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2024 Interdisciplinary Symposium

The Institute for Pandemics (IfP) is pleased to present our 2024 Interdisciplinary Symposium, on April 18th, offered in a hybrid attendance format, join us at the historic Great Hall of Hart House on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto or online via Zoom webinar.

This year’s theme is “Reimagining Response & Preparedness for future Public Health Emergencies.” Join members of the Institute, the university, government, private sector, and community members for presentations and discussions around IfP’s themes of pandemic readiness, resilience, recovery, and equity.

The day will begin with a keynote presentation by Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, followed by a Q&A session.

The rest of the day will consist of:

  • Presentations from invited speakers on pandemic modelling, recovery in cities, and community engagement and trust in health systems
  • Panel discussions with IfP experts on the above topics
  • Poster session
  • Networking reception


Nelson Lee, Director, Institute for Pandemics

Professor Nelson Lee is an infectious diseases physician who has been deeply involved in the research on emerging infectious diseases, epidemics and pandemics for almost two decades. With an interdisciplinary approach, he has conducted a wide range of studies to understand the epidemiology, disease burden, health outcomes, transmission modes and prevention, as well as antiviral and vaccine effectiveness against viral respiratory infections. His research is referenced by international health authorities, contributing to the prevention and control of epidemic viral diseases including coronavirus and influenza. Professor Lee is dedicated to his goals in preventing, effectively responding, and mitigating the impacts of pandemics through research and education.

Before joining the Dalla Lana School of Public Health in 2021, he spent four years at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, where he served as professor and research chair in the Division of Infectious Diseases. He was an endowed professor in The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he worked for 15 years, tracking and managing outbreaks of emerging infections (e.g., SARS, novel influenza).

Dean Ashish Jha, Brown University School of Public Health

Dr. Ashish Jha is a globally renowned public health leader currently serving as the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. A respected physician, Dr. Jha is acclaimed for his expertise in addressing major health issues. Appointed by President Biden as White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator in March 2022, Dr. Jha led initiatives that enhanced treatment and vaccine accessibility, improved testing, and strengthened national stockpiles. His pragmatic approach to public health has garnered bipartisan praise for translating complex scientific challenges into actionable improvements. With over 300 publications in esteemed medical journals and a leadership role in pandemic preparedness, Dr. Jha's impact extends globally. Prior to his current role, he held prominent positions at Harvard University, including K.T. Li Professor of Global Health and Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Presentation Information

Lessons from COVID-19: Data, innovation, and partnership in preparing for the next health crisis Dr. Ashish Jha will highlight the global health challenges of pandemics and biosecurity -- and how key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic can help public health leaders to meet and respond to these challenges. He will emphasize the shortcomings and achievements of the pandemic - how innovation reshaped the public health response, why partnerships were critical, and how we might use these lessons to be better prepared. As we enter a new era of health risks. Dr. Jha will point to key research and policy efforts essential for enhancing preparedness. These efforts will ensure that as we face new health threats, the world stands ready to respond more flexibly -- and more effectively. 

Session Info

As downtowns throughout North America have struggled to recover from the pandemic, many are eager to blame government directives that mandated distancing, closures, and quarantining. Yet, research from the Downtown Recovery project has shown that the structure of the downtown economy is far more important in shaping the ability of downtowns to come back. In this talk, we examine recovery patterns across downtowns in light of long-term patterns in hybrid and remote work. Our conclusions have implications for how governments might best restrict activity in the next pandemic.

Invited Speaker

Karen Chapple, School of Cities

Karen Chapple, Ph.D., is Director of the School of Cities and Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto. Chapple studies inequalities in the planning, development, and governance of cities and regions throughout the Americas. Her recent publications include “Pandemic polycentricity? Mobility and migration patterns across New York over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic” in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and “Can we save the downtown? Examining Pandemic Recovery and Polycentricity Trajectories across 62 North American Cities” in Cities. In Summer 2022, Chapple launched www.downtownrecovery.com to track pandemic recovery patterns in North American downtowns. Chapple is a Professor Emerita of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where she served as department chair. A recipient of multiple awards, including the 2023 Regional Studies Association’s Sir Peter Hall Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Field, Chapple holds a B.A. in Urban Studies from Columbia University, an M.S.C.R.P from the Pratt Institute, and a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley.

