Close-up: Natalie Venier, IMS Magazine Founder

Close-up: Natalie Venier, IMS Magazine Founder

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By: Kasey Hemington

Photograph courtesy of Laura Feldcamp

Natalie Venier was surprised when I asked to interview her – the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) graduate student probably never expected to be featured in the very publication she founded three short years ago. The former Editor-in-Chief took a break from writing her PhD thesis on prostate cancer chemoprevention to reflect on the journey of the IMS Magazine.

Venier recalls her first inspiration for the magazine: IMS Scientific Day, when she was struck by the breadth of the world-class research that goes on within the IMS. Recognizing a need to be more aware of the work of her colleagues, Venier set out to create a publication that would showcase and synthesize novel research findings of the IMS, with the hope that this might promote more interaction and collaboration. She brought her vision to Dr. Howard Mount, an IMS graduate coordinator, who recommended taking advantage of the unique diversity of IMS programs by involving Biomedical Communication Program students in design and layout. Since then, the IMS Magazine has been the envy of other University of Toronto departments wishing to start their own magazine, and stunning visual appeal generated by the design team has certainly contributed.

After the meeting with Dr. Mount, Venier formed a committee of writers she considers integral to mobilizing the publication, including Avi Vandersluis, Nina Bahl (former Assistant Managing Editor) and Adam Santoro (current Editor-in-Chief). She developed a prototype for the first issue, laid everything out on the desk of then IMS director, Dr. Ori Rotstein, and held her breath. Fortunately, Dr. Rotstein was impressed by the quality of the publication and granted approval for printing of the inaugural issue. Since this time, current IMS Director Dr. Allan Kaplan has also been incredibly supportive, and Venier enjoys reading article comment sections peppered with remarks from a wide range of IMS faculty members as well as the greater scientific community.

Starting up a student-run publication receiving thousands of views per issue, while in grad school, is no trivial task. Venier is grateful to her supportive supervisor, Dr. Vasundara Venkateswaran at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, for allowing her to maintain a flexible schedule. Despite the challenge, Venier’s advice to students pursuing entrepreneurial passions is, “Go for it! With graduate degrees, you have a lot of freedom to think critically about new ideas – you have to figure things out for yourself. As a student, you have access to so many resources.” Venier elaborates, “I can reach out to any scientist in the world… and more times than not they will respond.” The magazine founder names several articles as highlights: an interview by Allison Rosen with Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, an interview with Rebecca Skloot, author of ”The Secret Life of Henrietta Lacks”, conducted by Jennifer Rilstone, and one of the IMS Magazine’s most controversial articles by Amanda Ali, “Double Doctors, Double Trouble”.

Besides opportunities to interview distinguished scientists and network with the greater scientific community, Venier believes there are many other benefits for students working on the publication, commenting, “when you’re working on a graduate degree, you specialize in analytical skills – but writing and communicating to the lay public is important too […]. The magazine has given me the ability to communicate with many different people with diverse backgrounds for different reasons, whereas before, I communicated mostly to colleagues in my lab about my specific research.”

When asked what the future holds after completing her PhD, Venier admits that working on the magazine has impacted her career path by allowing her to explore her passions. While she is looking at different opportunities, she tells me, “I believe that there is a need to communicate accurate and sound scientific data to the public in a way that is clear and comprehensive. I’m really interested in this type of science communication – whether it be print, electronic, or new age social media. I would definitely like to do something entrepreneurial in the future. The IMS Magazine has positively inspired me!”