Simon Fraser University

Success rate for grants rises

May 02, 2002 , vol. 24, no. 1

By Julie Ovenell-Carter
SFU researchers from various fields continue to succeed in their efforts to secure grants for social science and humanities research.

Half of the SFU researchers - 25 of 50 - who sought research grants last fall (2001) through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) were successful. The 50 per cent success rate is up from 47 per cent the previous year, and well above the national success rate of 41 per cent.

The 25 successful SFU applicants will share $2,272,335 awarded by SSHRC over three years.They cover a wide range of disciplines, including economics, humanities, education, archaeology, psychology, criminology, history, geography, business, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, and resource and environmental management. Here are three of their projects.

Romantic idea focus of study

Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling: they're known in psychological circles as the “four horsemen of the romantic apocalypse,” and they're the kinds of behaviour social psychologist Lorne Campbell will be studying in detail next spring.

His research into Ideal Standards and Romantic Relationships - funded in part by a three-year $89,000 SSHRC grant - will investigate what happens between couples when partners satisfy - or fall short of - each other's romantic ideal.

“People have an image of the ideal person they want to be with,” observes Campbell, “and when they meet someone whose traits map onto that ideal, they are likely to enjoy a happy and stable relationship. But when stresses arise in relationships and people no longer meet each other's ideal standard, conflicts develop.”

Campbell's research team will try to identify behavioural patterns in couples who meet each other's ideal expectations, and couples who do not. Campbell hopes his research will “help bridge the gap between psychological theory and practice by helping marriage counsellors and other clinical psychologists to become more aware of the causal factors that may lead to destructive behaviour within relationships.”

Campbell, who came to SFU last fall after completing his PhD at Texas A&M, has been married to his high-school sweetheart for six years. Has his relationship research made him an ideal husband? “You know what they say about mechanics having the worst cars?” he laughs. “Of course we have conflicts like other couples. We're just committed to resolving them.”

Campbell invites dating and married couples from the campus community to participate in his research this summer: “We're paying $30 for a one-hour session.” Contact him at
Teaching young to read, write

The current educational focus on early literacy is “a necessary but hugely insufficient step to helping children succeed in school,” says SFU education professor Bernice Wong.

“All the attention has been on the early grades. But reading is not, by itself, enough to ensure success in the later years. Between grades five and seven, children must also refine their comprehension and writing skills. By Grade eight, it may be too late.”

Wong will use her new three-year SSHRC grant, worth $136,269, to work with a small team of in-service elementary and middle school teachers to identify and promote “best methods for teaching writing and comprehension. There is a new willingness for teachers and researchers to collaborate, to make use of all kinds of knowledge. We will bash our heads together to combine our practical and theoretical knowledge. This will be a true merging of teaching and research, and my hope is that kids of all abilities will benefit from an improved sense of self-efficacy that comes from being able to write well.”

Wong says that despite the media's tendency to paint a gloomy picture of public education, “it is not true that things are disastrous for students. Teaching methods are constantly improving as educational research informs teaching practice, and practice, in turn, informs research.”

The challenge, says Wong, is to adapt best practices to the realities of the modern cash-strapped, heterogeneous classroom.

To that end, Wong's research team plans to share their findings with teachers at professional development workshops held each year across the Lower Mainland.
Working for the needy

Although SFU economist Krishna Pendakur grew up in the affluent Vancouver suburb of Kerrisdale where “there was never any need,” he recognized early that many others were not so fortunate.

As an academic, he has dedicated his career to working on behalf of “the tens of thousands of Canadians who live in some kind of serious need.”
Pendakur will apply his three-year SSHRC grant, worth about $52,000, to his on-going efforts “to better measure the real cost of living in order to pinpoint poverty and inequality in Canada and respond to it appropriately at the social planning level.” Pendakur says the SSHRC grant will “support publication of more meaningful indices of how people in our country are doing. If you don't measure poverty in a way that's meaningful, you'll never be able to change anything.”

Pendakur's current research focuses on personal and family consumption patterns, which are, he says, a better measure than gross income of affluence or poverty.

“I focus on the actual annual expenditure by households on goods and services because households choose consumption levels based on some knowledge of future and past incomes. Sometimes, we save and borrow to get through low-income times. Here low income does not mean deprivation. However, households that consume little are either unwilling or unable to consume more, and are therefore clearly materially deprived in a long-term sense.”

Pendakur hopes his methods will allow governments and media to report poverty statistics “in a way that makes the public give a damn. Child poverty rates are on the rise again in Canada. We've been very successful in this country at ensuring that old people are not poor. I hope there is the same willingness to look after the children.”