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The Intersection of Neuroscience and Education: Rachel Hantman, MBE'18

By Marin Jorgensen on May 10, 2018 7:10 AM
The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Mind, Brain, and Education reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.

Rachel HantmanWhen Rachel Hantman entered the Ed School last August she was nervous. Some things, like worrying about which classes she would take, would resolve themselves early. But others would take a little more time.

“I feared feeling inexperienced next to my peers and colleagues. As a recent undergraduate, this feeling took a long time to shake,” Hantman says. “Over time, I’ve realized each one of us at HGSE has something we can teach our peers and we can all learn from each other’s experiences, regardless of age or quantity of life experiences.”

Hantman, who came to HGSE with a background in neuroscience, found community in her Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) cohort, who sought answers to questions similar to those she had, such as how to better apply neuroscience to education.

“I didn’t expect to feel connected to and supported by each person in our cohort, but I really do,” says Hantman, who will remain at HGSE after graduation, working with Associate Professor Gigi Luk at the BEE (Brain, Experience, Education) Lab. “Getting to know the MBE cohort has easily been one of the highlights of this year.”

Clearly, the feeling is mutual, as Hantman’s peers nominated her for the Intellectual Contribution Award for MBE, which she will receive at Convocation on May 23.

“It is my pleasure to honor Rachel’s contributions to the Mind, Brain, and Education Program,” says Lecturer Todd Rose, faculty director for MBE. “Rachel is one of those rare individuals who adds enormous intellectual value to any conversation that she is a part of, while at the same time maintaining a genuine interest in the well-being of her peers. She is a leader in every sense of the word.”

Here, Hantman reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School, and has it changed at all?
I was excited to gain a (more) formal understanding of education that I could apply to my neuroscience background. I am still passionate about and curious about the application of neuroscience to education, but this goal has been reoriented toward better understanding a) the challenges and barriers of applying neuroscience to education, and b) the communication challenges that arise when trying to bridge the two fields.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience?
I used to always default to the brain (i.e., Why wouldn’t you want to find a neural correlate to a behavioral outcome you are measuring and/or attempting to modify?). But Dr. Gigi Luk has pushed me to question this perspective by asking “Why? Why does it matter that there is a neural correlate if behavior has changed?” She has pushed me to think about the specific circumstances in which having an understanding of the neural underpinnings of behavior are practically useful and not just academically noteworthy.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program?
Do not be afraid to seek out the (research) opportunities that you want! You already don’t have the job/position/etc., so you have nothing to lose by sending an email or making a phone call inquiring about a position that may or may not even exist. Just ask because you can only benefit from doing so. Also, be flexible in terms of the mode in which you want to gain a skillset. For example, you might be able to gain skills through a research opportunity or through an independent study.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for …
Every night, I write down one thing I’ve learned throughout the day and one thing that made me happy. It helps me see through all the busyness and the stress, and it also helps remind me that despite being stressed, I am experiencing something really wonderful.

Learn more about the Intellectual Contribution Award and read about all of this year's recipients.