A Trip Down Memory Lane: A Discussion with Former Demo Editor-in-Chief Mary Scourboutakos

By Harry Myles, Featured Photo via That Nutrition Girl

On September 5, I sat down with former Demo Editor-in-Chief Mary Scourboutakos (pronounced SCORE – BA – TACOS), to discuss Demo’s history, her post-undergraduate career, and her future aspirations. Dr. Scourboutakos was the Editor-in-Chief of Demo for two years (2009 – 2011) and later pursued a PhD in nutritional sciences. Mary’s research earned her a reputation as a nutritional expert, and her work has also influenced public policy both within the City of Toronto and Province of Ontario. You can read more about Dr. Scourboutakos’s career on her blog, https://thatnutritiongirl.com.

Harry: To start, I just wanted to find out what you’ve been up to since graduating UofT.

Mary: After I finished my undergrad, I did graduate school at UofT in nutritional sciences. When I was in undergrad, I double majored in nutrition and music. I had taken piano lessons my whole life, and I like talking and writing about music, hence my interest in Demo. Professionally I went in a different direction for my career. So nutrition is my professional focus. I did my PhD in nutrition, and I worked for the past year. Now I’m in medical school. It wasn’t my original plan to go to medical school, but I decided I wanted to work more directly with people. So that’s what I’m doing post-Demo life.

What do you want to do in medical school?

Nutrition and disease prevention, that’s my focus, so that has not changed. Diet is the number one risk factor for disease and diet-related diseases are just rampant in our society. I hope that I will be able to help prevent as much disease as possible, particularly focusing on early life because there’s so much that we can nutritionally be doing with children and infancy to prevent disease later in life.

So then when it comes to your work with Demo, how did you first get involved as an undergrad?

I first learned about Demo a couple of months before I started undergrad. Demo had only done its first issue the year before I started. I was fresh out of high school, it was the summer before I was starting university and I think I was literally Google searching stuff about UofT and music. Somehow I stumbled onto Demo’s website. They just had that one issue out, and I thought, “Oh my god, I have to do this.” So I knew about Demo before I arrived at UofT, and I can actually honestly remember coming into Hart House and finding Demo in a magazine rack on the Friday of Frosh week. I was a contributor for two years, and then in my third year, I was the Editor-in-Chief.

Right, so the Editor-in-Chief before me, Stuart, was trying to collect a history of Demo. In terms of Demo when you were here, was it a large group?

It grew. It grew a lot. When we started, it was pretty small. My first issue was still the original Editor-in-Chief. She published the first issue and then I think I came in for her second and third issue, and by the fourth issue, she had passed it off to someone else. I think I started the fifth issue and I did the sixth issue. We only had one or two photographers, and we did not have that many layout designers. We had one guy, and maybe one or two girls.

Would you say there was much variety amongst the writers?

Definitely. Yeah, it was across the board. We had all kinds of people. I was into classical music, music theory, and music history. I had people that were into every type of genre you could imagine. I would say that diversity was not lacking. There were people from Toronto and people that were not from Toronto.

Do you think being part of Demo helped with your university work at all?

I learned two things from Demo. It was the first example of a group project where I saw teamwork work out successfully. In elementary school and high school, you have these group projects which usually fail because one person ends up doing it all, and it’s just not a positive experience. Demo was the first time when I worked in a group of people where everyone brought a different skill set. We had writers, editors, photographers, and reviewers. Everyone’s job had a clear description, and because of that, everyone did their part. We got to the end of the day with a synergy because we all contributed our unique components. So in retrospect, that was one of the most important things I learned from Demo.

Did you have any experience in writing before Demo?

I had written for my school newspaper, but I hadn’t done too much writing outside of academic writing. So when I look back on my writing for Demo, I remember it being hard for me because it was so different. I didn’t really have proper experience for how to write this type of article. But to me, communication skills are one of the most universal skills. No matter what field you pursue, being a good communicator is going to serve you well. Demo‘s the kind of place where you can start to learn those skills.

