Graduate Speaker Series


The Graduate Speaker Series is a monthly event held at the Grad Room.

The aim of this initiative is to bring together graduate students from all departments of the University of Toronto to come and discuss their research and ideas. The Graduate Speaker Series aims to provide a platform for 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 this 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 Hamza at

Upcoming Talk

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.    

Just Announced ​

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

Speakers: Stephanie Cheung, PhD candidate, IBBME

                  Rachel Reding, MHSc candidate, Engineering 

Past Events


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"

Giancarlo 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)