Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan


We are looking for motivated students to carry out their outstanding research and creative projects in Taiwan. Whether you are in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences, the Big Ideas Competition is an opportunity to create and experiment in a new environment. The possibilities are endless! For example, your project could be a documentary film about Taipei’s changing neighbourhoods; a study of the butterfly species endemic to the island, or an investigation of Asia’s most vibrant democracy. The only constraint is your imagination.

Students will be supported in the application process through a series of workshops between January and April 2019, which will cover: conceiving a winning idea; writing a successful proposal, and idea execution through project management. Students are welcome to apply as individuals or as a team.


Full-time University of Toronto undergraduate and graduate students from all three campuses are eligible to apply. Proposals will be adjudicated based on creativity, feasibility, and quality. Students’ academic records and background training may factor in the deliberation. Students without prior research experience in Taiwan are encouraged to apply.

Students prepare for the challenge through several workshops providing feedback and guidance from faculty and advisors between January 2019 and April 2019. From May to July, students have the opportunity to travel to Taiwan for up to 21 days to conduct research and put their proposals into action. In August, students write up their final reports (following a Big Ideas report template) and produce their creative projects. The program culminates in September 2019 with public presentations by student awardees at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

2018-19 TIMELINE


Call for Ideas Posted November 6
Draft Proposal Submission Deadline *extended to January 11*
Information Session and Proposal Writing Workshop February 1
Application Deadline February 8
Awardees Announced March 1


Project Management, Research Ethics, and Planning Workshop March 22
Progress Review Meeting with Mentor, Status Update Approval April 12
Travel/Fieldwork/Research May – July
Check-in with Mentor August
Report Work August
Public Presentation of the Research Experience and Outcomes Mid-September


Draft Proposal Submission: January 10, 2019 *extended to January 11, 2019*

Final Application: February 8, 2019


*Normally up to $3000(CAD) for individuals or $6000(CAD) for teams


  • Applicants must submit materials as a single PDF file to with the SUBJECT LINE “Big Ideas Application: Last Name_Student ID #”.
  • Please LABEL YOUR PDF ATTACHMENT: “Last Name_First Name_Big Ideas Application” (when submitting as a team, please choose one team member’s name for the purposes of titling)
  1. A completed 2018-19 Big Ideas Competition Application Form (Download an editable Microsoft Word version of the form here; password: “BigIdeas2019!”)
  2. ) including project summary and applicant information, itinerary, budget, and budget justification (following the templates on pages 3-4 of the form).
  3. CVs of all team members
  4. Proposal of up to 5 pages double spaced (follow instructions on the 2018-19 Big Ideas Competition Application Form). *Download an editable Microsoft Word version of the form here (password: “BigIdeas2019!”).


Please contact me with any questions:

Shannon Garden-Smith
Special Programs Coordinator, Asian Institute
Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Rm. 255S – South House
Toronto, ON M5S3K7
Phone: 416.946.5372

2018 Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan Recipients


  • Jordan Ali (Department of Geography and Planning)
  • Fay Lin (Department of English; Diaspora and Transnational Studies)

Taipei inhabits a transnational site of productive friction as a result of decisive investment from the Californian game industry-giant, Blizzard, alongside condemnations of video games in both national and international media. “Gaming” itself has been at the center of debate surrounding anxieties of time-wasting, productivity, and male youth arriving into increasingly competitive labour markets. On the one hand, gaming seems a useless form of virtual leisure, while on the other it rewards skilled players with lucrative professional contracts. This raises questions about the centrality of Taiwan and Taiwanese gamers in the future of the global eSports industry.

For our research project, we explore the tensions surrounding gaming and eSports by applying a spatial analysis of sites across Taipei that, though seemingly different in function, allow us to reconsider the taken-for-granted spaces through which an eSports landscape forms: Taipei’s internet cafes, electronics retail centres, and the Blizzard eSports Arena. Initially these three gamespaces seem connected exclusively to the realm of play. However, in visiting and observing the social exchanges in these spaces, and the spaces themselves, we discovered that gaming presents the unique ability to collapse work and play into an ambiguous set of practices that can commodify, commercialize, or reimagine gamespaces as capable of both productivity and leisure, troubling discourses that designate mutually exclusive spaces for binaries of ‘work’ and ‘play.’

Blizzard eSports Arena–the winning team hoists the championship trophy after defeating their regional nemesis. Photo: Ali Jordan.


