The Smarti Gras event was held on August 16 at Deerfield Hall. This summer research celebration was a chance for student researchers to demonstrate their research projects, through either presentations or posters, to other students, faculty, friends, and family. There were research projects from various programs, including biology, religion, psychology, and ICCIT.
The Medium spoke to a few research students to find out more about their projects and what their next steps are.

Project: “Stories make us human”

Ayesha Tirmzi

Among the talks, oral presentations, and poster exhibitions, second-year student Zeahaa Rehmaan, double majoring in linguistics and professional writing, was the only student with research in the religion category.

As a part of the summer Research Opportunity Program on Urdu literature led by Professor Shafique N. Virani, Rehmaan read Urdu texts, including Gulzar-i Shams (Rose Garden of Shams) by Mulukshah and Bustan-i Khayal (Garden of Imaginations) by Muhammad Taqikhayal.

“Both of these are really old texts. They were originally in Persian and then translated to Urdu. There aren’t any printed copies of them in English, so the general public doesn’t even know about them. It contains really hard Urdu. As you know, Urdu changed over time, so it was hard for me to adjust to that,” she explains.

Bustan-i Khayal is a dastan. This form of Urdu prose developed from oral storytelling that was done by professional narrators and was widespread near the Middle East and South Asia as a form of art back in the 13th century. Dastans are characterized as being extremely lengthy heroic epics, filled with supernatural, fantastical adventures and unrealistic romances.

“They contained really exaggerated stories about kings fighting wars, rescuing people from evil trolls, marrying queens, you know, stuff like that,” laughs Rehmaan. “But they were really enjoyable to read.”

Through her experience in the ROP, Rehmaan learned how to translate and transliterate Urdu text to English, proofread old existing translations, and make digital copies of the manuscripts by typing the Urdu text from manuscripts onto Word files.

“I’m really fluent in Urdu, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for me to use this skill,” says Rehmaan. “I’ve been trying to get back into my native language because I felt I was losing it. So when I found out about this, I thought I could reconnect with my language through this research opportunity, so it was perfect.”

At the event, Rehmaan explained the research that she was a part of.

“People came up to me and asked me where they could read these stories. These books are still in the process of being published in English, as they are really huge, so it was nice to know that there were people interested in them and actually wanted to read them.

“The point of this research in Urdu literature specifically was that in North American media, the majority of the Muslims from Middle East and South Asia, and the religion Islam itself, are not painted in a positive light—so these stories are a great way to get to know more about the religion and the culture of South Asia and Middle East,” explains Rehmaan.

“Professor Virani hopes that in the future, people can read these stories that feature Muslim protagonists in a positive light, and this way the stories would humanize Muslims and allow people to know them better.”

“I’ve been reading Urdu stories ever since I was a kid; that’s why I thought this research was a great way to get back into that old habit. I don’t really have any previous involvement with translation, but this was a really novel and enjoyable experience for me.”

Project: “The effect of parental discipline on children’s moral development”

Amna Azhar

Victoria Troisi is a third-year psychology specialist who worked in Professor Tina Malti’s Social-Emotional Development and Intervention Lab this summer. Troisi’s research focused on the various disciplining strategies parents use, and how these strategies affect children’s sympathetic behavior.

So how did Troisi find her way into a psychology lab? The answer lies with Troisi’s PSY210 course instructor: Professor Elizabeth Johnson.

Johnson’s constant encouragement that students should seek research opportunities to explore their interests led Troisi to apply to volunteer at the SEDI lab. She started as a volunteer in February 2016, and then applied for a position at the SEDI lab through the Research Opportunity Program as soon as the position posting went online.

By May 2016, Troisi was an ROP student at the SEDI lab. According to Troisi, what made her experience most enjoyable was the supportive environment and independence within the lab.

This summer, Troisi was responsible for analyzing data collected by SEDI lab members throughout the 2015-2016 academic year. Troisi’s analysis was carried out under the supervision of Malti and with the support of Ph.D. candidate, Sebastian Dys.

The SEDI lab members are studying the behavior patterns of children and adolescents. Their study focused on children of ages four and six.

During the data collection, researchers asked the parents to complete a questionnaire in order to categorize parental disciplining strategies. The questionnaire contained hypothetical scenarios regarding children’s negative actions. Parents were asked how they would discipline children in response to such actions.

