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Brain Bee competition returns to MSU after a 2-year absence

The 11th annual Michigan State University Brain Bee competition is set to return on Saturday Feb. 11, 2023 after being cancelled for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Casey Henley headshot
"I am always proud of our students as they move on to the national competition," said Event Director and Physiology Assistant Professor Casey Henley. "The future of neuroscience is in good hands!" Courtesy photo

The event is open to any Michigan high school student between the ages of 14 and 18-years-old. Their knowledge and expertise on the human brain will determine who walks away with the $700 first place prize and the chance to represent Michigan at the USA National Brain Bee Championship which will be held in April at the University of California, Irvine. The winner there will then represent the United States against more than 30 other countries during the International Brain Bee World Championship later in August.

"Many high schools do not offer classes as specialized as neuroscience or psychology," said Event Director Casey Henley who is also an assistant professor within MSU Department of Physiology. "This gives those students an opportunity to learn these subjects which can then help them determine interests when they get to college. It is also a great resume building tool for college applications." 

Just ask the reigning champion Zaid Siddiqui who says the competition played a huge role on his decision to go into the medical field.

Zaid Siddiqui headshot
"I wasn't sold on actually competing until I read the first chapter of the study materials and realized I simply couldn't put the book down," said Zaid Siddiqui who is now a second-year student at Michigan. "I'd recommend every student to give the competition a chance. You just never know that you'd find something so fascinating until you try it." Courtesy photo

“The Brain Bee was very influential on my academic career,” said Siddiqui who is currently a second-year student at the University of Michigan double majoring in mathematics and computer science with a minor in biophysics. “Getting the chance to uncover the tip of the iceberg about the brain allowed me to realize just how fascinating the body is and left me wanting to learn more.”

As a junior at Detroit Country Day high school, Siddiqui’s win back in 2020 occurred just three weeks before Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency and closed all schools in response to the pandemic. It forced him to wait more than a year to have his chance to compete at nationals. However, it also gave him more time to study. 

“A lot of my studying would be centered around discussions about the brain with my dad who is a neurologist,” said Siddiqui who began studying three months in advance of nationals. “Our school had spring break [a week] before the competition where I studied all day, every day.”

And it paid off: Siddiqui won third place out of 67 other high schoolers from 30 states. His placement was the highest ever for a Michigan representative.

“The students that participate in our Brain Bee are incredible academically,” Henley said. “I truly believe that our winners have what it takes to be the national and international Brain Bee champions. To win either of those competitions would be such a great achievement for the student and would bring recognition to their school and community.”

Winners of the 2020 Brain Bee Competition
Siddiqui (center) with the other winners during the awards ceremony from the Feb. 22, 2020 MSU Brain Bee event. Credit: MSU Neuroscience Outreach

MSU’s local chapter of the Brain Bee was the first one chartered in Michigan. It was started in 2011 by a neuroscience graduate student who recognized the importance of science outreach into the community, Henley said. Since then, Michigan high school students from as far away as Traverse City all the way to the suburbs of Detroit, travel every spring to MSU’s campus to contest for the coveted first place title. Today, MSU is one of more than 250 Brain Bee chapters in about 49 countries across six continents.

“The Brain Bee is a great way for us to incentivize interest in neuroscience amongst high school and middle school students,” said MSU Department of Physiology Associate Professor A.J. Robison, who is also the director of the MSU Neuroscience Program that sponsors the competition. “It cultivates the next generation of neuroscience students and researchers here at MSU and all over the world.” 

Think you got what it takes to be the next Brain Bee champion? Registration is still open to any Michigan high school student between the ages of 14 and 18-years-old. To register or for more information, click here: https://brainbee.natsci.msu.edu/register-for-the-2023-brain-bee-at-msu/

By: Tyler Lee