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Neurobiology Student to Study Storytelling in Scotland

Neurobiology Student to Study Storytelling in Scotland

Brooke Bourgeois, class of 2017 and Neurobiology concentrator, has won a Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship. This post-graduate, year-long fellowship encourages students to explore new areas and new cultures by immersing themselves in a foreign country, without worrying about specific academic research.

“I first heard about the Rockefeller as some sort of urban legend from upperclassmen friends,” Bourgeois said. “I remember hearing about it and thinking, ‘Huh. That sounds like it was made for me.’ Granted, I never thought I’d get it.”

As a student pursuing both scientific and arts interests, Bourgeois was not used to hearing about a program that fit her learning goals.

“This semester, I am taking more Visual and Environmental Studies [VES] classes than science classes,” she said. “I think a lot of people look at me and think that I’m someone who concentrated in the wrong thing. For a while, I thought that, too. At this point, though, I think I took exactly the right path. I am equal parts neurobiology and creative arts.”

Though she is still considering a career in science or medicine, Bourgeois proposed to use her fellowship to study storytelling and art in Scotland.

“I plan on doing this in two ways: through narrative painting, to visually capture vignettes of traditional Gaelic takes, and through participation in performance art festivals and Ceilidhs, in the vein of Scottish oral tradition,” she said. “The whole project is about pushing myself to find a creative voice that is my own.”

Bourgeois has felt the pull of the arts more and more strongly throughout her Harvard experience. She has dabbled not only in fine art, but also in improv comedy, modern dance, and even cartooning for the Harvard Lampoon. However, her initial scientific aspirations have a strong inducement of their own.

“I first decided to concentrate in neurobiology because my brother has autism, and I wanted to understand exactly how and why that happened,” she said. “I also went into it knowing that it was one path that I could take to get my pre-med requirements in, so that I could become a person that could take care of people like my brother.”

Bourgeois found that although the daily grind of lab work was not to her taste, there was more to interest her in her studies than she expected, and possibly more to discover in the future.

“The collaboration of science learning and the tangible medical applications of finding answers to problems was what kept me enamored with biological mechanisms,” she said. “The more I studied about the brain, though, the more apparent the disconnect between the firing of synapses and the actual experience became. I was fascinated, but the transformation between molecular/cellular mechanism and personal experiences of things like memory felt like a big hole.”

Whichever career she decides to pursue, she knows that the fellowship and it’s intended purpose will help.

“As for career paths, I’ve always been thinking about medicine, but this year is Scotland will give me some space to consider how I can apply my particular melange of interests into the thing that is best suited for me,” she said. “Maybe that is being a really zany doctor, or maybe that is being some sort of science animator. All that I know is that I really want to do something that I care about, but I don’t think that that has a particular title. It certainly doesn’t have a linear path.”

Brooke’s art on her flickr account

by Mary Parker