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Kirsten Madsen

Building a culture of ethical and purposeful research

Newsroom authorby Susan AtkinsonJan 6, 2017
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Sheridan’s commitment to building a culture of Scholarship, Research and Creative Activities (SRCA) is a central tenet, and differentiator, in its journey towards university status. And it is professors like Dr. Kirsten Madsen who are playing a pivotal role in the evolution of SRCA at Sheridan.

Madsen, who joined Sheridan as a psychology professor in 2003, brought with her a background in applied research as well as ‘discovery’-based research, the traditional domain of universities. Part of what attracted her to Sheridan was its focus on applied research, because “the research projects that really resonated with me were those that went beyond theory to have a real impact on people.”

Madsen’s own research has focused primarily on anti-bullying among children aged five to 18 years, a subject that took hold during her undergraduate work at York University, where she worked for Dr. Debra Pepler on a project investigating the “Peer Interactions of Aggressive and Non-Aggressive Children.” Her interest in the subject continued through her postgraduate work at Sheffield University in England, where she earned a PhD in developmental psychology while working on the Sheffield anti-bullying project.

Before coming to Sheridan, Madsen was working as the Implementation and Training Coordinator for the community mental health resource group at The Hospital for Sick Children. At the time, she had just received funding from SSHRC for a research project involving fourteen First Nations communities and an aboriginal mental health agency. This project began in response to concerns raised by the latter agency about the growing number of girls being referred with aggressive behavior issues.

“Kirsten doesn’t just talk about research – she models it.” – Pat Spadafora, Director of Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research

Although Sheridan was not deemed to be SSHRC-eligible at the time, the appropriate systems were put in place to allow for the transfer of the grant from the hospital to Sheridan, a move that laid the foundation for numerous successful federal research grants in the years since.

Among those systems was the establishment of a Research Ethics Board (REB), which Madsen has chaired since its inception. Under her leadership, the REB has put in place the necessary policies and procedures, and has also worked to streamline the process to encourage more faculty to participate in research. “We want people to focus more on the authenticity and ethics of their research, rather than the intricacies of filling out an application,” she says.

For faculty interested in pursuing research projects, Madsen is there to provide advice. “Along with other experienced researchers, I can help faculty work through their ideas and provide support to help get them off the ground.” Pat Spadafora, Director of Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research, credits Madsen with helping to build a research culture at Sheridan: “Kirsten doesn’t just talk about research – she models it.”

A key beneficiary of Sheridan’s expanding SRCA culture are the students who have an opportunity to participate in applied research projects. Madsen credits this experience with helping them acquire an investigative mindset, while also developing critical analysis and problem solving skills. Most important, perhaps, is seeing the impact that research can have. “It’s one thing to read about research and research methodology, but when you actually engage in it you start to see how you can make a difference. It’s so important that our students have a sense of efficacy, that they can actually have an impact on the communities and industries they work in.”

“It’s one thing to read about research and research methodology, but when you actually engage in it you start to see how you can make a difference.” –               Dr. Kirsten Madsen

On top of the many hours she devotes to her own research and to supporting SRCA, Madsen is also passionate about teaching psychology, and she’s found a receptive audience at Sheridan. “Our student body is fun, because it’s so diverse – with different interests, perspectives and experiences – the students all bring different aspects to the classroom and that makes it very entertaining,” she says, adding that the classroom is her “favourite place to be.”

Madsen’s expertise in bullying will soon be applied to a new demographic – the elderly. In partnership with Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research, she has been awarded a three-year grant from SSHRC to study bullying among senior adults, with the goal of creating a resource kit that service agencies can use to support victims of bullying while also working to prevent its occurrence.

Through her passionate advocacy and tireless work ethic, Madsen is making an indelible impact on Sheridan – colleagues and students alike – as well as the communities we serve.

Pictured at top of page: Sheridan Professor and Research Ethics Board Chair Dr. Kirsten Madsen. Photo by Sheridan Photography Technologist Owen Colborne. 

Written by: Susan Atkinson, (retired) Director, Communications at Sheridan.

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