Dr. Gary Remington, Renowned clinician-scientist and unparalleled mentor
By: Melanie Guenette
Dr. Gary Remington is the 2012 recipient of the IMS Mel Silverman Mentorship Award. If you were to ask him about this momentous accomplishment, he would likely shake his head and immediately credit his students for nominating him. That is just the sort of man he is: understated, humble, and selfless. I am biased of course, because he is my supervisor, but no one misses an opportunity to sing the praises of this formidable clinician-scientist; the proof lies in the half dozen letters of support that went into his nomination package.
Dr. Remington is busy; he is the Director of the Medication Assessment Clinic in the Schizophrenia Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as well as Deputy Head of Research and Education for the same program. He is also Schizophrenia Head, Division of Brain and Therapeutics and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. As if that were not enough, Dr. Remington has been a member and graduate supervisor with the IMS for a decade, and he currently supervises seven students in his laboratory.
Starting out as an undergraduate at Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfred Laurier), Dr. Remington met and worked with Dr. Hymie Anisman, whom he identifies as his first mentor. Their partnership lasted a number of years, as Dr. Remington completed a PhD under his supervision in the area of neurotransmitter development and hyperactivity. Set to undertake a post-doctoral position at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Remington had a choice to make: “I was torn between the basic sciences and doing work at the clinical level. I realized that if I wanted to make a career out of this work, I would have to marry the clinical with the basic, and to do so would require a medical degree.”
Having completed medical school at McMaster University, Dr. Remington declared a specialty in neurology and began his residency at the University of Western Ontario. A year into his training, he was pulled aside by neurologist Dr. John Brown. “He said I’d make a better psychiatrist than neurologist,” recalls Dr. Remington. “I called up the Psychiatry folks in Toronto and they accepted me over the phone.” He then began his psychiatry residency at CAMH. I ask him about what would eventually become the focus of his career—schizophrenia—and Dr. Remington says the fascination was instant. “I had never seen anything like it, nor have I since.” In his second-to-last year of training, Dr. Remington was approached and offered a staff position at CAMH; he has now been there almost thirty years.
When asked to describe his research, Dr. Remington remarks that it is a reflection of why he left his post-doctoral position for medicine. “I feel an obligation to ask a basic science question that can almost immediately be translated into changes in clinical practice,” he continues. Strictly speaking, Dr. Remington studies schizophrenia, but identifies “one of his shortcomings [as his] inability to focus on a single research question—something that is usually preferred by scientists.” To illustrate the breadth of his work, Dr. Remington and his students study an array of research questions that include schizotypy, the metabolic side effects of antipsychotic drugs, antipsychotic tolerance and adherence, and the manifestations of negative symptoms of schizophrenia through virtual reality techniques.
Given that Dr. Remington is being recognized for his mentorship abilities, our talk shifts to students and student supervision. I ask him how he chooses his students and he says, “It all depends on the interview. I get a sense of whether or not the fit is right after speaking to them.” When I ask him to describe his students, he takes a minute, a smile forming on his face, and says his students are “motivated, able to work independently, and hopefully enjoy their research.” He adds, “I really enjoy the enthusiasm and excitement my students bring to the laboratory every day. I remain inspired by them.”
Dr. Remington is known for his eloquence and candor, so when I ask him about his mentoring style, I am initially surprised when he pauses and says, “I don’t know how others mentor—it’s not like there’s a book for this sort of thing.” He then continues, “I mentor the way I was mentored [by Dr. Anisman]: I ensure close and regular contact with my students. I make myself available and try to provide a supportive environment, giving my students the resources they need to succeed. It’s nothing fancy.” At this last point I laugh, knowing all too well how rare this situation can be: Gary Remington is an absolutely fantastic mentor, he pours everything into his students, and they know it. So why does he do it? “I was there. Somebody did it for me. Dr. Anisman categorically changed my approach, not only to medicine, but also to life. He was amazing—a role model to me. I feel I have an obligation to do that for as many people as possible moving forward.”
Of the IMS, Dr. Remington says, “I think it has an innovative approach to bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, and offering them the opportunity to cross traditional research boundaries.” He adds that the challenge remains in “bringing people together from many areas and levels of expertise in an environment that rewards absolute focus on a single area or research question.” Dr. Remington’s involvement in the IMS doesn’t only include his role as a graduate supervisor; he has been on countless Project Advisory Committees (PACs) and has been a judge in both the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) and IMS Scientific Days. “I find it stimulating to see the scope and quality of research being done by the students at the IMS. I really like seeing the passion they have for their work.”
I ask Dr. Remington what he sees himself doing in ten years: “I hope to still be coming into work every day. I don’t see what I do as a job. It’s a well kept secret how much I enjoy this.” Admitting that he sleeps about four hours a night, he adds, “I am blessed with doing something that I love so much and still want to be doing. I am so lucky—I hope no one catches on!”
For students, Dr. Remington says the largest obstacle is the “incredible competition to capture a spot in this research environment.” I ask him what is key to selecting the right supervisor, to which he replies, “Find a mentor as early on as you can. The goal is to find someone you respect. Respect is fundamental.”
Dr. Remington sees the potential in his students and treats them as valued members of the scientific community. His ability to effectively guide and support his students, while always remaining committed to their success, makes him the true definition of a mentor. Although he would never admit to it, I can think of no one more deserving of the Mel Silverman Mentorship Award. Congratulations Dr. Remington.