Accidental study path leads to success in the scientific study of ageing

13 April 2018
Kristina Zawaly

For someone who got into her field of study by accident, Kristina Zawaly is already outstripping her contemporaries, motivated by her 95-year old Grandmother to contribute to the science of aging well.

The University of Auckland doctoral candidate from the University’s School of Population Health is studying gerontology, the scientific study of ageing. Now she has been awarded The Future Clinical Researchers in Neurology and Neuroscience Scholarship. This scholarship is offered by the Clinical Research Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Of over 225 medical students, residents and junior fellows who applied, Kristina was one of just 25 recipients.

The award is offered by the Clinical Research Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology to medical students, junior residents, junior fellows who are interested in a career in research.

This scholarship supports people who are interested in a research career. Kristina’s current field of research is cognitive gerontology, focusing on cognitive impairment.

She heads to Los Angeles in a few weeks to to attend various mentoring sessions and research-related courses, have networking opportunities and meet the rest of the 2018 Future Clinical Researchers in Neurology and Neuroscience cohort. During her 10 day long stay she hopes to further her understanding of modifiable risk factors and manner in which these established and proposed mechanisms influence cognitive impairment pathophysiology.

She hopes it will facilitate her ability to understand the beneficial therapies to promote successful ageing, a better quality of life, and minimize financial and service demands on family and healthcare.

Kristina has had a passion for cognitive function and physical activities that led her to concurrently complete a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science at the University of Winnipeg. She then continued her postgraduate education in Disability Studies at the University of Manitoba. 

But her passion for gerontology occurred by accident when she failed to register for the required science courses. Days before the semester started she was emailing professors to be accepted as a late entry. She received an email back almost immediately inviting her to attend a gerontology course with the condition that she would have to provide a rationale if she decided not to continue. She accepted the challenge and after that class, was hooked.

“I just love to be able to facilitate successful ageing for those who have done so much for the generations that preceded them,” she says.

“I am extremely fortunate to have always had a very close relationship with my Grandmother, who will be 96 this year, making the opportunity to advance research within this field both very personally and professionally rewarding.”

Kristina moved to New Zealand in 2014 to complete her PhD in General Practice and Primary Health Care under the supervision of Professor Ngaire Kerse.

Once she has completed her PhD later this year she hopes to obtain a post-doctoral neurological fellowship to continue contributing to geriatric neurological research.

“I wish to continue to support the rapidly ageing global population by reducing the burden of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.”

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