Johnnie Uses Fellowship to Study Neuroscience at Berkeley

March 11, 2020 | By Eve Tolpa

Bao Le (A21) at his job at the IT Help Desk.

Bao Phan Quoc Le (A21) nurtured an interest in neurobiology before he decided to attend St. John’s, and when he first encountered the Program, he thought it might be “incompatible” with that interest. “Although freshman year does provide Johnnies with a comprehensive understanding of important scientific subjects,” he says, “it does not delve into any one of them extensively, let alone a field so specific.”

However, when Le took the online University of California, Berkeley course “Brain, Mind, and Behavior” through the General Pathways Fellowship program last summer, he realized just how well St. John’s had equipped him to explore the nuances of the subject. What the Program may not prioritize when it comes to examining specific scientific subjects, Le says, “it more than makes up for in the inquiry of the mind and the preparations it gave me for the online course.”

Donor-funded Pathways Fellowships give Johnnies the chance to explore disciplines, vocations, and academic subjects outside of the Program. For Le, this meant a new approach to studying the mind. He found the Berkeley course’s straightforward scientific material new and exciting. At the same time, he notes, “my interest in neurobiology lies in finding an explanation of the melding of mind and body in humans.” Unsurprisingly for a Johnnie, he most enjoyed the course’s topical discussions, “in which students were asked to voice their opinions on subjects of bioethics, morality, and technological impact on human lives.” Thanks to the various viewpoints of different cultures that were presented, the course discussions offered the best opportunity “for original and creative thinking…the mind and ethereal matters [were] shone upon, albeit briefly.”

The online aspect of the class also provided Le with a valuable experience in itself, giving him both the freedom to engage in other pursuits and the responsibility to hold himself accountable—“not just eating ramen every meal,” he says. Overall, the General Pathways Fellowship provided an important opportunity for academic and everyday independence.

“I was able to work full-time this summer as an IT Help Desk employee,” he says. “This was also the first summer I spent on my own, pushing me to take up responsibilities such as financial management and self-care…for that [reason], the summer was incredibly beneficial to me, both in preparing my first steps for post-grad education and my growth as an up-and-coming adult.”