Based on parents’ responses, researchers categorized parents into four groups, distinguished by different disciplining strategies: induction, power-assertion, love-withdrawal, and parental disappointment.

Induction refers to “putting the child into someone else’s shoes”, or encouraging them to view the situation from the perspective of those they may have wronged. Power-assertion is the means to control children by, such as the use of physical punishments. Love withdrawal refers to removing parental support, for example, by ignoring the child. Finally, parental disappointment is the overt expression of disappointment in the child.

To “measure” children’s sympathetic behavior, researchers asked parents how often their child acted sympathetically towards others.

Induction was the most frequently-reported style of parenting.

Results demonstrated two significant findings. Primarily, only induction showed a positive correlation to sympathetic behavior in children, while the other groups showed no correlation.

Secondly, parents used the strategy of induction significantly more often for six-year-olds than for four-year-olds, based on the assumption that four-year-olds would not be able to understand the value of induction techniques.

However, Troisi’s study shows that “induction works just as well across four and six-year-olds.”

Previous scientific research also supports a consistent positive correlation between induction and children’s moral behavior.

According to Troisi, this study suggests that “implementing induction at a young age could predict moral development.”

Troisi’s study found no relation between the other three parenting styles and children’s sympathetic behavior.

However, in contrast to Troisi’s study, previous research shows a negative correlation between the use of power assertion and children’s moral outcomes. The results of studies on love withdrawal sway between a negative or absent correlation. Finally, although research on parental disappointment has not yet been carried out extensively, it often shows a positive relationship with children’s moral development.

As an aspiring clinical child psychologist, Troisi was thrilled to have had the opportunity to share her findings with her peers and professors amongst other audience members at the Summer Research Celebration. Troisi referred to them not as the audience, but as current and possible future parents.

Troisi also shared with The Medium that the SEDI lab will continue to conduct this test on other age groups of children and adolescents.

Regarding the research process, Troisi says, “You have to be patient with something like this. It may take a long time, but it’s really worth it at the end. It’s all about the process.”

In terms of what field of research to pursue, she adds, “No matter what kind of research it is, there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. You don’t have to find your exact interest right away. Any experience is valuable. You need to take the initiative.”

Project: Effect of C-peptide and Co-peptide from the insulin precursor on muscle activity in the disease vector, Rhodnius prolixus

Ayesha Hassan
Ayub working in Professor Lange's lab.
Ayub working in Professor Lange’s lab.

As the majority of UTM’s student population disappeared for the summer, third-year comparative physiology student Mahnoor Ayub remained on campus and conducted research on insect physiology. Based in Professor Angela Lange’s lab, Ayub specifically worked with the organism Rhodnius prolixus, a small blood-sucking bug that transmits the parasite (Trypansosoma cruzi) responsible for causing Chagas’ disease.

Chagas’ disease is one of the leading causes of death in South and Central America. If untreated, the parasite infection can remain for several years and may be life-threatening.

Ayub discovered this research opportunity through a post on the UTM Biology website. While she did discuss it with her friends, she only considered taking it up after she met Lange at Meet The Profs night, organized by the Biology Students Association.

“I wanted to do research in the lab. Luckily I met her there and talked to her, and she told me about the different opportunities that lie ahead,” said Ayub.

A major portion of the research in the Lange lab centers around a peptide called the insulin-like peptide. This peptide is very similar to human insulin in terms of its DNA sequence and the functions that it carries out, such as growth and reproduction.

Ayub’s project was specifically concerned with a section of proinsulin, called C-peptide. Her objective was to determine the effect of C-peptide on the muscle activity of R. prolixus.

“Recently, there has been a significant body of research that says [that] C-peptide in itself also has a physiological effect, and that is what we tried to find,” she said.

While other members of the Lange lab investigated different sections of the insect, Ayub was responsible for investigating the function of the muscles—specifically the hindgut, and how both C-peptide and Co-peptide affect it.

Ayub found that C-peptide increases muscle contractions.

“It’s very small in terms of what more you can find, but what we saw now was that we can speculate that the C-peptide is opening some sort of channels, because it is increasing contractions. Previous research shows that C-peptide opens potassium and sodium channels.”

