April 15, 2024

From urban space transformation to the alien world of plants, image competition entries take us on a journey through grad student research

Winners of 2023 Images of Research Competition announced
A stylistic photo of a neighborhood
2023-24 Images of Research winning image. Afrin Islam

Imagine a world where research is not confined to the walls of laboratories or the pages of academic journals. This is the world the University of Calgary’s annual Images of Research Competition brings to life. The competition, organized by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, invites graduate students to capture an image related to their research and write general and technical abstracts that complement the image and describes their research and its impact.

“The competition is more than just a contest,” says Dr. Tara Beattie, dean and vice-provost, Faculty of Graduate Studies. “It’s a platform for graduate students to explore new ways of thinking about research, its value and how it can be communicated to a broad, non-specialist audience. It’s about breaking down barriers and making research accessible and engaging to all.”

Inside the Images of Research Competition

This year’s competition began in November 2023 with workshops and feedback sessions run by the My GradSkills team throughout January 2024. It finished in an awards presentation on Feb. 13, 2024 in the Collision Space on the 4th floor of the Hunter Hub Student Commons. 

The competition awarded a total of $1,500 in prize money, with awards for the best in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) and HAS (humanities, arts, fine arts, and social science). The entries were judged by a distinguished panel of judges, including Dr. Denis Gadbois, an associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History, Joanne Oucharek, an award-winning photographer and executive director of tourism for Cochrane, Alta., and Alison Abel, senior manager of communications for the Faculty of Law. A People’s Choice Award was also presented and determined by members of the community.

The competition saw an array of incredible entries, each telling a unique story of research and innovation. The winning submissions were displayed in Gallery 621 in the Arts Building on the Main UCalgary Campus from February 15 - 28, 2024, giving the UCalgary community an opportunity to view the talent and innovation within its graduate student community.

A group of people stand in a line holding award

From left, Maryam Mahdavian, Madeline Springle, Ginny Li, Afrin Islam, Jawad Afzali, McCaide Wooten.

Milena Marshall, Faculty of Graduate Studies

Competiton winners

  • Overall winner: Afrin Islam, master in landscape architecture 
  • STEM first runner-up: Ginny Li, master in biological sciences
  • HAS first runner-up: Maryam Mahdavian, PhD in education
  • STEM second runner-up: Sina Mohtasebi, PhD in veterinary medicine
  • HAS second runner-up: Madeline Springle, PhD in psychology
  • People’s Choice Award and STEM honourable mention: McCaide Wooten, PhD in veterinary medicine
  • STEM honourable mention: Jawad Afzali, master in veterinary medicine
  • HAS honourable mention: Lorena Koenig, master in social work
  • HAS honourable mention: Anurag, PhD in communications

Stories behind the images

The overall winner, Afrin Islam, is a third-year master’s student in landscape architecture. Her entry, titled Urban Oasis: A unique blend of Experiences in the Ramsay Neighborhood of Calgary, focused on her research of transforming underutilized urban spaces into vibrant community hubs. 

“The image encapsulates a moment from the public garden and natural playscape illustrating how spatial design in landscape architecture can establish a serene sanctuary amidst urban life,” Islam says. Notably, Afrin is a two-time winner of the Images of Research competition, having also secured first place in 2023.

Two people stand together

First place winner Afrin Islamm, right, with Faculty of Graduate Studies Learning and Design Specialist Felicia Glatz.

Milena Marshall, Faculty of Graduate Studies

The first runners-up in the STEM and HAS categories were Ginny Li, a second-year master’s student in biological sciences, and Maryam Mahdavian, a second-ear PhD student in education, respectively. 

Li’s research focuses on plant biochemistry, studying plants that make specialized compounds called alkaloids. “I sought to capture this unknowing feeling surrounding plants and reveal an alien world at the microscopic level,” Li explains.

Mahdavian’s research examines the effectiveness of cartoons in disseminating educational research findings. “The image I use to describe this research is also a cartoon. It symbolizes the transformative process of making educational content more engaging and enjoyable for diverse audiences,” she says.

Cultivating research communication skills

The 2023-24 Images of Research Competition has proven to be a transformative experience for participants, fostering essential skills for effectively conveying complex ideas to diverse audiences.

According to McCaide Wooten, a second-year PhD student in veterinary medicine, the event provided an invaluable opportunity to refine research communication skills. "It's imperative that students develop skills in research translation if they want their work to be understood by a wide audience," Wooten says. 

This sentiment is echoed by Li, who notes that feedback sessions hosted by the My GradSkills team were instrumental in understanding how to make her project accessible to the public.

For Jawad Afzali, a second-year master’s student in veterinary medicine, the competition sparked a journey into new tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, highlighting the importance of adaptability and creativity in research communication. 

Madeline Springle, a first-year PhD student in psychology, emphasizes the significance of clear writing and visually striking images in engaging broader audiences, highlighting the value of such competitions in honing these skills.

As Springle says, "Embrace these opportunities to enhance your skills and make your research accessible beyond academia!" 

The Faculty of Graduate Studies extends its congratulations to all the 2023-24 Images of Research winners and thanks all participants for being a part of this year’s competition. See the full gallery of winning submissions over the years.