Two students make a presentation, with screens behind them featuring a face
SSHRC’s Storytellers Challenge asks postsecondary students to show how social sciences and humanities research is affecting our lives, our world and our future for the better. (Photo: Submitted)

The power of collaboration: Storytellers Challenge winners emphasize the importance of synergy in research

A collaboration between graduate students from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) secured a winning spot in the 2024 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Storytellers Challenge, marking the first time a collaborative entry has placed top five in the contest’s eleven-year history.

By Erin Matthews, Research Profile and Impact

SSHRC’s Storytellers Challenge asks postsecondary students to show Canadians, in up to three minutes or 300 words, how social sciences and humanities research is affecting our lives, our world and our future for the better.

USask PhD candidate and settler scholar Olivia (Liv) Abram and collaborator Leah Alfred-Olmedo, UBC PhD student and member of the Namgis First Nation, have been co-writing a chapter about Indigenous-led collaboration in the Indigenous literary arts over the past year.

“Initially we couldn’t submit together but after some conversations between SSHRC we were able to demonstrate the importance of showcasing our collaborative work as a team,” said Abram.

Abram and Alfred-Olmedo entered the Storytellers Challenge and eventually made their way to the finals, which was held at the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) 2024 conference in Saskatoon on May 6.

The pair’s winning presentation featured the two scholars speaking simultaneously about their work as their superimposed faces fade in and out on a black background.

“I was able to experience the wonderful support of USask,” said Alfred-Olmedo. “I think it was fantastic that the finals were in Saskatoon and the campus community really showed up to support Liv which was really wonderful to see.”

In true collaborative spirit, Abram and Alfred-Olmedo combined their individual strengths in university sports and performance arts to pull together a tightly timed and creative presentation. The timing of their delivery had to be precise or the two risked throwing each other off or being out of sync with the video playing behind them.

Abram and Alfred-Olmedo’s paths first crossed during a workshop co-facilitated by USask’s Dr. Kristina Bidwell (PhD), Canada Research Chair in Indigenous storytelling and faculty member in the College of Arts and Science, and Dr. Sophie McCall (PhD) from Simon Fraser University (SFU).

They quickly developed a strong working relationship.

“There needs to be a spark between collaborators,” said Abram. “You need to work closely with one another and being on the same wavelength is important for a long term, positive and focused relationship.”

Together Abram and Alfred-Olmedo are continuing to change the way people think about collaborative efforts, challenging others to recognize the value and hard work that goes into the process.

“Collaboration doesn’t mean that you each do half the work and bring it together. We are both doing 100 percent of the work,” said Abram. “It is a lot more complicated than working alone but it is well worth the added time and coordination.”

Beyond their collaborative project, Abram and Alfred-Olmedo have also led several collaborative initiatives including The Collaboration Station, an online networking board that connects scholars with potential collaborative projects.

Together, we will undertake the research the world needs. We invite you to join by supporting critical research at USask.