Babies, MRI techniques and binge-watching television shows: Q&A with Catherine Nevin

Catherine Nevin, MSc Candidate in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, makes being a graduate trainee look easy. Despite never having worked with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology before entering her current program, she has managed to excel in her research on fetal growth restriction, and her work has already earned her an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award.

We sat down with Nevin to discuss her background, her experiences so far as an MSc Candidate, and what she likes to do when she’s not in the lab.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in a small town called King City. My family and I have lived in the same house for my whole life, so it’s a very special place to me.

What was your education prior to becoming an MSc Candidate in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology?
I completed my Bachelor of Science (honours) degree with distinction at the University of Guelph in their biomedical science program.

Can you tell me about the research you are currently working on, as well as what the potential impact of this research is?
I am currently working under the supervision of Bryan Richardson, PhD, and my research is focused on brain development in fetal growth restriction (FGR). FGR occurs in five to 10 per cent of babies born in Canada, and it increases the risk of later developmental brain disorders including cerebral palsy, autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and schizophrenia, with risk directly proportional to the extent of FGR.

We use a robust model of maternal nutrient restriction to cause FGR in utero in animal models to study brain development. With the use of MRI and other MRI techniques, we will be able to identify brain developmental abnormalities and biomarkers to predict the presence and extent of brain injury. This will provide a basis for future interventions to identify and decrease potential cognitive developmental abnormalities.

Why did you make the decision to go into this field?
When I decided that I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, I wanted to ensure that the research I was getting involved with had a clinical application. Additionally, I really enjoyed my embryology class during my undergraduate career, so I wanted to learn more about the process of brain development in utero. Richardson’s lab seemed to be the perfect fit.

What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
I completed my undergraduate degree in biomedical science, so it was heavily based on physiology and the different organ systems. When I started my master’s degree, it was a huge learning curve as I was working with MRI in a physiology department. I had to do a lot of reading and I even took an MRI course to understand the basics and physics of how it works. Now I feel a lot more comfortable with MRI, although there is much more I have yet to learn.

You recently received an Ontario Women's Health Scholars Award for your research. What did receiving the award mean to you?
Receiving the award was a huge milestone for me in my career. It was amazing to find out that I am representing Western University for the Master’s Level of the Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. The award not only recognizes all the hard work I have put into my project, but also the importance of this research for women and their children. I am so excited to continue on with my research for the next year and present it at future conferences.

Can you tell me about any career- or research-related goals you may have?
Since my research is so clinically relevant, I would really love to go into some sort of clinical health practice, whether that is medicine or nursing. It is so important for the medical community to be up-to-date with the research going on and to practise evidence-based care, and I think I have a strong understanding of that importance by completing my master’s degree.

What do you enjoy best about Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology?
I am very privileged to be part of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry due to its amazing reputation for education and research. I really enjoy how the School brings together the three professions of medicine, dentistry and research as a hub of knowledge. The Department of Physiology and Pharmacology is an outstanding department with great faculty, optimistic trainees and many collaborators to work with.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I enjoy doing what any other graduate student likes doing — binge watching television shows on Netflix. Other than that, I really enjoy hanging out with the friends I have met at Western and trying to scope out the best deals for drinks and food at various downtown restaurants. I also recently just adopted a cat from the London Humane Society, so I’ll probably become a crazy cat lady soon enough.