Interview with Alumna Brittany Rodriguez (Neuroscience, Brooklyn College ‘21)
Interview by Brandon Greyson Kim (Moral Philosophy and Axiological Futurism, Hunter College ’23)
Tell me about your areas of concentration (“AOCs”) and your overall experience in the CUNY BA Program.
I came into the CUNY BA program as a nontraditional student, and by that, I mean I had received a previous bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in philosophy. I was out of school for five years at that time. When I was looking to go back, it was really because I wanted to go to medical school. Since I had a degree already, I just needed to complete the prerequisites. And as I was searching where to do that, I came across CUNY and then the CUNY BA program. My AOC was in neuroscience, but I don’t know ultimately if that’s what I’m going to go into, just because interests change. Still, I curated my AOC with my faculty mentor, keeping in mind that I wanted to eventually go into clinical neurology. I was able to take a bunch of classes that really let me dive deep into the anatomy and physiology of the brain. I love learning how the brain works.
It was kind of tough because I had a humanities-heavy background and then I moved into STEM. Luckily, CUNY BA gave me the freedom to sculpt my own degree plan and AOC. It was great knowing that I could take only those classes that I felt were most beneficial to me. I definitely think I benefited most by being able to create my AOC.
How did you find and approach your faculty mentor?
My mentor was a professor I had during my first semester in the program. I was actually planning on doing research with him. Unfortunately, I started the program back in the spring of 2020, and by March, everything was shut down [due to COVID-19]. So, I never actually did get to pursue that research, which was disappointing because I was really looking forward to it. He was doing neuroscience research at the time, which I was interested in. I do feel like I missed out on some of the significant opportunities that come with being in the program, but, overall it was still a great experience getting to know my mentor. He was fantastic!
I attended the Finding a Faculty Mentor workshop. I went because I had no idea how to find a mentor. A lot of people come into the program having already taken classes for a semester or two. I was coming in fresh and didn’t know any professors, so it was really difficult. I was only taking one neuroscience class at the time, and I happened to really enjoy that class, so I went up to him after class one day and just asked him. I introduced myself and told him I was a student in CUNY BA. He had no idea what the program was, so I explained it to him. After talking for a bit, he asked for my resumé to get to know me a little more. We met a couple more times after class before he agreed to be my mentor. After that, he walked me through a list of courses that I would benefit from, and we planned my AOC together. We formed a pretty good relationship early on, and he was very easy to work with. As I’ve said, I really wish I could have gotten to do research with him, but unfortunately, COVID shut that down.
How can students build strong working relationships with their faculty mentors?
I think that conducting research with a professor is a great way to build that relationship since you’re working side-by-side, kind of like colleagues instead of as students and professors. But, if you can’t conduct research with your faculty mentor, see if you can read their writing or contribute to what they’re publishing. Show interest in their work since, ideally, that’s the reason why you chose them as a mentor in the first place!
When COVID first hit and we couldn’t go face-to-face anymore, I had to find a way to connect with my mentor over email and Zoom. This was difficult at first. I would email him every so often just to check in. He was incredibly busy teaching multiple courses and keeping his lab running, so it became more of a back-and-forth email situation. I think maintaining that relationship falls on the student. Since mentors are often full-time professors, they have so many different things going on. I had to get over the fear that I was bugging him or that he would hate me if I kept emailing him. But, in most cases, they’re just very busy people. I think being able to take on that responsibility — to advocate for yourself — is so important (and necessary!). So, don’t be afraid to really reach out and make a consistent effort to build a connection with them.
Were you involved in other aspects of the program outside of your coursework? If so, what were they, and how were you able to build community within those activities?
I went to a couple of the workshops and met with a few other students. You get a lot of people who are so driven and determined. Another student was also a neuroscience major, but we were on very different tracks. She was going the research route, and I was going the clinical route. I was fascinated to learn that we had the same AOC but approached the field from such different angles. Everybody seemed to have a very niche area of study, which I found fascinating.
The CUNY BA Student Showcases were also great experiences. They’re definitely a community-building aspect of the program. Every project was so different and unique but, if I remember correctly, they all had to do with bettering the community in some way – it was definitely social justice-oriented. There was one presentation where the student advocated for better working conditions for adjunct professors. That presentation brought awareness to some of the issues adjuncts are facing. There was somebody else who had created community fridges in underserved populations here in the city. Those presentations really stood out to me; others presented more artistic endeavors – songs and films – which were also very interesting.
What are your plans for the future, and how has CUNY BA helped you achieve your goals thus far?
I just finished my degree this fall, so I’m fresh out of it. The other day, I actually just got an email letting me know my transcripts are ready! Regarding future plans: I was accepted to medical school, so I will be attending this fall, which I’m extremely excited about. I plan on doing neuroscience research while there if I can find a way to do that. I also want to learn more about global health since that really interests me. The school that I’m planning on attending has a very big global health program, so that’s something I plan to get involved in right off the bat. As for now, I’m working full-time, preparing for my move, and getting ready to begin medical school.
What advice do you have for current CUNY BA students to get the most out of the program?
Get involved as much as you can! Like I said, I was really only able to get involved with the newsletter, and a lot of that was because I was working. I didn’t have much time to go to any major events. But, to current students: know that everybody in the program is happy to help you, give you advice, support you, and watch you succeed. Take advantage of your CUNY BA advisors especially! Kate [McPherson] was mine. She was incredible from day one — advocating for me and helping me with e-permits. All the staff, though, are so willing to help you out. A lot of the fellows have excellent advice to give you as well. So, just be open to all of that, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Reach out! If you have a project that you want to submit to the showcase, go for it. Throw yourself in, take what you can from it, and contribute as much as you can.