Six questions with Marlys Koschinsky, PhD

Marlys Koschinsky, PhD, Scientific and Executive Director, sat down with us to reflect on her first year at Robarts and in the London community. She reveals what she's learned about the Institute, shares the latest developments with her research, and discusses what's next for community engagement.

You've been in your role at Robarts for a year, what has been the most surprising thing you've learned or discovered?

There have been two main surprises for me. The first has to do with the level of turnout and enthusiasm from the general public for our Discover Robarts events. The interest in the community for what we are doing at Robarts is amazing and gratifying. It certainly encourages us to continue our outreach and promotion efforts to foster this level of community engagement, which we value highly.

The second has to do with the power of visuals. When I conduct tours of our facilities, visitors see with their own eyes our research in action. The excitement of the environment at Robarts cannot be captured fully in written descriptions of what we do: it is best to experience it in person and hear first-hand how our researchers describe their own work. It leaves an indelible impression on our visitors and truly captures the spirit of innovation and discovery that drives us at Robarts and defines us as an Institute.

What is the next 'big thing' that will be happening at Robarts in the coming year?

There are a number of big and exciting things happening at Roberts this year. One of the biggest will be seeing the roll-out of the BrainsCAN initiative. After Western received a $66 million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, we are excited to see the positive impact that this initiative will have on the neuroimaging group at Robarts.

This coming year will also mark the launch of our new strategic plan. The Robarts Executive Committee has heard from many members of the Robarts community and external stakeholder groups about various areas that have provided interesting questions for consideration, as well as excitement and enthusiasm for new partnership opportunities. Collectively, this has formed a critical piece of the foundation on which we will build a plan that will pave the way for our continued growth and success. We are a world class research institute and we need to continue to promote Robarts as a leader in health research and discovery with a plan for translation of these findings to clinical applications.

We also want to shine a light on training the next generation of scientists and thought leaders by providing an environment that fosters the legacy of discovery and innovation at Robarts.

What ways will Robarts be engaging community partners as well as individuals in the coming year?

Robarts will be working to engage community partners in a number of ways. In early 2017, we will be launching a newly re-vamped Discover Robarts educational series, which will bring community members into Robarts to hear from teams of researchers about their research, combined with a tour of their laboratories.

We are also working on events that engage and celebrate successes of members of the Robarts community. This not only highlights individual successes, but also serves to bring people together, outside of their lab environment, in a more casual setting to foster relationships and encourage further collaboration, partnership and discussion. We feel that our coffee break receptions to celebrate milestones, such as the inaugural presentation of the John. P. Robarts Award for Innovative Medical Research and our recent successes in obtaining highly competitive research funding, have provided opportunities for continued connection that are important to ensure cohesion within the Institute.

Robarts is marking its 30th anniversary this year. What have you learned about the Institute during this special time?

I have come to fully appreciate the history of Robarts, particularly the vision that underlay its founding. Much of this came into focus for me upon news of the recent passing of one of the founders, Dr. Henry Barnett. It is remarkable how forward-thinking his vision was; it still forms the essence of what we are trying to achieve, in terms of drawing a direct line between fundamental health research breakthroughs and improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. It also provides valuable context as we work on charting our course for the next five years.

You've spoken before about the importance of continuing your cardiovascular research in addition to your leadership role. What are the latest developments with your research and lab at Robarts?

My trainees have transitioned from the University of Windsor to Robarts along with our laboratory infrastructure. We are busy purchasing some new equipment and getting all of our technology up and running. My trainees are thrilled with the level of the research facilities and infrastructure here, as well as the willingness of my fellow Robarts scientists and their teams to assist and collaborate with us. We are already integrating ourselves scientifically and socially into our new research environment, and can see a world of opportunities to advance our work here. We have some very exciting new directions that we want to pursue that will be kicked up several notches by undertaking the research projects here at Robarts. Stay tuned for great things to come.

Your family recently settled in London, what has that transition been like for you? Do you have any favourite places or things to do around the city?

The transition has been hectic but positive for our family; we love London already! One of my favourite places is a lovely trail through a deep forest near our new home where we take our dog, Brodie, for walks. We also love the vibrant downtown, especially all the great restaurants which we are exploring. Plus, I have recently joined a top-notch choir in the city – it is great to be singing again!