts" or "oases") to describe grocery shopping landscapes; as this research shows, food shoppers are not homogenous, all retailers are not equally attractive to all consumers, and food access has important socio-cultural, economic, and spatiotemporal dimensions.

Isa Urrutia, PhD candidate (Human Geography)
"Eating disorders in the margins. On troubled eating experiences in the Latinx community"

This presentation provides a brief overview of my doctoral research, which lies at the intersection of inquiries on bodies, mental health, activism, experiences of living "in between" cultural experiences and across borders, and experiences of being racialized or otherwise marginalized through the presumption of being "out of place." My research asks: how might one create grassroots organizing spaces of healing and recovery that empower latinx folks to heal and reclaim our bodies, and how might they best be configured to help us understand experiences of eating disorders and troubled eating practices? 

Roxana Escobar, PhD student (Human Geography)
"Afro-Peruvians and Citizenship in Peru"

This presentation will address issues arising from my doctoral project, which focuses on how territorial identity and notions of blackness are constructed in Lima, a self-identified mestizo city. Using frameworks of feminist political ecology and black geographies, I aim to initiate a theoretical and empirical conversation on how blackness has been negotiated in a territory where only whites and mestizos are given the possibility of establishing a relationship with the land. Moreover, I attempt to unveil the power relations between the Peruvian governments and the Afro-descendant population that have determined the latter's exclusion from the city's identity and the full benefits of citizenship. Key questions include the following: How are land and territory conceptualized by the Peruvian state? More precisely, how is the indigeneity to the land defined in Peru? Can Afro-Peruvians be considered among the indigenous peoples from Peru? My research will blend qualitative and quantitative methods to map how Afro-Peruvians shape space through land and housing in Lima.

Wednesday, June 28, 5:30 - 7 pm

Canadian History: Celebrating Canada 150


Julia Rady-Shaw, PhD candidate (History)
"Between Earth and High Heaven": Canadians and Christianity in the Early Cold War

Julia's dissertation unsettles historical assumptions made about secularization in Canada and incorporates ideas of "diffusive Christianity" (a concept used by historians of modern England) in order to examine the influence and impact of religion in Canadian society after 1945.

Dale Barbour, PhD candidate (History)
"Undressed Toronto: Tracking the history of vernacular bathing and the commercial beach in a turn-of-the-century Canadian city, 1850-1930"

Dale's research demonstrates how bathing in the nineteenth century was a predominantly male nude practice, often done in Toronto's semi-industrialized areas, and that bathers, more often than not, were coddled rather than policed by a middle-class elite who harboured their own fond memories of similar experiences. In this narrative the beach, as both a physical and social space, emerges as a conscious product intended to initiate a new heterosocial system of bathing.

Tuesday, May 30, 5:30 - 7 pm

Women's and Children's Health


Bona Kim, PhD candidate (Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine)

"Preterm Birth - Socioeconomic Factors, Biological Causes and Current State of Research"

Rohan D'Souza, Maternal and Fetal Medicine Physician; Assistant Professor, OBGYN; PhD candidate (Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation)
"Choosing the optimal blood thinner for pregnant women with mechanical heart valves - a novel three-step approach"

Wednesday, April 26, 5:30 - 7 pm

Education in the 21st Century: Issues, Challenges, Social Justice & Policymaking


Dr. Abdurrahman Wahab, PhD (Department of Social Justice Education, OISE)
"Education in Kurdistan Region of Iraq at the Intersection of nationalism and Democracy: Educational policymaking as endeavors of state building"

Mimi Masson, PhD candidate (Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning, OISE)
"French as a Second Language (FSL) teacher flight in Ontario: where is everybody going!?"

Wednesday, March 22, 5:30 - 7 pm

Medicine & Public Health: A Sociologic and Anthropologic Perspective


Debra Kriger, PhD candidate (Department of Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education)
"Body size stigma and risk in public health - How do we make sense of the body, as a social entity, moving through time?"

Kaitlyn Vleming, MA candidate (Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts & Science)
"Lived experience of people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - diagnosis in social context from a medical anthropological perspective"


Wednesday, February 22, 5:30 - 7 pm

Embodiment, Mind and Body in Social Justice Discourses


Olivia Aiello, PhD candidate (Department of Social Justice Education, OISE)
"Healing through the body: Using yoga as embodied healing practice in community social work"

Kimberly Todd, PhD candidate (Department of Social Justice Education, OISE)
"Dreaming our way to new colonial futurities - Charting Pathways of Hope"


Wednesday, January 25, 5:30 - 7 pm

Nutrition and Public Health Policy


Marie-Elssa Morency, MSc candidate (Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine)
"The perceived benefits of foods - influences, credibility and population health outcomes"

Jodi Bernstein, MPH, RD, PhD candidate (Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine)
"Building an evidence base to inform sugar related policies"


Wednesday, November 23, 5:30 - 7 pm

Biomedical Sciences - A Historical and Modern Perspective


Shawn Xiong, PhD candidate (Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine)
"Great scientific achievements, narcissism in the sciences and modern science commercialization"

Samantha Yammine, PhD candidate (Department of Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Medicine)
"Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine - The current state of the research, challenges and ethics"


Wednesday, October 26, 5:30 - 7 pm

Sociology & Politics - The Syrian refugee Crisis and the Venezuelan Political Crisis


Angela Xu, PhD candidate (Department of Sociology, University of Toronto)
"The Syrian Refugee Crisis - Media Coverage, National Identity and Political Ideology"

G​iancarlo Fiorella, PhD candidate (Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies)
"The recent political fallout in Venezuela with a focus on the trial of Leopoldo Lopez and the future of Venezuela"


Wednesday, September 28, 5:30 - 7 pm

Concussions - Biology and Policymaking

Concussions are a major public health issue affecting a large range of ages.The first half of the talk will take you on a journey of the science behind concussions, and will highlight some of the major directions in the field today. The second half outlines what's being done to address the problem at the policy level in government, schools, and sports organizations.


Swapna Mylabathula, PhD candidate (Institute of Medical Science, Faculty of Medicine)

Sandhya Mylabathula, PhD candidate (Department of Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education)