This week, Natalie Walker shares her whakaaro with us. Natalie is a clinical trialist, epidemiologist, and Associate Director of the Centre for Addiction Research, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Auckland University. The Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco (SRNT) recently appointed Natalie as Dean of SRNT University (SRNT-U).

I first met Natalie when joining the tobacco control community. I was keen to learn about different perspectives on many of the issues we discuss in the sector (What is a harm reduction tool? Should we legalise vaping? What do you think of heat- not- burn products?). She was generous with her time, and ever the researcher, sat down with me and drew different diagrams and charts to help me understand. 


What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

A clinical trial about varenicline versus placebo in people addicted to Hookah use ( The trial didn’t work – I’ve been trying to figure out why and what the next steps for the research field will be?  Interventions that don’t work are just as important to understand as interventions that do work.


Who is the person who has had the most influence on your life?

My grandmother.  I spent a lot of time with her when I was a child.  She was an artist and as such looked at the world in a different way.  She had a strong connection to the forest and the sea. She taught me to look closely at nature – its detail, colour, smell, shape, and texture – and how the plants and animal life interacted.  She saw it from an artist’s point of view, whilst I wanted to know more about the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  I became a scientist because of her.  My place of peace is always beside the sea (preferably the sea on the wild west coast) or amongst the trees.  


What are some small things that make your day better?

Good coffee, hugs from my daughter, and laughing about the craziness of the world. 


Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?

My best friend – he was a ratbag at school and was rapidly going down the wrong road in life.  With dyslexia and no qualifications, his parents pulled him out of school at 15 and put him into a building apprenticeship. He worked hard, went back to school as an adult and climbed the career ladder. He holds his own beside those with fancy degrees.  He has the ability to connect with everyone and anyone from all walks of life, his ability to problem solve is amazing, and he can fix anything thats broken – it’s his gift.  I was so impressed I married him.


When people come to you for help, what do they usually want help with?

Usually it’s members of my team coming to problem solve issues related to the day-to-day running of our clinical trials. Each trial has it’s own unique challenges, so I am forever learning new things.


Do you have whakatauki/ proverb/ phrase that you resonate with most?

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”