New Robarts head embraces ‘rich material’

Emily Leighton // Special to Western News

As the new Scientific and Executive Director of Robarts Research Institute, Marlys Koschinsky plans to lead a renewal of the institute’s strategic plan, although she is quick to acknowledge there is a lot of ground work to do before that process can begin.

Marlys Koschinsky has an action plan at the ready as she begins a career-defining role at Robarts Research Institute. As the new Scientific and Executive Director, her approach is focused on what she considers to be the most integral factor for success: people.

“I like investing my time in meeting and talking to people who are involved with the institute at all levels,” she said. “I want to learn about Robarts by obtaining their perspectives on a wide range of issues.”

This will be no easy task, as Robarts is home to more than 600 scientists, staff and graduate trainees. Its research interests and collaborations extend across the university, Canada and around the globe.

“My first move is to learn, learn, learn,” Koschinsky said. “I plan to listen, learn and read like crazy. It’s about doing my homework so I can get up to speed as quickly as possible.”

Koschinsky is underway with this process, sharing some initial thoughts and ideas about how to leverage the Institute’s unique strengths and resources.

“Robarts has a wonderful reputation and there is a lot of rich material to work with,” she said. “There are tremendous strengths that reside in the nature of the world-class research conducted here and the state-of-the-art infrastructure that supports it.”

Within her first 18 months, Koschinsky plans to lead a renewal of the institute’s strategic plan, although she is quick to acknowledge there is a lot of ground work to do before that process can begin.

She emphasizes the importance of exploring new funding avenues for the institute. “It’s a tough funding environment, but there is so much we can do by looking at how to bring people together in different ways to develop new partnerships with expanded funding opportunities,” she said. “I really want to explore how we can take what we’re currently doing to the next level. The building blocks are here – the challenge will be to use what we have to create new research directions.”

Externally, Koschinsky wants to continue engaging the public and wider community audiences with the innovative work underway at Robarts and strengthen those relationships.

“The public is tremendously interested in health research,” she explained. “With the high-calibre research at Robarts combined with the impressive nature of our facilities, I can envision people being fascinated by what we’re doing here.”

She believes the disease-focus of the institute’s research program is an exciting opportunity to start conversations and encourage more community engagement and support.

This ambitious agenda isn’t something Koschinsky plans to tackle alone.

“I like to empower people through clear and transparent communication around key issues,” she said of her leadership style. “I have no problem identifying and setting goals and priorities, but prefer a consensus-building approach to governance. A big part of my role as a leader is to ensure the success of others, which is something I take very seriously.”

With a well-established and distinguished research career, Koschinsky is no stranger to demanding senior leadership positions. She served as the dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Windsor for seven years.

Prior to Windsor, she spent 17 years at Queen’s University, serving as the Director of the Cardiac, Circulatory & Respiratory Research Program and Acting Head of the Department of Physiology.

Koschinsky’s research is in the areas of atherosclerosis and thrombosis, focusing on understanding the mechanisms of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease. She is an internationally recognized expert in the study of lipoprotein(a) – a genetic risk factor for cardiovascular disease – and is a well-respected opinion leader in the area of lipoproteins and cardiovascular disease.

This research portfolio has connected Koschinsky with Robarts for many years through partnerships, collaborations and interactions at scientific conferences and industry-sponsored events.

“It’s been a longstanding relationship and I’m quite familiar with the Institute,” she said. “When I started my faculty position at Queen’s, Robarts researchers were among my first professional connections.”

In addition to Robarts, Koschinsky has also been involved with the Schulich School of Medicine & DentistryWindsor Program and currently sits on the steering committee for the SouthWestern Academic Health Network.

“I’ll now be attending meetings with my long-time Western colleagues at the table instead of through teleconferencing,” she said with a laugh.

Moving two hours west down Highway 401 is not only a professional transition, but a personal one. Koschinsky will clock several hours on the flat stretch of pavement between London and Windsor each weekend, as her husband and teenage daughter are finishing out the year in Windsor. They will join her in the summer months, once her daughter completes high school in June.

“Despite some personal sacrifices, my family is very supportive and excited,” she said. “We’re all willing to make it work for an opportunity as wonderful as this one.”

With strong connections to a number of community organizations in Windsor, including WEtech Alliance, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation’s Life and Health Sciences Task Force, Koschinsky comes to Robarts with a well-established commitment to social responsibility.

“Being involved in the local community was a very enriching aspect of my life in Windsor, and I’m going to be seeking those opportunities in London as well,” she said. “My involvement in the broader university and in the London community will certainly complement my role at Robarts.”

A piano player and singer in her spare time, Koschinsky hopes to tap into the arts scene in London. She didn’t bring her piano with her in the initial move, but is considering joining a local choir or singing group.

For now, however, she is focused on getting to know Robarts. It’s a challenge Koschinsky is embracing with spirited determination and energetic optimism.

“If I could envision a perfect position for myself that brings together my interests, my skill sets and my passions, this is it,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit.”