Panel Discussion

Moderator: Shauna Brail, IfP Resilience Theme co-lead, University of Toronto Mississauga


  • Renzo Calderon, IfP Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto, IfP Advisory Table member

The call for abstracts is now open and we would like to see as many pandemic-related posters, from many disciplines, as possible. Poster presenters are asked to submit a poster abstract through the online form by March 24th. Presenters can choose whether or not they want their poster to be part of the competition.

The competition is open to current students from undergraduate to PhD level.

Adjudicated posters will be judged according to the attached rubric, with three prizes available: 1st = $500, 2nd = $250, 3rd = $150

Session Info

Historical records allow us to reconstruct patterns of disease spread in the past, in some cases going back hundreds of years.  The questions we can address depend on the available data, which has varied enormously over time.  I will present data, going back as far as 1348, which we have acquired and studied at McMaster in the last few years.  I will discuss insights obtained from mathematical modelling inspired by these data, and opportunities we have to improve our understanding of plague, influenza, COVID-19, and other diseases that have caused -- or have the potential to cause -- pandemics.

Invited Speaker

David Earn, McMaster University

David Earn is a Professor of Mathematics and the Faculty of Science Research Chair in Mathematical Epidemiology at McMaster University. His primary research interests are in infectious disease dynamics, from the time of the Black Death to the present.

He was an undergraduate in mathematics at the University of Toronto, and received his PhD in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar and held an Isaac Newton Studentship. As a postdoctoral fellow in Cambridge and Princeton, he shifted focus to biological problems, especially the epidemiology of infectious diseases.

He is a recipient of a CIHR New Investigator Award, an Ontario Premierʼs Research Excellence Award, the Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society Research Award, and is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.  He is a member of the executive committee of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster, and co-leads the Canadian Network for Modelling Infectious Diseases (CANMOD, https://canmod.net/).

Web site: http://davidearn.mcmaster.ca

Panel Discussion

Moderator: David Fisman, IfP Readiness Theme Lead, Dalla Lana School of Public Health


  • Ashleigh Tuite, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Jude Kong, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
  • Alison Simmons, Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Dr. Mrigank Shail, World Health Organization

Dr. Mrigank Shail is an accomplished medical researcher, writer, and strategic content creator with a passion for global public health and strategic communications. Dr. Shail earned his Medical Doctorate (MD) with Honours from Xavier University School of Medicine. He has pursued Continued Medical Education courses at institutions such as Harvard University and the Yale Institute for Global Health. Dr. Shail has acquired valuable experience in a range of medical fields, including neurosurgery, addiction and mental health, strategic health communications, and medical content development. Currently, he serves as a Strategic Communications Consultant at the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Department of Communications headquartered in Geneva. Dr. Shail’s research interests focus on exploring data-driven strategies to develop effective social media communication campaigns, establish an expert online presence, and promote health messages to target audiences. As a teacher, he helps students navigate credible web and social media information, identify and combat misinformation and disinformation using various trends and metrics, and create and amplify customized digital content. Dr. Shail emphasizes the importance of data analysis, visualization, and social media metrics in achieving these goals and works towards equipping his students with the necessary tools to become reliable sources of credible information for their followers. Through collaboration with WHO teams, he promotes health messages and creates positive social impact.

Panel Discussion

Moderator: Stefanie Tan, IfP Postdoctoral Fellow


  • Ishtiaque Ahmed, Department of Computer Science U of T
  • Nadia Caidi, Faculty of Information U of T
  • Ameil Joseph, McMaster University
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