Hannah Joo

Hannah with fellow students

Churchill Scholarship, 2012-13

I’m a second-year MD/PhD student in San Francisco, at UCSF, and this summer I’ll choose a thesis lab. Throughout, my decision-making process has been framed by what I learned during my Churchill year in Cambridge.

I was attracted to an international fellowship because I had a craving for context – for myself, for my ideas – intellectual, yes, but also social, emotional. I wanted to break from the ‘standard academic track’ if only to demonstrate to myself that no such thing exists. I wanted to be more mentally free. It is easier to do in a foreign place.

My primary research experience before Cambridge was in the retina, a high-control system where detailed questions get quantitative answers; but I was curious about the less controllable systems governing emotion, memory, and decision-making. My year was spent in a biopsychology lab at this murky, opposite end of the control spectrum, studying emotion regulation. It was challenging in ways I could not have anticipated.

Ultimately, I left England with a very personal epistemology gem: I now have a well-defined sense of the degree of uncertainty and interpretation I’m willing to tolerate in an experiment. And somehow, over tea or during early-morning rowing on the Cam, on an easyjet flight or on the Tube, I learned how to pay attention to what draws me, scientifically and personally. Together, these have been guiding.

Extracurriculars: I broke my ankle, observed the National Health System close-up, and reaffirmed my interest in medicine, specifically in American medicine. I coxed an amateur women’s rowing team to a big, goofy victory in the Bumps races. I visited Sweden, France, Switzerland, Scotland, Ireland. I made six – six! – unusually intelligent, thoughtful friends with whom I’m still very close. I met my husband.

I wrote that I couldn’t have anticipated the challenge, but I did anticipate the reward, in a way; I had a hazy intuition that such a year would make me a better doctor, scientist, friend, writer, partner, mentor. The National Fellowships Program at Hopkins took that intuition seriously and helped me shape it into something coherent, for others and for myself. I’ll always be grateful for that, as it was a life-defining year.