media release

SFU students among top research storytellers

April 01, 2014

Luseadra McKerracher,
Bryce Westlake,
Maria Zakharova,
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.9017


A trio of Simon Fraser University student research projects on cybercrime, the evolution of morning sickness, and voting behavior are among 25 top research “story” winners of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Research for a Better Life: Storytellers Challenge.

SSHRC launched the second annual challenge last fall, asking post-secondary students from across the country to demonstrate—in three minutes or 300 words—how a SSHRC-funded research project at their institution is making a difference in the lives of Canadians.

SSHRC announced the winners today and will present the awards in May.

The SFU award recipients include:

Luseadra McKerracher, a PhD candidate in SFU’s Human Evolutionary Studies Program. She is working with groups of Fijian women to investigate evolutionary explanations for why pregnant women experience food aversions as well as unusual cravings, and why some develop morning sickness.

She is also studying factors that influence women to cease breast-feeding, focusing on indigenous Mayan women from Guatemala and other data sources to reconstruct infant feeding behaviors from the past. Papers on both projects will soon be published.

Bryce Westlake, who is part of a research team at the International Cybercrime Research Centre (ICCRC). In 2010 the team began exploring networks of websites involved in distributing child-exploitation content. Using a custom-made web-crawler, the team investigates the structure of child-exploitation websites and collects data on the type of content being distributed. Researchers have developed a method for finding the key players in these website networks. 

With assistance from the RCMP, the team also determined the best methods for finding child-exploitation content and is exploring the evolution of related website networks to learn how the online criminal community functions and adjusts activities in relation to potential law enforcement detection. Researchers will next investigate how anonymity inherent with the so-called “Dark Web” facilitates child exploitation.

Maria Zakharova, a PhD candidate in political science from the Russian city of Tyumen in southwestern Siberia. Zakharova earned a BA in psychology from the University of Calgary and moved to the West Coast to further pursue research in political science—specifically party politics, voting behaviour and comparative politics.

”My primary focus is on party or candidate valence—that is, voters’ evaluations of parties and candidates that are not related to policy, such as leader charisma, party unity and integrity, leader or candidate competence. I’m interested in the sources of these evaluations, the ways in which they can be measured across a large number of countries and elections, and their consequences for electoral outcomes and government formation processes.”

“With the Storytellers campaign, we recognize and promote excellence in research communication, and celebrate Canada’s next generation of researchers and leaders,” said Chad Gaffield, president of SSHRC.

 “The 25 finalists announced today, through their compelling stories, demonstrate how research in the social sciences and humanities generates insights into people and human behaviour, contributes to social innovation and helps to build a better future for us all. Congratulations to all those who entered this year’s Storytellers challenge. Your stories are truly inspiring.”

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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