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New avenue opens for budding UCC neuroscientists

Two potential Upper Canada College neuroscientists were honoured at the 17th annual Toronto Brain Bee at the University of Toronto’s Medical Sciences Building earlier this spring.

Grade 11 student Justin Lu was the top ranking participant amongst those who attended from UCC as well as the top novice participant for the entire event.

“I think after participating in the Brain Bee that I would definitely be interested in studying neuroscience after UCC,” says Lu.

The Toronto Brain Bee is a free knowledge-based neuroscience competition for high school students in the Greater Toronto Area and is part of the International Brain Bee and Canadian Brain Bee organizations. Forty-eight students from 14 schools took part this year.

The Toronto Brain Bee events included a three-round competition, lunch for participants and teachers, visiting research laboratories and the Anatomy Museum at U of T, watching videos of neuroscience-related outreach programs, attending research talks and meeting with U of T researchers, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

“I’ve always been interested in the brain, and I wanted to learn more about it this year simply out of curiosity,” said Grade 11 student Elliott Birman, who also took part in the Brain Bee.

“If there was one take-away from the Brain Bee, it is that there is always room to study more. I also got out how fun it is to learn about the brain, and I was amazed at the number of individuals with the same passion as me.”

Lu and Birman were presented Student Leadership in Promoting Early Education in Neuroscience Awards at the Brain Bee for initiating a neuroscience club at UCC during the past year, with the goal of getting other students interested in the science of the brain and recruiting participants for the Brain Bee competition.

Lu was taking a neuroscience course at U of T and Birman had planned on studying it independently when they came up with the idea of starting the club in case other UCC students were interested in the topic.

The club travelled to U of T to attend weekly lectures and met at UCC during Wednesday lunch periods to review the lectures and study collectively. It also raised awareness of mental health and cognitive and neurodegenerative diseases by organizing and hosting a school ping-pong tournament that raised a few hundred dollars for Parkinson Society Canada.

“Ideally, I would like to study neuroscience at the undergraduate level and then go on to medical school,” says Birman. “I’m not quite sure if I’ll specialize in neurology or neurosurgery, but it is for sure one of my current interests.”

UCC teacher Courtney Turner received a Teacher Recognition Award and certificate from the Brain Bee for acting as faculty advisor for the neuroscience club. She says the club was “purely student driven” and that the boys organized and planned all meetings as well as UCC’s first participation in the Brain Bee.

The neuroscience club will continue in the next school year and its members hope to participate in the Brain Bee again.

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