Graduate Student Award of Merit

About The Award

At least four awards, each in the amount of $4,000, will be awarded annually to the women graduate students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the university or general community while maintaining exemplary academic records.


Women registered in Master’s or PhD programs at any Member Institution of Universities Canada within a designated region are eligible to be nominated. Regions and number of awards are defined as follows, and eligibility shall rotate among them: ​

  • Western Provinces (2024) – 4 awards
  • Quebec (2025) – 4 awards
  • Atlantic Provinces (2026) – 4 awards
  • Ontario (2027) – 5 awards


1. Outstanding academic performance.

2. Evidence of leadership, including but not limited to such things as:

  • executive positions in student organizations
  • participation on committees (student committees and university committees)
  • organization of special events, conferences, etc.
  • involvement in advocacy groups
  • involvement in volunteer organizations, within the campus setting and/or in the general community.


Each university in the designated region may nominate, through the Dean of Graduate Studies or her/his delegate, one person for the award. The Dean shall also be responsible for the appointment of a nominating committee for the award and for providing the Selection Committee with all necessary documentation in support of the nomination, including:

  • biographical data*
  • curriculum vitae
  • academic records
  • three letters of reference

The deadline for submission of nominations:  January 17, 2025.

The Selection Committee shall be the elected members of the Executive Committee (or its delegates), excluding those from the region from which the award recipients will be selected.

Nominations for the 2024 competition (Western Provinces) must be sent via electronic mail to:

SWAAC President
Dr. Donna Kotsopoulos
Western University
Email to:

If you have any questions about the award or require further information please contact Megha Ajmani, SWAAC Registrar and Treasurer at
*biographical information usually includes information about former and current studies,  areas of interest, research, publications, other awards, interests outside the university, and community or volunteer work.  It’s usually in a narrative form, about 1-2 pages in length, and is an opportunity for the nominee to tell the adjudication committee some things about herself, and to explain at greater length her background/interests/passions/ambitions/volunteer work.

Recent Award Recipients

Taylor Snowden

A PhD candidate studying Neuroscience at the University of Victoria, under the supervision of Dr. Brian Christie. Her doctoral research primarily focuses on investigating concussions as a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases and exploring non-pharmacological interventions, such as aerobic exercise and cognitive training, for individuals affected by concussions. She currently holds a Canada Graduate Scholarship from CIHR for this work. 

 Throughout her university career, she has excelled academically while actively participating in varsity swimming, volunteering for multiple community initiatives, and engaging in research endeavours. Her dedication to academic excellence and passion for science communication have been evident through numerous presentations at conferences and the publication of several journal articles. 

 In addition to her academic pursuits, she has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities. As the Director of the University of Victoria Concussion Lab, she oversees operations, mentors undergraduates, and spearheads research initiatives. Her leadership extends beyond the university, where she plays a pivotal role in organizations like the Brain Changes Initiative and the Brain Injury Alliance of British Columbia, advocating for TBI resources, and facilitating support groups. 

 Taylor is honoured to have been selected as a 2024 recipient of the SWAAC Graduate Student Award of Merit. She hopes to continue in academia and create a nurturing and supportive space for future women in Neuroscience. 

Kate Bourne

Kate Bourne is a PhD and MD student in the Leaders in Medicine program at the University of Calgary. Kate’s research focuses on postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a debilitating cardiovascular autonomic disorder that primarily impacts young women. Kate’s career goal is to become a clinician-scientist focusing on women’s cardiovascular health including POTS. In this role she will aim to improve the quality of science and care for patients. 

 Kate is supervised by Dr. Satish Raj, a cardiologist and world expert in POTS. Kate’s research focuses on the significant impacts of POTS and non-pharmacological treatments including compression garments. To date, Kate has 23 peer-reviewed publications. She has published research on the employment and economic impacts of POTS, the role of biological sex differences in POTS, and the impacts of pregnancy on POTS symptoms. Her compression garment research has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a top cardiology journal. Kate has shared her research in many forums including as a recipient of the Finapres Medical Systems Penaz-Wesseling Award at the American Autonomic Society Meeting in 2021 and at a patient education day at Harvard University. In 2020, Kate was selected as a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Vanier Scholar for her leadership, academic excellence, and research potential. 

 Prior to her graduate work, Kate completed her undergraduate degree in microbiology at the University of Victoria. Outside of academics, Kate is an active volunteer. She has been a member and volunteer with Girl Guides of Canada for 17 years and has volunteered over 2,200 hours as a medical first responder in the community. 

Una Goncin

A PhD candidate in Health Sciences (Medical Imaging) at the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK). Her doctoral research focuses on developing low-cost molecular imaging approaches to visualize inflammation and fibrosis associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Throughout her graduate studies, Una has been awarded several scholarships, including the prestigious CIHR Frederick Banting & Charles Best CGS-D. She has published 13 peer-reviewed articles in diverse fields such as wildlife ecology and genetics, virology, medical education, and molecular imaging. She has received recognition at major conferences in her field, including delivering a Highlight Lecture at the 2019 World Molecular Imaging Congress and receiving the top oral presentation award in her category at the 2020 European Molecular Imaging Meeting. 

A strong advocate for graduate students, Una’s leadership extends to the university, college, and provincial levels. Committed to student engagement and fostering career development opportunities, she has organized more than a dozen research symposiums, workshops, and social events. In her community, Una has helped organize events like Science Rendezvous, a nation-wide annual all-day festival, and the CIBC Run for the Cure. She is dedicated to making science accessible through initiatives such as the NSERC-funded Science Outreach Kamskénow program and “Science on Saturdays” sessions at the Museum of Natural Sciences. Internationally, Una serves as a member of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group and Secretary of the Women in Molecular Imaging Network (WIMIN) Interest Group under the World Molecular Imaging Congress, where she aims to champion diversity and inclusion efforts in the molecular imaging field. 

Una is honored to have received the SWAAC Graduate Student Award of Merit and extends sincere gratitude to the selection committee and her invaluable support network. 

Crystal Giesbrecht

 She is a Ph.D. Candidate in Justice Studies at the University of Regina. In 2021, she was named a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar. Crystal’s academic work and career focus on working to end violence against women. Her doctoral research includes a systematic review of typologies of perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) and the creation of a new typology. 

Crystal also serves as the Director of Research at the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), the member association for domestic violence shelters and counselling centres. Her work at PATHS includes conducting research relating to IPV and delivering training for professionals. Crystal is a member of the Expert Advisory Panel for the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, a member of Saskatchewan’s Multi-Sector Review Committee for Clare’s Law, and a case review team member for Saskatchewan’s Domestic Violence Death Review. 

She has published research relating to violence intervention programs; newcomer women’s experiences of IPV; the intersection of IPV, animal maltreatment, and animal safekeeping; the workplace impact of IPV; and addressing data gaps in the study of domestic homicide. 

Crystal is an active volunteer with Amnesty International and Search and Rescue Regina.  

Crystal is honoured to have been chosen as a recipient of the 2024 SWAAC Graduate Student Award of Merit and is grateful to the senior women academic leaders for this opportunity.

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