U of T alumni win 2020 CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards

From left to right: Dr. Ina Anreiter and Dr. Hannah Kia

Dr. Ina Anreiter (PhD ’19, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and Dr. Hannah Kia (PhD ’19, Dalla Lana School of Public Health) have won CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards for 2020.  

The awards, administered by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) and sponsored by ProQuest, recognize Canadian doctoral dissertations that make unusually significant and original contributions, both to their respective academic communities and to Canadian society at large. They are given annually in two categories —Engineering, Medical Sciences and Natural Sciences, and Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences—with two independent committees of twelve expert judges evaluating submissions from across the country.  

The 2020 honours mark the first time in the award’s 27-year history that a single institution has won in both categories.  

“To be recognized in both categories—an unprecedented honour—is a testament to the innovation and original thinking we have been able to foster at U of T,” says Charmaine Williams, Acting Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “I’m incredibly proud of our students for their commitment and intellectual rigour, and incredibly grateful to the faculty, staff, and community members who make U of T such an enriching place.”  

Ina Anreiter — Winner, Engineering, Medical Sciences and Natural Sciences category 

“It’s very humbling,” says Ina Anreiter, whose dissertation, Transcriptional Regulation of the Foraging Gene and its Associated Behaviours, took home the top prize in the Engineering, Medical Sciences and Natural Sciences category. “I know there are so many great theses across Canada, and only one award for a very diverse and very big section of science.” 

The CAGS-ProQuest Dissertation Award is the latest in a series of impressive accolades for the researcher, who in 2019, won a prestigious Schmidt Science Fellowship — a highly competitive international program designed to support exceptional early-career researchers.  

Anreiter earned her PhD in behavioural genetics under the supervision of Dr. Marla Sokolowski, University Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her dissertation focused on the molecular basis of pleiotropy (when a gene has multiple functions) and how this is regulated transcriptionally at the level of RNA. Specifically, Anreiter studied pleiotropy of the Drosophila (fruit fly) foraging gene and its multiple functions in behaviour and metabolic traits, leading to innovative discoveries about the gene’s regulation.  

The Austrian-born Anreiter, who grew up in Portugal, first came to the University of Toronto as a visiting student to complete a placement for her master’s degree. Dr. Sokolowski, who would go on to become her doctoral supervisor, was instrumental to making that placement possible, helping Anreiter secure funding for her one-year visit and later, offering her a PhD position. in Anreiter nearly didn’t make it; because of the way Portuguese grades are converted into the Canadian system, she didn’t make the cut-off for the funded cohort of doctoral students. Prof. Sokolowski offered to cover her for the first year until she could apply for funding. “I’m really conscious that I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of mentors,” says Anreiter. “Marla was wonderful. She took a really big chance on me.” The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with its collaborative and welcoming ethos, also made her feel well supported.  

Though she is currently finishing up a second postdoctoral fellowship as a Stanford Science Fellow, in about six months’ time Anreiter will return to her beloved Toronto, this time as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough.  

“I love Canada,” she smiles. “I’m so excited to come back to my alma mater.” 

Hannah Kia — Winner, Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences  

McGill University’s Shari Brotman describes Dr. Hannah Kia’s award-winning dissertation as “one of the most impressive manuscripts I have had the opportunity to read over the course of my career.”  

Subjugation and Resistance in Older Gay Men’s Health Care Experiences examines the health care encounters of older HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay men with a view toward redressing the homophobia and stigmatization that have characterized these encounters historically. Specifically, Dr. Kia’s study integrates Foucauldian governmentality with the methods of situational analysis to critically examine the contemporary influence of historical relationships between the gay community, HIV/AIDS stigma, and health care institutions.  

Her dissertation’s findings have significant implications for policy, practice, and health care delivery to populations that often avoid health care as a result of actual or anticipated stigmas.  

“I feel so honoured to be receiving the CAGS-ProQuest Dissertation Award,” says Kia, whose work is informed by an abiding passion for social justice and many years of experience as a clinical social worker. “Knowing that this award recognizes distinction in doctoral research at the national level, I feel humbled that my work was chosen from among the exceptional contributions of fellow PhD graduates across Canada.” 

At U of T, Kia earned her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Lori E. Ross, whom she credits with being her most significant intellectual influence as well her most critical source of support. “She’s an exceptionally brilliant, ethically conscious, and incredibly compassionate scholar,” recalls Kia. “Dr. Ross inspired me to produce my best work, while also recognizing and nurturing my strengths in an unbelievably attentive and generous way.” She’s also grateful, she says, for the encouragement of her committee members, Dr. Daniel Grace and Dr. Carol Strike.

Since July 2019, Kia has been an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work, where she continues to work on questions related to aging in sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities with an eye toward creating more inclusive and compassionate health care practices. “I really hope that the insights of my thesis can be leveraged to change health care systems so that they are more responsive to the many impacts of HIV/AIDS history on the well-being of aging gay men.”  

The winners will receive a cash prize of $1500, a certificate of recognition, and an invitation to present at the 59th Annual CAGS Conference in November 2021. Read the full announcement on the CAGS website.