By Freya Patel
I discuss my devotion to and fascination with neuroscience while comparing it to religion.
Being raised by an analytical mother who often criticized faith, religion was not a part of my life. I didn’t question it as a child, but when I reached my teen years, I wondered what it would be like to believe so purely in something. I found myself envying those devoted to a doctrine—those who had this unwavering connection to something far beyond them.
In the face of the unexpected, I found this relationship in neuroscience. While neuroscience isn’t the same as pious worship, I relied on it when it came to my prosperity and suffering. Whether it was defining my own studying optimization or dealing with grief by learning the paths of neurotransmitters, I fell headfirst into the field. The opportunities for high schoolers to learn about the field of neuroscience was limited, but not impossible. I started with Crash Course YouTube videos on the nervous system where I was taught the basics, and joined a neuroscience club where I participated in experiments that exposed our neuropsychological processes. I then found my way to academic journals published by the International Youth Neuroscience Association, and enrolled in an online fundamentals course offered by Harvard. I began filling an old navy blue notebook with the information I was learning—a book I came to devote myself to.
Unlike my family, I am also an artist. I was an artist before I found neuroscience, thus I was not expected to go beyond visual art and writing; attaching myself to neuroscience puzzled my family. But I found something in neuroscience akin to faith, and so I sought its form out in my more creative passions. With writing, I built stories centered on how our brain’s chemistry can drastically affect our behavior, and used literary tales to pose questions on the essence of human behavior. With visual art, I designed posters of neurons and neural activity and investigated how art alters our brain’s perception of the external world. The connections between science and art pervaded all aspects of life, once again reminding me that neuroscience is boundless.
Like many people’s experiences with religion, when all else is doubted, they look to their faith. I look to neuroscience. It generates fascination that can never be expended and hope that cannot be defined. I continue to explore it with whatever materials I have, letting my brain’s curiosity for itself take over.
I crafted this piece with the Your Unique Life workshop with Scholastic. I then edited it to fit as one of my college essay answers. This is the result.
Freya Patel is a senior in high school living in Princeton, New Jersey. In her free time she enjoys drawing and reading sci-fi. She is interested in studying neuroscience in college next year.