  • Natalie Bell (MA in East Asian Studies/Collaborative MA in Contemporary East and Southeast Asian Studies)

Through interviews and field research at museums in Taiwan I examined the role indigenous history plays in what Benedict Anderson refers to as “national biography” and how that role is changing. As recognition of an indigenous past in Taiwan carries the connotation of an alternative to the previously China-focused Guomindang (KMT) supported national narrative, the increasing representation of indigenous histories in national museums reflects a political recognition of non-Chinese ancestry. Museums in Taiwan appear to be moving away from decontextualized presentations of indigenous groups as a remote past, unchanging and separated from wider Taiwanese history, to a presentation of Taiwan itself as diverse, incorporating indigenous histories into presentations of immigrant history, and giving indigenous groups an active voice in historical events. Museums are also increasingly collaborating with indigenous groups to develop exhibitions. At first glance, new exhibits and academic support for these changes seem to draw an important connection between diversity and democracy, reflecting transformations in Taiwanese politics since 1971. This change may not reflect Taiwanese political changes solely but is also the result of academic pressures on worldwide trends in museum presentations of indigenous peoples.


  • Siobhan Bradley (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)
  • Ayesha Bery (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)
  • Pemasal Banigan (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)

In an effort to maintain global competitiveness, Taiwan has begun to transition to a knowledge-based economy. In tandem with this transition, the Taiwanese government has launched an ambitious plan to become the Silicon Valley of Asia, focused on fostering innovation, an entrepreneurship ecosystem, an improved education system, and various national policy initiatives. However, Taiwan’s human capital issues–specifically its talent deficit and brain drain–pose questions regarding Taiwan’s ability to maintain its status as an innovation powerhouse. Our research project investigates Taiwan’s talent deficit and the sustainability of Taiwan’s innovation plan. Following qualitative research with industry leaders, government officials, innovation hubs, and entrepreneurs, our research team gained diverse perspectives on the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan (ASVDP) and Taiwan’s innovation landscape more broadly. The main conclusion we drew from interviews and research is that while the ASVDP is an ambitious plan seeking to transition Taiwan’s innovation economy from hardware manufacturing to the Internet of Things (IoT) while bolstering the start-up landscape in Taiwan, the direct effects of the plan are misguided and unclear. Based on desk and field research, we concluded Taiwan should focus on a niche innovation area, deregulation, and supporting entrepreneurs. We consolidated our research into an editorial piece that will be shared with the Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency (ASVDA), interview partners, and the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Pemasal Banigan, Ayesha Bery, and Siobhan Bradley meeting with Taiwan Startup Stadium.

Siobhan Bradley, Ayesha Bery and Pemasal Banigan published their research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 


  • Hai-Wen Chen (Arts and Science)
  • Michelle Lee (Arts and Science)

LGBTQ communities in Taiwan continue to experience upward mobility, with recent legislative changes in same-sex marriage representing the most significant positive breakthrough for LGBTQ representation in mainstream society. Yet research shows that predominant Confucian-Patriarchal ideologies continue to make LGBTQ integration challenging. Among these issues, workplace discrimination is understudied in existing literature. Using our academic expertise and LGBTQ networks within Taiwan, we researched workplace discrimination experienced by lesbian Taiwanese women and whether recent legislative changes have had any discursive social impact in professional work environments. Overall, it seems that current legislation regulating workplace conduct focuses mostly on addressing gender-based discrimination rather than that of sexual-orientation, and regardless of legislation it seems the enforcement of such workplace protections is still lacking in many aspects. In addition, workplace discrimination is experienced differently depending on gender performativity, especially how effeminate women present themselves in the work environment. In response to this, individual women often attempt to be selective about the workplace environments they apply to, rather than addressing the issue directly through legal action or explicit confrontation with their employers. Our paper explores the ideological and legal issues motivating such outcomes.


  • Stephanie Chen (Department of Earth Sciences)

This project is a close-up field survey of the geology of various regions of Taiwan. I visited select areas of Taiwan and collected rock samples to further analyze in Toronto. I compared these findings to current literature, most of which is decades old. I seek for this project to expose discrepancies between new and old research and to encourage more research in certain areas lacking in the literature. I assembled my findings in a guide book to the geology of Taiwan, titled “Roadside Geology of Taiwan: A Field Guide.”

 Access Stephanie Chen’s “Roadside Geology of Taiwan: A Field Guide” here.

Stephanie Chen conducting geological fieldwork in Taiwan.


  • Shasha Liu (East Asian Studies)

Documentation of the display of the Dunhuang mural copies at the National Museum of History 1955-56 provided by Chia-ling Chen.

