The Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems Welcomes Summer Research Assistants

May 2018

On Tuesday, May 8th, the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems held an all-day orientation for incoming summer research assistants. The program included sessions on research ethics, worker health and safety, participatory action research, and research communications. The gathering brought together expert and novice FLEdGE researchers working in the Northwest Territories and Southern Ontario FLEdGE Research Nodes to share experiences, discuss the challenges and benefits of participatory action research, and build a community of practice.

Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer welcomes student researchers to the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems

Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer, director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (LCSFS) and Principal Investigator for FLEdGE, opened the day by welcoming the early career researchers to the LCSFS and walking them through the many national and international projects taking place throughout the FLEdGE network. Dr. Blay-Palmer then engaged the research assistants in a lively discussion about conducting food systems research with community partners. In their community-driven research efforts, Dr. Blay-Palmer sees student researchers as ambassadors for Laurier, the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, and the FLEdGE network. “Student research assistants with the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems work directly with communities and conduct innovative sustainable food systems research,” she explained. “They make meaningful and impactful contributions to the changing landscape of sustainable food systems research. Here at the CSFS we’re doing everything we can to ensure that they have the support they need to do their amazing work.”

Dr. Spring and Dr. Schumilas sitting at table in conversation.
Dr. Andrew Spring and Dr. Theresa Schumilas talked to incoming research assistants about their approach to participatory action research.

Following a field research safety briefing by Andrew Good, Health and Safety Specialist with Laurier’s Safety, Health, Environment, and Risk Management department, the program turned to the practical considerations of doing participatory action research. Drawing on their personal field research experiences, FLEdGE research node leads Dr. Theresa Schumilas and Dr. Andrew Spring offered their insights into the benefits and challenges of working directly with communities. Dr. Schumilas stressed the importance of good planning for participatory action research but added that, in order to truly work with communities, “you have to give it the plan up and become an equal participant in the research.” Dr. Spring talked about the role of patience, flexibility, and adaptability in participatory action research and acknowledged that research assistants are asked to “put a lot of trust” in the research process. “That’s why coming together to talk about our research experiences is so important,” Dr. Spring continued. “There are amazing success stories throughout the FLEdGE network, so if things do get complicated, there are a number of people that can provide support.”

The day wrapped up with an informal discussion about research communications and social media for early career researchers led by Amanda Di Battista, the project co-ordinator at the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems.

We wish all of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems’ research assistants and graduate students an excellent summer of sustainable food systems research.


Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems research assistants and staff taking a break in the sun. Top image (from left): Maggie Mills, Emily Edwards, Amanda Watkins, Neomi Jayaratne, and Molly Fremes. Bottom image (from left): Kaitlin Kok, Jennifer Marshman, Michelle Malandra, Laine Young, Elena Christy, and Molly Stollmeyer.

For more information about the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems please contact Amanda Di Battista at