Brackenridge 2: My Cohort

The first few weeks of the Brackenridge Fellowship have been marked by intensive research, interdisciplinary community-building, and beautiful Pittsburgh summer weather. It has been wonderful to meet the other summer fellows–including those in the Health Sciences Research Fellowship and the new SHURE-Grid program–to learn about their backgrounds, research interests, and career goals. While our interests span the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, we share a dedication to intellectual rigor and an excitement for discovery that foster a cohesive community atmosphere. My bioethics scholarship can be substantially enhanced through interactions with fellowship recipients who work in the natural sciences. Theoretical considerations may be tempered and improved upon when consulting peers who are adopting practical, hands-on approaches in the laboratory or the clinic.

My Brackenridge cohort is composed of five students, each working on very different projects. One peer is focused on English and anthropology, I am studying natural law and bioethics, and the other three are researching diverse themes in the natural sciences, including molecular oncology, computational modeling in environmental chemistry, and development of a weather-tracking map application for motorists. Other Brackenridge fellows are studying neuronal maturation, gene editing of viruses, and genomics analyses. I am particularly interested in sharing research methodologies and findings with these peers, because I hope to extend my pediatric bioethics research into the rapidly expanding field of fetal therapy. After the field of fetal surgery was established by University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) physician-scientists in the early 1980s, subsequent developments have emphasized reducing the invasiveness and maternal risk of surgeries to correct fatal fetal anomalies in utero. Now, researchers are on the cusp of pioneering human trials in fetal gene therapy, exploiting the underdeveloped prenatal immune system to maximize the impact of such interventions. As I begin to apply my natural law and bioethics research approaches to this quickly developing field, it will be valuable to discuss the translational science of these clinical therapeutics with peers more intimately familiar with the underlying immunology and medical genetics principles.

As the Editor-in-Chief of the Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review–the Frederick Honors College’s interdisciplinary research journal–I am an increasingly passionate advocate for collaborating with and learning from peers across areas of study and interest. As our Editorial Board begins planning for the 2023-24 journal editions, we look forward to engaging with students across Pitt–from freshmen during orientation week to upperclassmen finishing senior theses–and facilitating interdisciplinary communication through journal publications. Iron sharpens iron, and different academic specialties promote different perspectives and analytical approaches. Expertise in one discipline may lead a researcher to pose questions, offer critiques, or propose future steps regarding the work of another researcher in a second discipline that peers within the second discipline may never have independently considered. However, in order to engage in this dialogue–with the possibility to elevate and enhance the work of both scholars–the two researchers must share a common framework. Discussions and debates rely on a common understanding of the relevant terms and ideas. Our Brackenridge seminars thus far have fostered this shared understanding of research definitions and methodologies, promoting constructive criticism and interdisciplinary engagement.

A beautiful Pittsburgh sunrise snapshot I took before volunteering at a local 5K. I look forward to the interdisciplinary relationships among Brackenridge fellows illuminating my scholarship in new and unexpected ways.

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