NIH Catalyst’s Carter Retires
Laura Stephenson Carter has retired as editor-in-chief of the NIH Catalyst, a publication about NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP).
“Laura brought experience in writing and assembling a readable magazine about the intramural program, which when combined with her wonderful sense of humor, attention to detail, and deep knowledge of all things intramural, made her a fantastic editor-in-chief of the Catalyst,” said Dr. Michael Gottesman, former NIH deputy director for intramural research. “She loves the NIH intramural program, and this showed in everything that she wrote, edited and managed.”
Carter began her scientific writing career at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center after receiving a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University. Before that post, she worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and was head of the State Public Affairs Committee for the Junior Leagues of New Jersey.
At Dartmouth, she became associate editor of Dartmouth Medicine Magazine, which covers the education, research and patient-care activities of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She came to NIH in February 2009.
“Laura was a one-woman operation who handled all aspects of the Catalyst—assigning stories, often writing pieces, editing, [doing] layout in InDesign for print [as well as] layout in Drupal for the web, mailing and [handling the] physical distribution of the print version in bins around the NIH main campus,” said Christopher Wanjek, communications director for the Office of Intramural Research.
One of Carter’s most valuable contributions was her foresight and dedication to the Catalyst’s next generation of authors and editors, noted Wanjek. She helped create a program to mentor NIH trainees interested in science writing.
The Catalyst worked with more than 100 trainees. Many have gone on to have meaningful careers in writing and editing positions at places like Nature, Johns Hopkins University and NIH. Others used the training to help them prepare for policy positions at NIH and elsewhere.
Carter helped the Intramural Research Program (IRP) wherever needed.
She established intramural liaisons in each institute and center communications office, helped enable the creation of the IRP web portal at irp.nih.gov, nurtured good relationships with her colleagues in communications and “was always on hand to support the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series and the NIH Research Festival, from set up to clean up,” Wanjek said.
In 2014, she went on a tour of Bldg. 7, an infectious-disease lab facility slated to be torn down. While there, Carter noticed a large, Art Deco-style window depicting a waterfall. The window was going to be destroyed once the building was razed. She couldn’t let that happen.
She published the photo along with a note explaining that it was going to be demolished. Former Clinical Center Director Dr. John Gallin read the story and had the window relocated to the hospital. It’s now displayed near the Lipsett Amphitheater.
“It’s backlit and there’s a little history about it on the side, so people know where it came from and who inspired it. I’m proud of that,” she said. “I’m also proud that some of our stories alerted researchers to the work of others and led to collaborations.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Catalyst began publishing a timeline of pandemic-related events at NIH. “It just seemed like a way to capture what was happening so fast,” Carter recounted. “I knew it would be valuable in the long run because it would be a record of what was happening and when.”
She is now a special volunteer in the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum, where she’ll explore and write about NIH’s many past accomplishments.
“I have been honored to serve in [the Catalyst] role for the past 14 years and to have contributed to the NIH mission by keeping everyone informed of advances and services and helping to inspire and to be a catalyst for scientific collaborations,” Carter wrote in a farewell note to Catalyst readers.
To read an oral history interview with Carter, visit https://go.nih.gov/72ta5kn.