When you're as smart as Mireille Rizkalla, people and organizations line up to give you money.
The UNBC doctoral student became the school's first ever recipient of a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, which is worth $50,000 per year for up to three years of research.
This goes along with the money and recognition she's received from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Masters Award, the Harold Erhard Janzen Scholarship, the Northern B.C. Graduate Student Society Legacy Scholarship, and a Prince George Alzheimers Society Graduate Scholarship.
That last scholarship is the clue to why Rizkalla is a rising star in the academic and medical world. Her focus of study is aging in general and Alzheimer's disease and dementia in particular.
She's interested in how the brain ages and in finding ways to make the brain stronger and more resilient than the rest of our bodies to the relentless effects of time and age.
The demand for more research into aging and more doctors to specialize in geriatrics is already urgent. Over the next 10 years, it will turn into a roar of panic, as the huge wave of baby boomers crash into life north of 60 and discover to their dismay that all that glitters is not gold in the golden years.
Getting old is hard work and one day it will kill us all. The baby boomers, more than any generation before it, believes science and technology enriches our lives. They will depend on Rizkalla and people like her to find new ways to help them age gracefully and die with dignity.
Sadly, Rizkalla is an academic oddity, which partly explains her popularity.
According to an article in The Atlantic from a few years ago, scholarships and bursaries for doctors to specialize in children's health care (pediatrics) are competitive but medical schools often can't give away lucrative cash awards for doctors to focus on health care for seniors (geriatrics). There's no reason to believe anything has changed or that the same issues aren't prevalent in Canada.
So when young, highly intelligent psychologists like Rizkalla or medical doctors come forward with an interest to study and develop innovative prevention and treatments for aging issues, they're greeted with open arms and, most importantly, open wallets.
The demand for Rizkalla's services, once she finishes her studies, will be intense. She likely will field multiple offers from academic institutions across the continent, offering generous pay and funding for her work. Private research institutes and corporations will put even more on the table for her expertise.
For young people looking for a career that will make a real difference in people's lives and also pay handsomely, anything to do with senior's health care is a good place to start.
Managing editor Neil Godbout