A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

She’s a Brainiac

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MD/PhD students shares her love of neuroscience with high schoolers.

At last November’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in Washington, DC, Carin Papendorp ’17 MD/PhD’25 beamed as she accepted the 2017 Brain Awareness Travel Award. For the first-year Warren Alpert medical student, the honor represents her years of volunteer service as a Brown undergraduate helping Rhode Island high school students learn about brain science and prepare for an annual Brain Bee, a statewide, national, and international competition.

“My involvement as co-president of the Brown Brain Bee was a great experience and definitely contributed to my love of neuroscience,” says the Somerville, MA, native, whose initial interest in the field was sparked during high school, when she worked for a neurologist. In her junior year, she participated in the statewide Brain Bee at MIT, where she says she was nervous and underperforming.

Papendorp says her failure as a Brain Bee participant helped her better prepare high schoolers when she became a student at Brown. “In Massachusetts and in a lot of the other regional competitions, the preparation is really left up to the individual, so students who have access to AP psychology classes or attend better schools tend to dominate the competition,” she says. “For the Brown Brain Bee, we really pride ourselves on our outreach to the state’s public schools and students who may have fewer resources.”

One high school student she mentored is now a Brown sophomore. Sarah Pugliese ’20 won the state competition, and participated in the national Bee in 2015. “I reached out to Carin as a high school senior and she was enormously helpful,” says Pugliese, who has followed in Papendorp’s footsteps and become a Brain Bee coordinator. “Carin is positive and organized, and asks you for your ideas and makes sure you feel good about participating.”

Papendorp’s outreach experience, Brown’s neuroscience curriculum, and her participation in the lab of Professor and Chair of Neuroscience David Berson, PhD, as an undergrad led her to a concentration in neuroscience and a career in medicine. This summer she will work in the lab of Diane Lipscombe, PhD, the Thomas J. Watson Sr. Professor of Science, professor of neuroscience, and director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science. “Carin is among the students at Brown who do such a wonderful job in our outreach efforts,” says Lipscombe, who will play a major role in neuroscience outreach and policy as the next president of SfN. “Interest in neuroscience is clearly on the rise; almost a quarter of all Brown undergraduates take the Intro to Neuroscience course.”

The SfN award that Papendorp received in November came with admission to the conference and $750 to cover her expenses, as well as the printing for a poster to promote Brain Awareness Week, which was earlier this month. She is still sorting out the specific area of neuroscience she will pursue, but she has seen firsthand the devastation of neurological disorders. One grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and her other grandfather coped with Parkinson’s. “Everyone seems to have someone in their family who suffers from neurological disease and would benefit from brain research,” she says.

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