David W. Major, editor, Rutgers Magazine


Nick Romanenko

People often ask me where I get ideas for the stories that appear in a typical issue of Rutgers Magazine. They come from a variety of sources, most of them from me reading a whole lot and coming upon an actual story, or the germ of one, that I can develop. This research, of course, is made much easier because of the internet. To that end, Rutgers has a vast online communications enterprise that is a helpful source, and just about every entity at the university has a website that often leads to something interesting. Frankly, each issue of the magazine could have two to three times more stories than are actually published. There is a lot going on at Rutgers—and among our alumni body.

I welcome story ideas from anybody, really. Contributing writers can be a good source, and so can members of the faculty and staff and my own colleagues. And I also get ideas from alumni. In mid-October, there was a message left on my office phone, with a faint voice on the other end identifying himself as Christopher Gussis. With what proved to be understatement, he said: “I think I might have a story that maybe you will find interesting and want to share with your readers. If you are interested, please call me back.”

I was. It turns out that Gussis, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Rutgers during the 1950s, has been in retirement for 20 years and spent much of his time participating in clinical trials in the Boston area where he lives. With evident pride, he indicated that he was closing in on his 300th study. Three hundred? Who takes part in hundreds of clinical trials? And what are those experiences like? The more we talked, the more interested I became. This had the makings of a good story. What was perhaps most edifying to learn was that Gussis took part in trials simply to potentially help others avoid, or overcome, a challenge to their health. Besides, he said, he thought the work was good for senior citizens: it is a constructive way to stay busy—while learning a thing or two about their own advancing age.

Before long, the wheels were turning, and I arranged to have Gussis interviewed and then photographed in Boston. “My Life as a Human Guinea Pig” is the story that began four months ago as a phone message. You just never know where a good story will come from.