I once read a book about how to be a good writer and communicator. Basically, the author said that everybody has a certain amount of bad writing inside of them, and you don’t become a good writer until you can get all of the bad writing out first. So if you want to be a good writer, you just have to start writing. And at one point your bad writing will turn into good writing. So now when I look back on my life, I would say that Demo was probably part of my bad writing phase. It was when I was still learning how to write and communicate. So for me, it was very useful because one of my pet peeves is bad communication. For example, I’ll go to a lecture and I’ll see how a scientist is trying to teach a concept, and the reason the students in the class don’t understand is that the prof just isn’t communicating clearly enough. One thing I’ve always prided myself in was explaining my science or my research. To me, the communication of it is so paramount. I think my interest in communicating things to the public as opposed to just academic audiences is definitely something that I learned through Demo.

So Demo was just one step in that development of certain skills that would help you later on as you continued with your education?

Yeah, because knowing how to tell a story and describe something is a universal, transferable skill. People like stories, and when you’re writing for a publication like [Demo], it’s not academic writing or scientific writing, it’s got to have something else. It’s got to be clear, it’s got to be interesting, and it’s got to be engaging. I [also] do a lot of public speaking. It’s fundamentally the same [as writing]. It’s still communication, if you know how to tell a story in words then you know how to tell a story when you’re speaking. So that’s another thing that I do now that still utilizes those same fundamental universal communication skills.

Do you think public speaking is something you want to continue after you graduate medical school?

Definitely. I think that in the clinic, there are certain things that need to be addressed. A lot of the health issues that people have can be prevented with knowledge. You can’t prevent those health issues if you wait until someone shows up at your clinic with the health issue. So one of my priorities is to spread good evidence-based health information to people as a means to prevent disease. How can I give you a tip or a fact or a framework for your diet that will prevent you from getting that disease 10 [or] 20 years later? I’m definitely going to be a “fringe” doctor, because my whole thing is how I keep you out of the clinic. I think that part of that is doing work outside of the clinic. With public speaking, you can reach an audience of 500 people, or however many people show up at your talk, and hopefully, you can give them information to improve their health all at once.

I saw that you’ve done some policy work in your career. What projects have you worked on?

So for my PhD, I did research to inform policy. So you know when you go into fast food restaurants now in Toronto, they have the calorie information labelling? You’ve probably seen it, since January if you go to McDonald’s or Starbucks they have the calorie information. So my PhD basically revolved around that policy. I was studying the nutritional quality of the restaurant food supply, looking at things like calorie and sodium levels, tracking how they were changing over time, and tracking whether restaurants were true to their commitments to get better. I also did consumer research around menu labelling to see [if] it actually [helps] people, and whether it was worthwhile. So that was the big policy thing that I was doing for the last five years.

Were you involved with any politicians when they were crafting the bills?

Yeah, when I started, people [said] this was not going to happen here. We started publishing a lot of work showing the calorie levels and sodium levels, and then Toronto Public Health decided that they were going to put forward a bill to say that if the provincial government did not create a bill, they would. So we had actually done a report for [Toronto Public Health] to base their recommendation off of, which is based on my research. Then what ended up happening later was the provincial government did go forward with a bill. I went to Queen’s Park to give a deputation for the elected officials. I was also exchanging my research with one of the MPPs who was working on that issue.

Two final questions. What was your favourite band when you were with Demo, and what’s your favourite?

Oh my goodness. When I was with Demo I was taking courses within the Faculty of Music and was way too into classical. So I was really into Chopin and classical piano music. Now, who do I listen to? I’ll say one thing, I was into almost no top 40 music when I was in undergrad. Recently, my interest in Zumba has acquainted me with more popular music, which is a new thing for me that wasn’t a big thing in undergrad. Yeah, you can’t do Zumba to Chopin.

Edited and condensed for publication.

 

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