Two Neuroscience concentrators, Cindy Chau (‘19) and Mark Czeisler (‘19), have been awarded prestigious fellowships from the Office of Undergraduate Research Fellowships and Australian-American Fulbright Commission respectively.
As a recipient of a Benjamin A. Trustman Postgraduate Travel Fellowship, Chau will journey to Ho Chi Minh City, where she will perform stand-up and improv comedy routines centered around cultural perspectives on mental health struggles. “Comedy will serve as a unique platform to help alleviate mental health struggles including my own and open significant dialogue about stigmatizing beliefs throughout the community,” Chau says. “Having no formal comedy experience or extensive traveling experience, I will have an incredible opportunity to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone, become immersed in comedy and arts for the first time, and gain greater understanding of cultural stigmas of mental illnesses.”
Chau’s interest in mental health is driven by her personal experience. “I struggled with anxiety and stuttering throughout college so I made a personal pact to take risks and do things I love even if I was afraid,” she says.
During her time at Harvard, she co-founded and co-directed Indigo Peer Counseling, an on-campus peer counseling group that supports students who experience marginalization. She also participated in Expos 40, a class about public speaking. Performing comedy that deals with mental health issues and the stigma around them will allow Chau to further explore these interests.
“It has been a joy advising and teaching Cindy,” says Neuroscience concentration advisor Ryan Draft. “Wherever she goes, she lights up the room (or lab) with her infectious sense of humor…She never fails to make me laugh, even when I am trying to be serious. I was so excited to hear about this unique and wonderful fellowship. Very [few] students would be brave enough to take it on, but Cindy can do anything.”
Though Chau is passionate about mental health, she didn’t expect to receive funding to perform comedy about it. “I was shocked when the email didn’t start with, ‘I am sorry to tell you…’ I stood there for a few moments not fully registering the good news,” Chau says. “Almost a week has passed and I am still in awe and immensely grateful for this life-changing opportunity.”
“I would like to thank the Pforzheimer Fellowship team, my Indigo supervisor Carolina Gonzalez, and my Expos 40 professor Zachary Stuart, who all provided considerable encouragement and support,” Chau adds. “I would also like to thank my professors, family, and friends for inspiring me to be the best version of myself and to keep laughing and enjoying life every day.”
Czeisler’s Fulbright Fellowship will take him to Melbourne, Australia, where he will carry out a clinical research project he proposed to evaluate the influence that sleep and circadian rhythms have on hospital patient health outcomes. “Australia has been on my short list of places to live, and when speaking with potential research mentors in Melbourne I was thrilled to hear that I could conduct clinical research with translational value,” Czeisler says. “Working in a hospital and interacting directly with patients will help to prepare me to achieve my goal of studying medicine upon my return from Australia.”
Neuroscience concentration advisor Ryan Draft is looking forward to seeing how clinical experience will shape Czeisler’s growth as a scientist.“ Mark is one of the most impressive student-scientists we’ve had in the concentration in a very long time,” he says.“His research project is extensive and more independent than is typical or expected for our thesis writers. He is not only an outstanding young scientist, he is a gifted science communicator…I have no doubt that he will be successful in his research project in Melbourne, and I can’t image a better emissary for Harvard or the US.”
As a lifelong Massachusetts resident, Czeisler is looking forward to exploring another corner of the world. “I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the chance to embrace cultural and educational exchange next year in Australia,” he says.
Czeisler is grateful for the many individuals who have supported him during his time at Harvard. “This opportunity was made possible by a community of people,” he says.“Within MCB and Neuroscience, I am especially grateful for Drs. Jeff Lichtman, Ryan Draft, Ethan Garner, and Dominic Mao for their mentorship and for writing letters of recommendation to support my application.