Elena Perry, 16, won the International Brain Bee on May 26.
Elena Perry, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., began displaying her neuroscience knowhow at the Washington, D.C.-area Brain Bee in February, where she bested 19 students and won $250 and a trip to the National Brain Bee. At the national competition, during this year's Brain Awareness Week in March, Perry placed first out of 36 competitors from 21 states, taking home $1,500, a paid neuroscience internship and a trip to the International Brain Bee in Montreal—the first truly international Brain Bee.
“I certainly didn’t foresee myself winning the International Brain Bee when I participated in the local bee,” says Perry. “I just worked really hard and it ended up paying off.”
Perry followed a grueling study regimen. She created more than 1,000 flashcards, one for each question she thought might be asked, and memorized them, reviewing the cards prior to each competition. For the national and international competitions, she also took notes from online sources about diseases and disorders, studied textbooks and used plastic models of the brain to learn neuroanatomy, and met with a practicing neurologist.
The International Brain Bee is a four-part competition, comprised of neuroanatomy identification, written questions and answers, patient diagnosis, and oral questions and answers. Each section is worth 25 percent of the total score, and all took place over the course of one grueling day. Competitors from India, Canada and Australia vied with Perry for the $3,000 grand prize.
“I was extremely impressed with the other three competitors,” Perry says. “The overall level was very high and we were all very well-prepared and engaged.”
Judge Judy Illes, professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, agreed. “All the finalists were brilliant and she was a stand-out. [It is] nice to see these great young women coming into the neuroscience fold.”
Perry was most taken with the neuroanatomy and diagnosis sections. “I think one of the best things about the competition is the practical exams,” she says. “We get to see—and even touch—real brains, and interact with patient actors . . . I feel privileged to have had these experiences as a high school student.”
This summer, Perry will intern at the National Institute of Mental Health. She is considering a career in neuroscience as a biomedical researcher, but also is interested in environmentally conscious technology and design.