Taking a step out of the lab with Dr. Hemington: Making your years at IMS count

Taking a step out of the lab with Dr. Hemington: Making your years at IMS count

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By: Darby Lowe
Photo courtesy of Dr. Hemington

As a recent Institute of Medical Science (IMS) graduate, Dr. Kasey Hemington knows what it means to make her years at IMS count.

In the Summer of 2018, Dr. Hemington defended her PhD thesis on the neural correlates of chronic pain based on her neuroimaging work out of Dr. Karen Davis’ lab at Toronto Western Hospital. Specifically, she investigated the differences between brain networks in individuals with and without chronic pain. During this time, she discovered that those with chronic pain exhibit different interactions in specific neural networks. When asked what interested her in this topic, Dr. Hemington pointed to the complexity of pain and how it involves a variety of brain networks and psychological constructs. Because of the complexity of the topic, she described how “the questions that you can ask about chronic pain never end.” Dr. Hemington’s curiosity and excitement about the unknown was not only exhibited in the lab, but also extended widely throughout the rest of her academic career.

Early in her graduate career, Dr. Hemington joined the IMS Magazine team not knowing that she would eventually become one of the Editors-in-Chief a few years later. When she first began contributing to the magazine, her experience offered her insight into the vast scientific diversity that exists at IMS and it was what sparked her curiosity for the issues that existed beyond her scientific purview. She recounted how being a journalist for IMS Magazine and being able to interview various IMS members was, and remains to be, one of her favorite experiences: “It seems like a treat that you would get…the privilege to sit down with such amazing IMS faculty.” IMS Magazine provided Dr. Hemington a creative outlet to explore the art of science communication through writing and editing, as well as through her interactions with the Biomedical Communications team at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. Moreover, her rewarding time as an Editor-in-Chief allowed her to understand the professional landscape of, and difficulties that exist in, communicating science.

Alongside her work with IMS Magazine, Dr. Hemington’s portfolio began to involve knowledge translation. “When you’re in grad school you get certain things out of being in the lab and you need to figure out what…to do to be a balanced person overall,” she remarked. Managing to strike a balance, Hemington’s extra-curricular involvement shined while she remained academically strong. She was a part of the organizing committee for the Annual Toronto Brain Bee, a neuroscience-based competition for high school students. She aided with a project together with fellow lab colleague, Rachel Bosma, that aimed to inspire translational pain research by encouraging clinician-scientist communication. Further exploring science communication, she was an associate editor for an e-book entitled “The Basic Science of Pain” written by Dr. Philip Peng. Dr. Hemington’s involvement in academia and the community demonstrate both her commendable initiative and the variety of opportunities available to students by the IMS. Currenlty, Dr. Hemington is working in data science, alongside initiatives to address the demands of science communication.

Working in science communication doesn’t seem like the most obvious next step for a PhD graduate who just finished her research in the field of chronic pain and neuroimaging. When asked about what influenced her decision to pursue the niche of science communication, Dr. Hemington expressed that “once you…establish your own brand in what you’re good at…you get more and more into that area.” She established a brand for herself in knowledge translation, ultimately driven by her interest in the artistic expression of science and the demand for this field in science. Despite the potential burden placed on a scientist, from conducting research to being one’s own public relations representative, she views science communication as an “important side of science and one that will continue to be more and more important.”

With her collective experience, Dr. Hemington went on to co-create a platform called BrainPost that was launched this past January of 2018 with co-creator and previous IMS student, Leigh Christopher. BrainPost is an e-newsletter for both scientists and non-scientists alike that publishes online and distributes weekly summaries of recent neuroscience articles. All content is reviewed by the original authors before circulation, ensuring the validity and consistency of the summaries. She describes how Christopher’s and her time as students at IMS, as well as her work as a writer and editor for the IMS Magazine, supported the skillsets and confidence that drove them to create something completely from scratch. They wondered: “Why can’t students just create what they feel there needs to be…in terms of science communication?” The blog was created due to frustrations with media representations of scientific studies that lack insight into the methods and limitations, while focusing heavily on firm conclusions. Additionally, as scientists, they were motivated by the difficulties in keeping up with science outside of their specific focuses, hoping that the blog would allow scientists of all domains to efficiently consume broader information. In general, BrainPost aims to communicate science in a digestible, yet truthful manner, as Dr. Hemington believes “the more you share that side of science with people–the complex environment from which these conclusions were made–the more that the public will trust science.”

In closing the interview, I asked a typical question of someone early in their post-graduate career: what advice would she give to those of us just starting our academic journey? Dr. Hemington revealed how graduate school allowed her to feel “very well equipped to handle anything in life.” Most importantly, she describes how graduate school teaches you resilience and perseverance which you will carry through the rest of life’s endeavors: “I don’t know anyone else better at persevering than grad students.” In her opinion, graduate school “trains you with the mentality to push forward and be resilient and [know] that anything is possible.” Above all, she emphasizes that “no one has rushed their PhD in two years,” recommending that students take their time and enjoy the process of it all.

If you are interested in learning more about BrainPost, you can visit their website at www.BrainPost.co, or their Twitter/Faceook page @BrainPostCo. Additionally, as part of a current project inspired by BrainPost, Dr. Hemington is seeking contributions from students and scientists who would like to share their scientific expertise. If you are interested in sharing your expertise for her upcoming project, or with comments regarding BrainPost, please be in touch!