Killam Accelerator Research Award

The Killam Accelerator Research Award was established in November 2018 -- funded from the generous Izaak Walton and Dorothy Killam bequest -- to address the needs of an under-served group of researchers that merits targeted investment. The award is granted on a competitive basis to early career faculty members who are within six (6) years of having taken up their first tenure track appointment, and who would normally just have received tenure and been promoted to the rank of Associate Professor.

The Killam Accelerator Research Award is for a three-year term based on the outstanding promise shown by the faculty member in their research output and the impact of their scholarly activity.

The awards are funded from the Killam General Endowment and have a value of $75,000 per year.

2020 Recipients

Rob McMahon, Political Science
Supporting Digital Literacy and Local Innovation with Northern and Indigenous Communities

Rapidly emerging digital technologies hold both promises and challenges for residents of diverse Northern, rural and Indigenous communities. Dr. Rob McMahon's research program involves partnering with communities to explore their adoption, development and use of these tools. Broadband connectivity, and the digital applications and services it makes possible, can be shaped to enable self-determined community and economic development. Emerging ICTs also threaten new forms of colonialism, economic dependencies, an influx of misinformation and inappropriate content, and increased concerns over privacy and surveillance. In this context, Dr. McMahon works closely with Indigenous groups across Canada and internationally to reflect on these implications and co-develop appropriate policies and resources. For example, as Co-Director of the DigitalNWT project, he is involved in developing and delivering a 'train the trainer' educational program, which equips a cohort of community-based digital literacy instructors to teach workshops across the Northwest Territories. Dr. McMahon is also the Coordinator of the First Mile Connectivity Consortium, a national association of non-profit First Nations telecommunications organisations. Across Canada, Indigenous peoples face significant digital divides, but as self-determining nations, they are undertaking broadband initiatives to connect their communities in ways that move beyond paternalistic, colonial-derived broadband development policies. This work enhances our theoretical understanding of how digital tools support the resilience and sustainability of diverse communities, while highlighting their many assets and strengths.

Read more about Dr. McMahon's work: Community-led, inclusive research key to success, says Killam Accelerator Award recipient Rob McMahon (Faculty of Arts)

Martha White, Computing Science
Robust Artificial Intelligence Algorithms for the Real-World

Martha's primary research area is machine learning, where the goal is to understand and develop algorithms that improve prediction and decision-making capabilities with experience. The learning setting is not so different from our own learning setting: an agent continually interacts with the world, gathering experience (data) to improve its predictions about the world and taking actions to achieve goals. For a practical example, consider developing an agent that can learn to vacuum a house. We might program-in certain structure, such as the fact that the agent should learn to make many predictions about its environment as well as the mechanism to update those predictions. When released into a specific house, the agent could start to learn predictions about how long it takes to vacuum a certain room so that it can plan the order it should vacuum each room and if it might need to recharge in-between. These patterns and statistics are in the data it has gathered, and need to be extracted. The algorithms she develops are therefore based on statistical techniques, to extract such patterns from the experience. She particularly focuses on understanding robustness of the algorithms, to facilitate their use in the real-world.