Dr. Olga Kovalchuk, an internationally-respected biological sciences and epigenetics researcher at the University of Lethbridge, can now add Recipient of Canada's Top 40 Under 40TM to her already long list of accomplishments.
She recently returned from a three-day trip to Toronto and an action-packed series of award presentations, networking and professional development events as a member of a very unique group of people who come from all walks of life, but had much to share with each other.
"It was quite amazing," says Kovalchuk. "There were people there from all types of business, healthcare, research and other organizations who are all very interesting and have inspirational stories to tell. This is a pretty unique club to be a part of, and by the end of our time together we were all quite close. It has a really well connected alumni network, so I expect to stay in touch with them."
Dr. Olga Kovalchuk is recognized as one of Canada's most influential people.
Kovalchuk is characteristically modest about her own work, which landed her in the Top 40 group in the first place.
Her research focuses on the effects of long-term exposure to radiation, and how that exposure changes cellular and molecular structures in animals and people.
Since 1995, Kovalchuk, who is also a medical doctor, has been involved in the detailed analysis of the genetic consequences of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, and is currently researching the mechanisms by which radiation induces cancer.
She was one of seven Albertans and five women among the award recipients.
"This is an outstanding award for Olga, the members of her lab team, for her research collaborators here and throughout the world – and for our University," says U of L president Dr. Bill Cade.
"Olga has worked very hard to bring new research and new programs to the University and has influenced countless young researchers. With her husband and research collaborator Dr. Igor Kovalchuk – both board of governors Research Chairs here at the U of L – they have brought new people with a wealth of international talent to the University community. It is an understatement to say that we are extremely proud of her achievement."
Kovalchuk says part of the activity included a day-long session called the Top 40 Institute, where the award recipients received some high-end advice from business and government leaders. During breaks in the session, the participants had to stand up and deliver a brief pitch about themselves, their work, and what inspired them.
"In addition to my research, I talked lot about my family – my parents, who were academics – my husband Igor, with who I have collaborated for many years, and my daughter Anna, who has inspired me to be a good role model as a parent," says Kovalchuk.
She is now turning her attention to ongoing research projects, and furthering academic and public interest in the epigenetics research group that she and numerous U of L research partners are working on.
They recently hosted a symposium in Lethbridge to bring together even more researchers interested in epigenetics which she hopes will spawn even more projects – some which weren't even on her radar before the top 40 awards.
"I met a medical researcher who is interested in how radiation affects the heart and veins, and other parts of the circulatory system," she says. "We are very interested in talking about how we can apply our epigenetics work to his projects and how I can learn from him."