Alumni take top honours among world’s best

Research papers by two recent Western graduates – Cynthia Qi and Madelaine Coelho – have been selected as the best in the world in their fields in the 2019 edition of The Undergraduate Awards, an international, cross-disciplinary competition that awards undergraduate students for outstanding coursework.

Western ranked second in the world for the number of Highly Commended entrants, representing the Top 10 per cent in their fields, behind only Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. For the fifth year in a row, Western was tops in North America.

The 2019 Undergraduate Awards competition had 3,437 submissions from 338 institutions in 50 countries. Qi and Coelho are among only four papers from Canada to be selected as global winners.

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Special to Western NewsResearch papers by two recent Western graduates – Cynthia Qi, above, and Madelaine Coelho – have been selected as the best in the world in their fields in the 2019 edition of The Undergraduate Awards.

Cynthia Qi, BMSc’19, received a gold medal in the category of Linguistics for her paper, Acoustic Characteristics used to Differentiate Speech from Song and Individual Factors that Impact their Effectiveness.

Qi, who completed her Honours Specialization in Physiology, studied how humans are able to distinguish between speech and song.

“I am always looking to learn more about new fields. For my fourth-year thesis paper, I chose a discipline quite different from my main program – the study of music cognitive neuroscience,” Qi explained.

A classically trained pianist, she was always fascinated by how human brains process and identify music versus speech. Qi worked with supervisors Western professor Jessica Grahn, along with Postdoctoral Scholars Christina Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden, of the Brain and Mind Institute.

For the research, Qi and colleagues conducted an online survey, and worked directly with 30 study participants on campus at Western. By manipulating different physical aspects of sound, such as pitch, she was able to discover how individual factors affected the brain’s interpretation of music versus speech.

“We knew before from theory that it was likely physical aspects played a role in the brain’s understanding of music but this was the first study of its kind actually showing that physical features of sound affect how the brain interprets it. In future studies, we will also look at manipulating the rhythm.”

“I can’t believe it,” Qi said of the global recognition of her work. She will collect her medal at the Undergraduate Global Summit in November in Dublin, Ireland. “I am looking forward to all the aspects of diversity – from the people I’ll meet to all of the different disciplines represented. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Qi is now pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) at Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

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Special to Western NewsResearch papers by two recent Western graduates – Cynthia Qi and Madelaine Coelho, above – have been selected as the best in the world in their fields in the 2019 edition of The Undergraduate Awards.

Madelaine Coelho, BA’19, King’s University College, won in the category of Sociology & Social Policy for her paper, Rape Myths in Digital Spaces: An Analysis of High-Profile Sexual Assault Cases On Twitter.

Using recent high-profile cases of sexual assault, Coelho analyzed the responses on Twitter over an extended time period and found that many users of the social network – specifically feminist users – used the platform to counter common myths and stereotypes about rape and sexual assault.

“There is a strong, symbolic and consistent message in support of survivors,” said Coelho, who worked with supervisor, King’s professor Jordan Fairbairn.

“For example, in the (former Stanford University swimmer and convicted sex offender) Brock Turner case, one of the responses of the university was to ban liquor at certain events. In the analysis, there was a trend that showed multiple counter posts to that, dispelling the myth that the consumption of alcohol is the sole factor in sexual assault.”

Coelho said the results of her study were somewhat surprising. “In general, I wasn’t expecting to see as much support for victims or counter narratives that help dispel rape culture.”

She also found a lot of consistency in voice between tweets, regardless of whether hashtags such as #metoo and other movements were referenced.

A sexual assault survivor herself, Coelho says she understands the importance of the narratives around sexual assault and gender violence on social media. In addition to studying gender violence in specific courses through her undergraduate degree at King’s, she received training on sexual violence through her previous role as a Soph, and volunteers to help survivors through the London-based organization Yotuni, which works with Indigenous women and youth.

“It’s such a prevalent issue right now, and specifically on universities campuses. We can use this research as a tool to understand sexual assault better, and how we frame sexual assault in the media.”

Coelho is continuing her research in the area of gender violence through the Master of Arts program in Sociology at the University of Toronto.

Both scholars will attend the Undergraduate Global Summit in November, along with Qi.

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Other highly commended entrants from Western and its affiliate university colleges included:

  • Christopher Anthony, King’s University College, Political Science;
  • David Cohen, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry;
  • Marisa Coulton, Faculty of Social Science;
  • Abbey Edwards, Faculty of Arts and Humanities;
  • Kevin Ho, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry;
  • Kristopher Kowalchuk, Huron University College, Political Science;
  • Kailee Liesemer, Faculty of Social Science;
  • Bertina Lou, Faculty of Social Science;
  • Georgia McCutcheon, Faculty of Social Science;
  • Sarah Menzies, King’s University College, English Language & Literature;
  • Mackenzie Mountford, King’s University College, Childhood & Social Institution;
  • Ashlee Quinn-Hogan, Faculty of Social Science; and
  • Nicole Szklarczyk, King’s University College, English Language & Literature.