She further added that vertebrates have specific receptors that recognise C-peptide, so the next step was to see whether the same thing is true for R. Prolixus. As the results showed, it was the same as in vertebrates.

When asked about the research project’s future, she replied, “That’s the thing about research—it can always continue.”

Ayub also pointed out that research depends on how flexible your schedule is and how interested you are in continuing to put your time and effort into the project.

“Luckily for me, I liked the lab and the research I was conducting, and I’m glad I found results to show during the summer,” she said.

When asked about how this project’s results could be applicable in the future, Ayub said, “I think all sorts of results are valuable because they can be applied anywhere. Everything that we can find about this insect will help us prevent the disease and find a cure.”

She further added that the insulin-like peptide was similar to insulin, which is the cause of diabetes in humans.

“It’s only good to find out about things that affect a vast range of functions.”

Ayub also commented on how this research experience was different from her normal lab courses during the school year.

“You realize how much you learn while you are on the job, because you have all this knowledge that you get to apply,” she said. “You also learn how to be patient with the results and how to be alert with your tools and the subject. I feel that it is very important to be enrolled in these kinds of things as a science student, because it gives you a whole different exposure and a highly valuable experience. You also get to see how much you can grow in your field and how vast the research is.”

Project: “The person behind the badge: relationship between compassion fatigue, operational stress, and organizational stress among police.”

Kristen Ladas

Yuchen Wang is a fourth-year psychology student who participated in this year’s Smarti Gras.

Wang, along with his colleagues’ Devikaa Anandjit, Natalie Padron-Alarcon, and Jacqueline Zurowsk, worked under the supervision of Professor Judith Anderson of the psychology department and Konstantinos Papazoglou, graduate student coordinator of the Police Research and Training Projects, to collaborate with local police officers. Their research project, titled “The Person Behind the Badge: The Relationship Between Compassion Fatigue, Operational and Organizational Stress Among Police,” focuses on the effects of serious training and on-the-job stress and suffering that officers endure.

Their research is based on The International Performance Resilience and Efficiency Program, which hosts training sessions aiding first responders through high-stress situations. The program teaches first responders how to develop their decision-making skills and control their physical responses.

Wang and his colleagues hypothesized that officers will be highly affected by stressful training, causing irrational decision-making, high cortisol levels, and an increased heart rate.

Throughout the eight-day process, 57 participants were placed in multiple scenarios with varying levels of difficulties. The goal was to measure decision-making strategies, stress levels, compassion fatigue, operational stress, and organizational stress. Compassion fatigue can be defined as the experience of emotional distress that affects a person helping another in a stressful situation, causing themselves to feel trauma.

Wang says, “From past studies in compassion fatigue, some of the stress from medical professionals comes from organizational stress, like hospital rooms.” Organizational stress has to do with an individual’s work environment. Operational stress is due to the work an individual does.

“We wanted to look at physiological data as well as survey data to look at how they interact,” says Wang.

Wang mentions that the group made correlations primarily through survey data, because it was less time-consuming to obtain in comparison to physiological data (resting and maximum heart rate, cortisol levels, etc.).

Wang says they found that compassion fatigue is “moderately related to both stress and cortisol levels in police officers. It suggests that they have high levels of compassion fatigue and stress.”

However, Wang says they were not surprised by what they found, as it was close to what their hypothesis and referenced literature suggested.

Wang says that the project was difficult because of the time it took to go through each procedure and collect all of the data. “It takes a lot of planning, a lot of background work with prior research and making sure things happened… I never realized how much forethought goes into all of these projects.”

“We know that a lot of jobs deal with high stress, and this research proves that police officers feel the same effects as paramedics, doctors, military officers, etc.”

To sum up his project, Wang says, “People are affected by stress. We know intuitively that these are stressful jobs, and it can be difficult sometimes to be in those positions because it is so stressful. We know that and sometimes we forget. The training itself was effective with the stress responses, cortisol, and decision making.”

This article has been corrected.
  1. September 6, 2016 at 4 p.m.: The credits of coauthors Ayesha Hassan and Ayesha Tirmzi had been switched.
    Notice to be printed on September 12, 2016 (Volume 43, Issue 2).

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