By Kate Bailey
Leaning towards me over the padded arm of her chair, Anna Püsök (C’23) remarks on the floral pattern decorating my freshly poured mug of tea: “It looks just like Hungarian designs!” Püsök was born and educated in Hungary, but decided to live out her college experience in the States. She discovered Sewanee online in 2019 – the rest is history.
As we sip from our twin mugs of mango green tea, I ask about her experience as a neuroscience and psychology double major. Püsök considers neuroscience her “main major”, the subject that had captured her interest before even Sewanee came into the picture. Psychology was another story; originally planning on double majoring in biology, Püsök says she discovered psychology later at Sewanee.
“I took a psychology class my second semester freshman year and fell in love,” she explains. “I like to do psych and neuroscience together because they complement each other so well, knowing that this is what’s happening in your brain. This is what creates how you act, how you think, how you behave as a human…it’s just so wonderful.”
The neuroscience department – more of a “program”, according to Püsök – is small but mighty, and growing. “When I came here, I think neuroscience at Sewanee was only two years old…but I knew that I wanted to bring [the department] up, and I think I’m kind of successful.” She gives a shy laugh after saying so, but it’s true. There were only 4 neuroscience majors the first year it was available; now, within the junior and senior class, there are 35.
An enthusiastic advocate for this emerging field, Püsök sets expectations high for potential majors, describing the tight knit community of students who have all been through the same classes together with the close support of professors. Because of neuroscience’s newness at Sewanee and in general, there’s freedom as well: “It was really nice that I had so much space to work…and such a good support system to work with.”
Her biggest support, she says without thought or hesitation, has been Dr. Katherine Cammack, head of the neuroscience department and Püsök’s major advisor. “I’ve been working in her lab since freshman year and we’ve had so many ideas together, done so much research together. Every time I talk to her, I know that she wants to support me within my field and as a person,” she tells me. “She’s made my Sewanee life so much better.”
I can hear the passion bleeding into her words as we talk about this major and those who have made it possible here. Püsök describes, “Everytime I’m in class, my jaw is on the floor. Everything is super interesting…So many questions always come up.” Unanswered questions seem to drive her passion as someone who is interested in developing treatment and assessment of neurological disorders.
“We don’t care about [those with neurological disorders] as much, I feel like. There’s so many areas science can be better and neuroscience can be better. I just hope to help as many people as I can.” In the meantime, Püsök spends her time outside of class as president of the Neuroscience Club, nicknamed the Sewanee Neurds.
Püsök emphasizes the inclusion of the Sewanee neurds: “This organization is not only for the [neuroscience] majors. Everybody can come. The brain is cool!” Those interested in the club can expect some stimulating events to come, including a talk with Dr. Linda Mayes, member of the first class of women to attend Sewanee and the university’s first female valedictorian. Dr. Mayes is now a professor of psychology (among other subjects) at the Yale School of Medicine and special advisor to the dean of the Yale School of Medicine. The event will take place on October 11th. The club is also branching out for some less expected collaborations, like a movie night with the Queer and Ally house to explore the neuroscience of sexuality. (Time and date TBD)
Püsök will be fulfilling her clinical interests by spending her spring semester at Yale participating in research on autism spectrum disorder at the Child Study Center.
Sewanee – and myself – wish her the best of luck.