Take Note

Toope steps down

Professor Stephen Toope, the 12th president of UBC, will leave his post on June 30, 2014, to pursue academic and professional interests in international law and international relations. Professor Toope was named 12th president and vice-chancellor of UBC on March 22, 2006, and began his second five-year term in July 2011.

Board chair Bill Levine lauded the accomplishments of Toope during his tenure, and said an international search for UBC’s 13th president will begin shortly with the establishment of a search committee that will include a broad representation from the university community.

Pine beetle: Know thine enemy

The genome of the mountain pine beetle – the insect that has devastated BC’s lodgepole pine forests – has been decoded by researchers at UBC and Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

“We know a lot about what the beetles do,” says Christopher Keeling, a research associate in Professor Joerg Bohlmann’s lab at the Michael Smith Laboratories. “But without the genome, we don’t know exactly how they do it. Sequencing the mountain pine beetle genome provides new information that can be used to help manage the epidemic in the future.”

It is only the second beetle genome ever sequenced and revealed large variation among individuals of the species – which could allow them to be more successful in new environments. Isolating the genes is helping scientists understand how the beetle gets nutrients from the tree and protects itself against the tree’s defences.

Doctors not informed of harmful effects of medicines during sales visits

Family doctors receive little or no information about harmful effects of medicines in the majority of drug promotions during visits by drug company representatives, according to an international study involving Canadian, US and French physicians.

Yet the same doctors indicated that they were likely to start prescribing these drugs, consistent with previous research that shows prescribing behaviour is influenced by pharmaceutical promotion.

The study, which had doctors fill out questionnaires about each promoted medicine following sales visits, shows that sales representatives failed to provide any information about common or serious side effects and the type of patients who should not use the medicine in 59 per cent of the promotions. In Vancouver and Montreal, no potential harms were mentioned for 66 per cent of promoted medicines.

“Laws in all three countries require sales representatives to provide information on harm as well as benefits,” says lead author Barbara Mintzes, an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “But no one is monitoring these visits and there are next to no sanctions for misleading or inaccurate promotion.”

Teacher Ed for refugee camp

UBC is to offer teacher education programs in the Dadaab Refugee Camps in Kenya in order to increase access to education for resident children and youth. The first refugee camps were established in Dadaab in the early 1990s during the civil war in Somalia. Since then, Dadaab has become the largest refugee complex to the world, providing shelter to more than 460,000 people.

With $4.5 million in funding from CIDA, UBC’s Faculty of Education has partnered with York University and three Kenyan institutions – Kenyatta University, Moi University and the African Virtual University – to form the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees project.The refugee community hopes students will perform better on Kenyan national exams and have a better chance of leaving the refugee camp for post-secondary education.

Beginning August 2013, UBC and Kenya’s Moi University will jointly offer a two-year teacher education diploma program to volunteer secondary school teachers in the camps. Most Dadaab teachers have only completed secondary school and have no access to higher education. UBC and Moi University professors will be traveling to Dadaab to deliver some courses in person, although some of the curriculum could be offered online.

Global companies beware: Rude customer treatment depends on culture

A new UBC study reveals that North American service workers are more likely to sabotage rude customers, while Chinese react by disengaging from customer service altogether. “Our research shows that culture plays a significant role in how frontline workers deal with customer abuse,” says Sauder School of Business professor Daniel Skarlicki, who co‑authored the study with former Sauder PhD student Ruodan Shao.

“In North America, employees tend to retaliate against offensive customers – doing things like giving bad directions or serving cold food. In China, workers are more likely to reduce the general quality of service they provide to all customers – nasty or nice.”

“North Americans take a surgical approach to abuse, zeroing in on individuals who mistreated them,” says Skarlicki, noting that managers must be mindful of these cultural differences when expanding operations across the Pacific. “Chinese don’t blame the transgressor. They blame the system – the company or customers they serve.”

Babies choose sides early

Babies have a dark side under their cute exteriors, according to a UBC-led study that finds infants as young as nine months embrace those who pick on individuals who are different from them.

The study involved having babies choose which food they preferred: graham crackers or green beans. The infants then watched a puppet show in which one puppet demonstrated the same food preference as the infant, while another exhibited the opposite preference. In the experiments, other puppets harmed, helped or acted neutrally towards the puppets with different or similar food preferences. Prompted to pick their favourite puppet, infants demonstrated a strong preference for the puppets that harmed the “dissimilar” puppet and helped the “similar” one.

The lead author of the study, psychology professor Kiley Hamlin, describes the behaviour as an early form of the powerful, persistent social biases that exist in most adults, who favour individuals who share their origins, languages, appearances – even birthdays and sports affiliations – over people with whom they have fewer things in common.

Anxious about life? Tylenol may do the trick

UBC researchers have found a new potential use for the over-the-counter pain drug Tylenol. Typically known to relieve physical pain, the study suggests the drug may also reduce the psychological effects of fear and anxiety over the human condition, or existential dread. “Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death,” says lead author, psychology professor Daniel Randles. “Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as ‘pain’ by the brain – but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong.”

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