When Brenda Milner was a young graduate student beginning her career at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in 1950, she was given two pieces of advice: “make yourself as useful as you can” and “don’t get in anybody’s way”.
After a stellar career of 65 years, more than 20 honorary degrees, numerous academic awards (including the 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience), and an outstanding record of ground-breaking research, it’s safe to say the world-renowned neuropsychologist has surpassed those original, modest benchmarks. Milner’s most recent contribution to The Neuro has been a bequest directed to the epilepsy program. Supporting post-graduate fellowships, Milner’s gift will target a need that she knows will greatly benefit from donor support.
“When you complete your Ph.D. and want to continue your research, it’s really very difficult,” she says.
When Milner began working at The Neuro, it was at the threshold of a modern era of investigation into the complexities of the brain and the nervous system. These were the heady beginnings of neuroscience and the Neuro was front and centre, pioneering a surgical procedure for patients suffering from epileptic seizures.
Today, Milner is Dorothy J. Killam Professor at The Neuro and professor in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University. She has contributed to enormous advances in helping patients through her discoveries about the brain and memory. Milner’s research has also had a profound influence on the development of tests to treat people with brain disorders resulting from traumatic injury and degenerative diseases, and psychiatric illness.
At 97 years old (Milner attributes her longevity to good genes, a social network, a little exercise and the benefits of bilingualism), she could easily rest – or retire – on her remarkable laurels, but laurel-resting does not suit Milner and she continues to bring the same fervour to her work as she did when she stepped inside the front doors of the Neuro for the first time back in 1950.
“It’s exciting to see the research evolve,” she says. “Neuroscience is a great success story and the Neuro is part of that story.” Milner is part of that success story in more than one way. Not only have Milner’s hard work and research enabled numerous advancements of The Neuro, but her endowment will support the success of post-graduate fellows to come.