Focusing on the Dunhuang mural copying activities based on the James and Lucy Lo’s archive in Taiwan in the 1950s and the display of the Dunhuang copies in the New York World’s Fair 1964-65, I conducted research in Taipei in institutions like the National Museum of History, Academia Sinica (Taipei and Xindian), and National Central Library. I collected valuable primary materials from the Taiwanese Dunhuang copying activity also learning that it is part of a larger project to reconstruct cultural heritage in Taiwan in the aforementioned museum. By studying the archive of the fair, I was also able to piece together the participation process of the Dunhuang mural copies and to better understand the negotiations between Taiwan and the US in terms of selecting Chinese art treasures. The textual materials I collected at the library further helped me to get a more complete picture of the perception of the Dunhuang art in Taiwan around the mid-20th century, compensating for the lack of information in the above archives. The archival research I conducted in Taiwan assists me in analyzing how the Dunhuang mural copies based on the Lo’s archive contribute to the reconstruction of cultural heritage in Taiwan and the Taiwanese endeavors to connect to the world with the imagined Dunhuang tradition.


  • Adriana Marroquin Rodriguez (MEd Higher Education, Comparative, International and Development Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education)

This study explores the experiences of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) higher education students in Taiwan: what motivates them to go to Taiwan, the challenges they face, and how they cope with these issues. I collected data via semi-structured interviews of eleven students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. I identified the following three major challenges: language, academic, and sociocultural issues and identified an open mind, support groups, and resourcefulness as the main coping strategies. I used the findings and participant suggestions to create a list of recommendations for new and current students.  The results also highlight future research that should be performed as well as implications for funding organizations, universities, professors and local students to better support international students.


  • Jonathan Wang (BSc Candidate, Faculty of Arts and Science; Research Trainee, Multi-Organ Transplant, Toronto General Hospital)
  • Derrick Lin (BSc Candidate, Faculty of Arts and Science; Research Trainee, Multi-Organ Transplant, Toronto General Hospital)

Through our research we aim to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that may prevent people in Taiwanese cities from donating organs for transplantation and promote organ donation awareness in Taiwan. We held discussions with family members of deceased donors and hosted a discussion forum with representatives from Taiwan Organ Registry and Sharing Center (TORSC) to promote organ donation awareness. We used a survey tool to investigate attitudes and beliefs on organ donation and transplantation (ODT). We surveyed adults by random sampling at public venues and by chain-referral sampling from an agribusiness company.

The discussion forum with TORSC sparked a sustained collaboration with the investigators. Approximately half (50.5%) of people surveyed knew how to register to become organ donors, but only 13.3% had registered. Those who had misconceptions about the organ donation process were less likely to support organ donation. These respondents were misinformed about the laws and general concepts of ODT including believing that donors receive worse medical care and the rich are preferentially transplanted. Further research can address these issues with novel hypotheses and evaluate government initiatives to educate the Taiwanese public.

Jonathan Wang (left) and Derrick Lin (right) pilot their survey tool at National Taiwan University.

Jonathan Wang and Derrick Lin published their research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 


  • Aaron Wytze Wilson (MGA Candidate, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy)

“Taiwanese nationalism” has been out of the press since former president Chen Shui-bian stepped down. However, the movement migrated online, where ideas of nationalism and independence could compete equally on social media news feeds. Over the course of the Ma Ying-jeou presidency, the state tried to reinvigorate the old state symbols of the ROC. This allowed Taiwan’s cyber-nationals to create their own state symbols unopposed, and led to the creation of crowdsourced national symbols that reflect concepts of an independent state of Taiwan. What does this new cyber-nationalism mean for Taiwan-China relations, and where will this new movement go next?


  • Yu Hsuan Amy Yang (Master of Science, Sustainability Management)

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture is seeking to improve Taiwan’s agricultural productivity through precision agriculture technologies. To explore the current state of precision agriculture in Taiwan and to understand some of the barriers and incentives that farmers and technology developers face, I conducted semi-structured interviews with two members from Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, five farmers, one member from academia, and seven technology developers to explore various barriers and incentives in the adoption of precision agriculture in Taiwan. I found that a farmer’s age, financial cost, and the inability to see how these new technologies can improve upon existing farming practices are the main barriers for farmers and lack of access to quality, publicly available data is the main barrier for technology developers. Other themes that emerged are that Taiwan needs to develop precision agriculture technologies to suit the needs of its unique agricultural landscape rather than simply improving upon foreign technologies and that farmers see more value in having access to a steady distribution channel than owning precision agriculture technologies. Possible solutions that the government could consider based on these findings are to improve public access to higher quality data, focus its efforts on locally developed technologies and look into linking precision agriculture with improved distribution channels as an incentive for farmers to adopt precision agriculture technologies.

Yu Hsuan Amy Yang published her research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 

WORKSHOPS and Events

past workshops and events


Richard Charles Lee Insights Through Asia Challenge (ITAC): Mobilities
Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan

Friday, September 21, 2018 | 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto



Access the program for Internationalization in Action: Transformative Student Research at the Asian Institute here.


Newsletter Signup Sign up for the Munk School Newsletter

× Strict NO SPAM policy. We value your privacy, and will never share your contact info.