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UMass Medical School hosts 14th annual Central Massachusetts Brain Bee

Billerica Memorial High School junior Tej Patel wins neuroscience competition for teens

2020 Central Massachusetts Brain Bee winner Tej Patel (second from left) is pictured with (from left) Sheldon Benjamin, MD; his parents; Michael and Shirley Sheridan; and David Weaver, PhD.
2020 Central Massachusetts Brain Bee winner Tej Patel (second from left) is pictured with (from left) Sheldon Benjamin, MD; his parents; Michael and Shirley Sheridan; and David Weaver, PhD.

Billerica Memorial High School junior Tej Patel was the winner of the 14th Annual Central Massachusetts Brain Bee held at UMass Medical School on Saturday, Feb. 1. Hosted by the UMMS Department of Psychiatry and NeuroNexus Institute, the Brain Bee is a competition designed to encourage students to pursue careers in the neurosciences.

Patel was one of 46 contestants from 23 Massachusetts high schools who came to Worcester to compete for the chance to represent Massachusetts at the national championship in Ohio in March. This year’s runner up was Neil Kale, a junior at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

On arrival at the medical school, the students took a written clinical neuroscience exam and interviewed patient actors to diagnose their neurological or psychiatric conditions. The 10 top scoring students representing eight schools then assembled to answer neuroscience questions in “bee” style while their classmates, parents and science teachers looked on.

“Winning this award has furthered my passion for neuroscience and has deepened my interests in the medical field,” said Patel. “It was an honor to compete against such talented students and I am eager to proudly represent UMMS at this year’s National Brain Bee. Thank you to Dr. Benjamin, Dr. Weaver, Dr. Rosen, the Sheridan family and all of the volunteers for running a truly wonderful event.”

Sheldon Benjamin, MD, interim chair and professor of psychiatry and professor of neurology, served as master of ceremonies and presented the Andrew Sheridan Young Neuroscientist Award to Patel. David Weaver, PhD, professor of neurobiology and director of the NeuroNexus Institute, and Max Rosen, MD, MPH, chair and professor of radiology, coordinated the event. Dr. Benjamin delivered the keynote address “Epilepsy: A natural laboratory of brain and behavior,” and Alexandra Byrne, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology, presented “Worming our way to repairing the injured nervous system.”

The Andrew Sheridan Young Neuroscientist Award was established by Michael and Shirley Sheridan in honor of their late son Andrew, who had a passion for neuroscience. The award covers an all-expense paid trip sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry to compete in the USA Brain Bee Championship at Northeast Ohio Medical School from March 27 to 29. The Central Massachusetts chapter is one of about 50 local chapters nationwide whose winners will compete at the national event. The winner will represent the United States at the 2020 International Brain Bee in Washington, DC, in August.

Many area high school science teachers sponsor Brain Bee clubs that feature neuroscience enrichment activities and encourage participation in the competition, and UMMS established the Brain Bee Bootcamp to further assist students in preparing for the competition. Run by students of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the bootcamp provides tutoring to instill fascination and passion for neuroscience. Its weekly on-campus tutoring program is open to all Massachusetts high school students and introduces them to experimental and clinical neuroscience concepts.

The UMMS Brain Bee Bootcamp received a UMMS Remillard Family Community Service Fund grant to support outreach efforts that engage high school students in the Worcester Public Schools. The grant also funds the weekly bootcamp sessions to offer scientific career training, refreshments and team T-shirts for all bootcamp students. The Remillard Fund will continue to support outreach training and activities specifically for Worcester residents, schools and educational programs after the competition.

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UMass Medical School hosts high school Brain Bee on Saturday