Student showcase research as part of World Aids Day

With its vibrant colours and frantic brush strokes, Nicole Findlay’s display drew crowds to her table.

Although abstract at first glance, Findlay’s painting is a visual representation of her master’s thesis on holistic AIDS medicine in Tanzania.

“(The bare tree) is what traditional medicine could be,” she explained. “It doesn’t have leaves on it yet and it’s just sort of sitting there and dying out. If we could develop it and research it without taking it away, it could blossom and have life.”

Findlay and a handful of other University of Toronto MA and PhD students were on hand at Hart House to promote their HIV/AIDS related research as part of the unique Student Research Expo for World AIDS Day. The event showcases the best student AIDS research that the university has to offer.

While in Tanzania in the summer of 2007, Findlay, 23, was struck by the AIDS patients in the community where she was doing her field research.

“Everyone was seemingly healthy,” she said. “(However), they should technically be at a stage where they’d be very sick.”

After doing some research, Findlay discovered that what she had witnessed in the people of the community was all thanks to a species of tree.

“It was just baffling to me that a virus that ravaged them that much could be OK because of traditional medicine,” she said. “I found out they have this tree called a Mhuwe tree and they have a whole system to harvest it and prepare the products.”

It’s field research experiences like Findlay’s that brought these students together on World AIDS Day to share their research experiences.

Angela Pickard, 32, is a second-year PhD student in the health and behavioral science program.

“The Student Research Expo came out through the Student Association,” she explained. “They reached out to students doing HIV work, so it was more word of mouth than anything else.”

Pickard’s work was the only local-based research at the expo. Her presentation delved into her work with the East Toronto Hepatitis C Program.

“I mostly work with the previously incarcerated population that kind of cycles in and out of prison,” she said. “I wanted to do something that was relevant locally but then I could take it internationally.”

Global field research is something Victoria Blackwell-Hardie, a second year PhD student with a background in psychology, takes to heart. She just returned from a month of assessments in Eldoret, Kenya.

“All the mental health criteria is very much tied to our cultural milieu in a North American setting,” she said. “It’s a challenge to work around new material without imposing any of my beliefs.”

Blackwell-Hardie recognizes that she and her fellow Student Research Expo presenters all have one thing in common when it comes to their travels and extensive research.

“It’s very jarring to have to understand your discipline in a new way,” she said. “But it’s imperative to your research.”

Nicole Findlay, 23, travelled to Tanzania in 2007 as part of her research on the philosophy of health and holistic medicine. She painted a visual representation of her studies of the Mhuwe tree.
Nicole Findlay, 23, travelled to Tanzania in 2007 as part of her research on the philosophy of health and holistic medicine. She painted a visual representation of her studies of the Mhuwe tree.  (Laura Grande/Toronto Observer)