13th Annual Vermont Brain Bee: February 12, 2022
At the 2022 Vermont Brain Bee held February 12, a small but mighty contingent of eight students
representing five high schools from around the state competed in the first in-person event since 2020.
Following hours of challenging written, practical, and oral neuroscience exams at UVM’s Larner
College of Medicine, a South Burlington High School senior emerged triumphant.
Over the past thirteen years, more than 430 students have participated in the Vermont Brain Bee, which
has inspired many to pursue neuroscience as a career. This annual neuroscience competition for teens is
affiliated with both the U.S.A. Brain Bee and International Brain Bee. The Vermont Brain Bee is one of
200 chapters in more than 50 regions in six continents worldwide. (Find info at vermontbrainbee.com)
The 2022 Vermont Brain Bee participants, who came from Essex High School, Milton High School,
Rice Memorial High School, Saint Johnsbury Academy, and South Burlington High School, participated
in a written quiz, a practical exam with real brain specimens, and two oral competition rounds. All the
questions posed are selected from the Society for Neuroscience primer, titled “Brain Facts.”
During the first Oral Round, participants answered three sets of 10 questions each, and wrote their
answers on separate answer sheets in a “Final Jeopardy” fashion. The final Oral Round determined the
13th Annual Vermont Brain Bee winner.
“It always gives me such a strong sense of pride to see our Vermont community represented by such
intelligent young people and this year, they exceeded even my highest expectations,” said Nathan
Jebbett, Ph.D., UVM assistant professor of neurological sciences.
In addition to the competitive exams, students learned more about neuroscience. Sharon Leach, Ph.D.,
a neuropsychologist, along with Feyza Basoglu, M.D., a pediatric psychiatrist, led students through
neurological and psychiatric case presentations, including vignettes of a case of schizophrenia and a case
of autism spectrum disorder. “Pre-recorded videos allowed students to listen to symptoms presented in
an interview format,” said Leach, adding, “They also were given the chance to consider additional
diagnostic test results.”
Ellen McGinnis, Ph.D., UVM assistant professor of psychiatry, delivered a keynote presentation on
“Teenage Well-being: Neuroscience, Epigenetics & Physiology,” The event closed with a panel of
UVM neuroscience undergraduate and graduate students, as well as medical students, who discussed
studying science, applying to college, graduate and medical school, and researching potential careers.
Hiba Ali, a South Burlington High School senior, was the overall winner. Uma Chirkova, a sophomore
from St. Johnsbury Academy took second place and Deepika Muthuswamy earned third place,
“Having an in-person Brain Bee was very exciting and the whole experience reminded me of why I love
learning about the brain,” said Muthuswamy.
On April 9, 2022, the U.S.A. Brain Bee Championships were held remotely for all the high school
chapter winners from 44 cities and 30 states, including Hiba Ali representing Vermont. They all took the
paper-and-pencil exam in their respective locations. Ali completed the 130-multiple-choice-question
exam with Lisa Bernardin, Vermont Brain Bee founder and coordinator, as her proctor. Ali finished the
exam in less time than was allotted. She found the neuroanatomy section to be the most difficult and the
portion on differential diagnosis to be the most exciting and easiest due to what she learned during the
Vermont Brain Bee’s neurological and psychiatric case presentation session.
On May 4, the winner of the U.S.A. Championships, who will represent the U.S.A. at the World Brain
Bee Championships in July 2022, will be announced. This event was originally scheduled to be held in
Paris, France, but was altered to be virtual due to COVID-19.
“The Vermont Brain Bee has been one of the most incredible academic experiences of my high school
career,” said Ali. “[It] has made learning about the brain exciting and accessible. I’m grateful for this
opportunity and am excited to continue learning about the brain in the upcoming years.”