Four seniors from concentrations administered by MCB—Hannah Cole (MCB ‘22), Andrew Siyoon Ham (Neuro ‘22), Elizabeth Saoud (Neuro ‘22), and Ben Zhang (MCB ‘22)—have been elected to the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) honor society.
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest academic honor society in the United States. The Harvard PBK chapter elects only a handful of accomplished undergraduates to join its ranks based on their grades, rigorous coursework, and letters of recommendation. Cole, Ham, Saoud, and Zhang have been inducted as part of this year’s “Senior 48,” an annual fall tradition for PBK.
“I didn’t know the significance or history of the society until I was invited to apply, and when I first received the email, I actually texted my mom, “Have you heard of Phi Beta Kappa?’” says Saoud. “I never imagined I would have such an opportunity. It is truly a testament to the overflowing support and encouragement my close friends and family have provided me with during my time at Harvard.”
The newly-minted members of PBK agree that election to the honor society is a validating experience. “I’m beyond thrilled and honored for the achievement,” says Zhang. “I feel like it really affirmed all the hard work I’ve put into all my classes over the past three and a half years. It’s a great way to cap off the senior year as I look forward to graduation.”
“Throughout the past couple of years, I have really appreciated how faculty and course staff have continued to dedicate themselves to supporting students, whether virtually or in-person, so that I could continue chasing my academic curiosities while navigating the changes of the pandemic,” says Cole. “I have been so lucky to have been a part of so many wonderful learning communities through my classes and the MCB concentration.”
Students inducted into PBK are typically those who excel in coursework across many disciplines. Their favorite courses have included Genetics 228: Genetics in Medicine-From Bench to Bedside, where guest lectures from researchers and patients made a big impression on Zhang, and MCB 169: Molecular and Cellular Immunology, which sparked a fascination with the immune system for Cole and led to her conducting thesis research on the tumor microenvironment.
Ham, who is a Neuroscience concentrator with a secondary in Astrophysics, says that his Mind, Brain, Behavior track coursework has given him the flexibility to explore many facets of science. “Neuroscience is such an inherently interdisciplinary concentration, and I really appreciate how the department here has allowed me to take classes in a wide range of disciplines, including psychiatry, history of science, and linguistics,” he says. “I’m consistently surprised by how applicable neuroscience can be outside the realm of molecular and systems biology…As we learn about the exciting developments in the field, I’ve also started to really question not only how we can explore the frontiers of science, but also how we can bring the fruits of discovery to everyone everywhere, especially with the issues of access and systemic inequality that prevent some communities from benefiting the same way from science that others do.”“Looking back, some of the most exciting classes I’ve taken have been ones that I picked up the night before shopping week starts,” Zhang says. “It’s okay to not have a grand plan of all the classes you’re going to take and most importantly, take the classes that will truly interest you and help you grow as a person!”
Class of ‘22 have experienced two years of pandemic-era college, including both semesters of remote learning and cautious returns to campus. “It definitely has been very difficult and disruptive, but I think it has also been an opportunity for me to reconsider what is truly important to me,” Ham says. “After a year of separation from life on campus and the people at Harvard, I’ve really made conscious efforts this semester to engage even more with the community and to value making connections.”
All of the PBK inductees expressed gratitude to the MCB and Neuro communities, including faculty, staff, their lab mentors, and their classmates. “Navigating college during a pandemic has been extremely difficult, and I commend all students who are working to get through these hard times,” says Saoud. “Confiding in faculty and fellow classmates has been a big help in adjusting to the new normal while also meeting the high standards we tend to set for ourselves.”
Cole adds, “I am grateful especially to Dominic Mao, Monique Brewster, and Irina Cashen for everything that they have done to support the amazing concentration community and my personal journey within the MCB concentration.”
Congratulations to these outstanding seniors!