The University of Toronto Tanenbaum Institute for Science in Sport (TISS) has awarded prestigious new scholarships to seven graduate students in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) for the 2022-2023 academic year. The funding, made possible by a generous gift from the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation, has provided two master’s students and five doctoral students with scholarships towards their graduate studies at KPE.
In their applications for the scholarship, graduate students had to demonstrate how their research thesis proposal or ongoing thesis research is aligned with the mission and vision of the institute - a global centre of excellence for high performance sport science and sport medicine - from enhancing and sustaining competitive performance for athletes and para-athletes of all levels and every background to using data analytics to predict and augment individual and team performance, health and well-being, and improve athlete recruitment outcomes.
“A primary objective of TISS-funded research is to help us understand human limitations and human capacities as they relate to sport,” said Ira Jacobs, a professor at KPE and interim director of the institute. “The expected outcomes of TISS-funded research include the generation of new knowledge to prevent injury, enhance recovery and utilize technologies to develop nutritional, training and rehabilitation interventions to allow all sport participants to optimize their abilities to achieve high performance.
“These scholarships provide an important boost for graduate students with an interest in high performance sport to contribute to the institute’s mission of generating, advancing and disseminating transformational knowledge.”
These are the winners of the inaugural TISS scholarships:
Michael Jorgensen is a fourth year PhD student whose research seeks to improve current approaches to sport-related concussion prevention by furthering our understanding of why athletes engage in risk-taking and protective behaviours.
“My research critically examines the tensions between risk tolerance and risk aversion and aims to raise awareness of the culture of risk that exists across all levels of sport competition,” says Jorgensen. “The findings of this research may be used to inform sport policy, education programs and behaviour change interventions designed to minimize concussion risk in sport.
“The funding from this scholarship will allow me to focus on my research, including sharing my findings with the Canadian sport community through conferences and public engagement.”
In addition to working on his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Associate Professor Lynda Mainwaring, Jorgensen serves as the research director for HeadsupCAN, a concussion advocacy network, and as a research coordinator at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, division of neurology.
Molly Brillinger is in her third year of a PhD degree under the supervision of Professor Tim Welsh. Her research uses behavioural and neurophysiological methods to broadly explore the neural mechanisms involved in motor imagery, a powerful and feasible form of mental practice commonly used by athletes to enhance motor performance and learning.
“Through my research, I hope to gain insight into the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, i.e., the cortical area involved in executive functioning, in motor imagery,” says Brillinger. “The potential findings from this work have important considerations for the implementation of effective mental training protocols in sport.
“I am grateful and truly honoured to receive this scholarship."
Daniel Sibley is a third year PhD student, whose research is focused on health interventions delivered between the time of diagnosis and initiation of acute treatment, termed prehabilitation. Prehabilitation commonly uses exercise, nutrition and psychological support to mitigate surgical risk and improve post-operative recovery.
“Through my research program, I aim to advance the prehabilitation literature by conducting trials with increased methodological rigour and introducing a new prehabilitation modality - sleep optimization,” says Sibley. “Despite the well-known benefits of sleep for performance and well-being, improving preoperative sleep among athletes or non-athletes remains a nascent research area.”
Sibley, who is completing his doctoral studies under the supervision of Associate Professor Daniel Santa Mina, is also a course instructor at KPE and registered kinesiologist in the Toronto General Hospital surgical prehabilitation program. He is the provincial research coordinator for EXCEL, a national exercise oncology trial that aims to reduce health disparities for cancer survivors in rural and remote settings.
“I am very grateful for the support this scholarship will provide,” said Sibley.
Kyla Pyndiura is a third year PhD student, under the supervision of Associate Professor Michael Hutchison. Her thesis aims to offer a new perspective on concussion assessment and management, through a novel multimodal functional test that will develop more effective measures to identify the severity of sports concussion, accelerate the rate of recovery and return to play, and use data analytics to predict recovery length following concussion.
“I hope that my dissertation will assist in expanding Canadian concussion research by evaluating a test that is widely accessible, cost-effective, and can be easily implemented inside a physician's office,” says Pyndiura. “This test has the potential to assist physicians in their assessment of concussion rehabilitation and their decision making on providing medical clearance and allowing athletes to return to play.”
While pursuing her doctoral studies, Pyndiura has been serving as lab manager of the Centre for Sport-Related Concussion Research, Innovation and Knowledge, and research and content creator for Rhea Health Inc., a concussion rehabilitation platform developed by Hutchison and his clinical research team.
“I am honored to be receiving this scholarship and am extremely grateful to the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum Family Foundation for their support, kindness and generosity for this award.”
Cassidy Tinline-Goodfellow is in his third year of a PhD degree. As a part of Associate Professor Daniel Moore’s Iovate/Muscletech Metabolism & Sports Science lab, his research uses cutting edge analytical techniques and a variety of research models, from cells to rodents to humans, to investigate the mechanisms through which muscle grows with nutrition and exercise interventions.
He is particularly interested in developing novel platforms to investigate protein metabolism that combines different aspects of the three research models (cells, rodents and humans) for optimal results.
“Developing new, translatable research models will help in the investigation of nutritional and exercise interventions to augment sport performance in elite athletes, and can have broad reaching benefits to individuals and health,” he says.
“I am honored to receive such a notable scholarship and grateful for the opportunity it provides.”
Stephanie Dixon is a second-year master of science student at KPE, doing research into athletes’ experiences of addressing maltreatment through a reporting process. Dixon’s research aims to fill the gap in research on this topic and expand existing safeguarding initiatives to include the experiences and perspectives of equity-denied groups.
“It is critical that athletes’ voices are elicited, heard and used to inform interventions, and that safe and trauma-informed practices are upheld in the reporting process to avoid further harms to the athletes,” said Dixon. “My research informs these advancements.”
Dixon, who is completing her master’s degree in the Safe Sport Lab with the guidance of Professor Gretchen Kerr, dean of KPE, represented Canada in three Paralympic Games in swimming and served as chef de mission for the 2020 Paralympic Games.
“As a former athlete and Paralympian, conducting research to advance safer and more inclusive sport systems is very personal and work done from my heart,” she said. “Athletes, particularly those with identities from marginalized groups, can sometimes wonder if their value extends beyond athletic performance.
“A scholarship that champions their safety and wellbeing clearly states that it does.”
Genevieve Ammendolia Tomé is a first-year student in the master of kinesiology program, supervised by Associate Professor Michael Hutchison. Tome’s thesis will focus on examining the utility of messenger ribonucleic acid and micro-ribonucleic acid in the prediction of concussion diagnosis and length of recovery.
Tomé developed an interest in concussion research following her own experience with it. She started working in Hutchison’s concussion research lab the summer after her second year in KPE.
“My research will potentially aid in the advancement of biomarkers as objective clinical tools for use in concussion diagnosis and rehabilitation,” she says. “I am very grateful for the support provided through this generous scholarship.”