Six graduate researchers honoured with thesis prize

The 2016 FGS Thesis and Dissertation Prize winners include, from left, Vladimir Paskaljevic, Gabrielle LaFortune, Douglas Hunter, Dana Phillips and Daniel Fitzakerley; award-winner David Moffette is absent from the photo
The 2016 FGS Thesis and Dissertation Prize winners include, from left, Vladimir Paskaljevic, Gabrielle LaFortune, Douglas Hunter, Dana Phillips and Daniel Fitzakerley; award-winner David Moffette is absent from the photo

Six York graduate students were recently honoured for their research contributions in their respective fields. The Thesis & Dissertation Prizes are distributed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) to celebrate exceptional master’s and PhD theses from the previous calendar year.

Barbara Crow, dean of FGS, was on hand to present the awards to recipients, who were accompanied by their supervisors and graduate program directors.

“Congratulations to all of you for your incredible contributions to graduate research here at York,” she said, while noting the remarkable depth and diversity of research topics honoured.

Master’s recipients

Vladimir Paskaljevic, Film
Absence is Present

Paskaljevic’s thesis, which consists of a 19-minute short film, centres on the emotional aspects of immigration through the experiences of two women: a daughter in Canada and a mother in Serbia.

Supervisor John Greyson stated of the film: “Confidently adopting an idiom of the new neo-realism, and told through a series of minimal scenes and late night Skypes, Absence is Present is notable for its deft script, effective camera work, brilliant understated performances and profound insights into the loneliness and pain that can lie at the heart of parent/child relationships.”

Paskaljevic noted there is no “recipe” in the arts, and that the past two years of his life have brought forth very fruitful conversations and discussions with colleagues in his field.

The Toronto Film Critics Association also awarded Absence is Present the Manulife Best Student Film Award in 2015 out of more than 600 eligible films.

Dana Phillips, Law
Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault: A Feminist Exploration of the Relationship Between Legal and Experiential Discourses

Phillips’ LLM thesis challenges the tendency within feminist legal thought to imagine a sharp division between law and lived experience, and specifically between feminist methods that engage legal discourse and those that invoke grassroots narratives grounded in experience.

“This was a chance to reflect on an issue that’s been on a lot of people’s minds in this country,” said Phillips, while referencing the recent Jian Gomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto. “A lot of feminist energy is being put into the sexual assault discourse in hopes of improving the lived experiences of women.”

She also thanked her supervisor Professor Benjamin Berger for his “above and beyond” support. Berger is now her doctoral supervisor at Osgoode.

Gabrielle LaFortune, Linguistics & Applied Linguistics
A Qualitative Study of Anti-Feminist Discursive Strategies in Online Comment Sections

LaFortune’s work investigates anti-feminist backlash in online comments sections of specific social media and mainstream news websites. By providing a feminist critical discourse analysis to the existing literature, her work assists feminists to resist silencing online, and to provide tools for others to engage with it successfully.

“Her thorough and insightful analysis of linguistic data not only demonstrates her strong grasp of the relevant research literature and the methodology of critical discourse analysis, but importantly, it yields original insights about insidious and systemic expressions of sexism in online commentary,” said Philipp Angermeyer, graduate program director in Linguistics & Applied Linguistics. “Her thesis thus makes a significant contribution to the field of language and gender studies, but also has the potential to have a significant impact beyond the academy.”

Five of the 2016 Thesis & Dissertation Prize winners and their supervisors
Five of the 2016 Thesis & Dissertation Prize winners and their supervisors

PhD recipients

Douglas Hunter, History
Stone of Power: Dighton Rock, Colonization and the Erasure of an Indigenous Past

Hunter’s dissertation examines the historiography of Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder on the east bank of the Taunton River in Massachusetts, and contested artifact of American antiquity. Hunter – an accomplished author whose novels have been a finalist for both the Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction – received unanimous praise for his contribution to our understanding of the settlement of the Americas.

Hunter returned to academia in 2010 after a 30-year absence, and was awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship in 2012. A return wasn’t even on his mind until his future supervisor, Carolyn Podruchny, connected with him over Facebook, and the conversation began.

“[Doug] positioned himself to help bridge the gap for those in and out of the academy, and worked to ensure that history belongs to everybody,” she said.

Daniel Fitzakerley, Physics & Astronomy
Antihydrogen Via Two-Stage Charge Exchange

With respect to his work, which ws performed at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research, Fitzakerley notes that it “focused on creating atoms of antihydrogen (the bound state of an antiproton and positron) using a laser-controlled, two stage charge-exchange technique. This technique has the potential to create the coldest, most easily trapped antihydrogen atoms possible, which is crucial for the long-term goal of performing spectroscopic measurements that test matter-antimatter symmetries.”

This work was part of the international ATRAP (Antihydrogen trap) collaboration, an experiment to compare hydrogen atoms with their antimatter equivalents.

Supervisor Eric Hessels spoke highly of Fitzakerley’s doctoral studies at York, from participating in approximately 12 notable publications, to conducting some “amazingly complicated experiments” as major contributions to his field.

David Moffette, Sociology
Governing Irregular Migration Logics and Practices in Spanish Immigration Policy

Professor Lorna Erwin, former graduate program director in sociology, said Moffette’s dissertation is “by any standard an exceptional piece of scholarship.

“The intellectual creativity with which Moffette deals with his topic is stunning. His grasp of political sociology, governmentality studies, critical policy studies and the sociology of the law is likewise remarkable.”

While at York, Moffette’s academic excellence was recognized with seven prestigious awards and scholarships. Erwin outlined these achievements, and said “he has been remarkably productive, having published five articles in top-rated, peer-reviewed journals, two book chapters, several book reviews and a number of online reports, in addition to presenting his research at national and international conferences.”

Moffette was also the recipient of the Governor General’s Gold Medal in 2015, awarded to graduate students with the highest academic standing.