The Brain Bee Experience

Winners of the 2017 Winnipeg Brain Bee: (L-R) Karsyn Beatty of Vincent Massey High School (3rd place), Sophie Kim of Vincent Massey High School (First place), and Sandeep Mangat from University of Winnipeg Collegiate (2nd place). Photo credit: Crystal Acosta

Move over Spelling Bee! The Winnipeg Brain Bee is taking over!  If you’ve never heard of the Brain Bee, you aren’t alone.  Up until four years ago, most Manitobans would have wrinkled their brows at this thing called the Brain Bee. In truth, the Brain Bee has been around for almost two decades.  First launched in 1996 by the Society for Neuroscience as part of Brain Awareness Week, the Brain Bee is now recognized in more than 35 countries worldwide.  It is a competition for high school students (grades 9 through 12) that has become increasing important in piquing the interests of aspiring neuroscientists and clinicians.  While the Brain Bee tests a student’s knowledge in different topics related to the brain and neuroscience, it is also an exciting avenue for high school students to network with trainees and scientists, engage with neuroscience-related workshops and demonstrations, and gain awareness of neuroscience research.  Over time the Brain Bee has evolved into a 3-tiered competition.  Winners at the regional level represent their city at the nationals, and the winner of the national Brain Bee goes on to represent their country at the International Brain Bee, which has been held annually since 1999.

The inaugural Winnipeg Brain Bee was first held in 2015 under the leadership of MNN Director of Outreach, Dr. Sari Hannila.  Back then, there were only a handful of student participants, as well as, trainee and faculty volunteers.  Since then, the Winnipeg Brain Bee has grown with each competition and has become an important tool for neuroscience outreach in Manitoba.

The 3rd annual Winnipeg Brain Bee was held March 11, 2017 at the University of Manitoba Bannatyne Campus. Following the competition and lunch, the students explored a series of demonstrations in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, stroke rehabilitation, and microscopy led by neuroscientists and trainees.  Students were also invited to visit the Neurocraft exhibition that was on display for Brain Awareness Week.

This year Sophie Kim of Vincent Massey High School in Brandon, Manitoba earned the title of Winnipeg’s top brain!  As the winner of the Winnipeg Brain Bee she received a plaque, iPad, and trophy to display at her school until the next competition.  Sandeep Mangat from University of Winnipeg Collegiate and Karsyn Beatty of Vincent Massey High School also received plaques and cash prizes for winning second and third place, respectively.  As the top brain, Sophie also received an all-expense paid trip to Hamilton, Ontario to represent the Winnipeg at the CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee, which was held on May 27, 2017.

Previous Winnipeg Brain Bee winners include Rachel Gador (2015) and Tiara Headworth (2016), both of River East Collegiate.  This past summer Rachel worked as a summer student with Dr. Tabrez Siddiqui (Department of Physiology and Pathophysiology, University of Manitoba; Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine) while on break from her undergraduate studies in Medical Sciences at Dalhousie University.  “It was a great experience, especially the connections that I made.  That’s how I met Dr. Siddiqui,” said Rachel, who credits her advanced placement teacher, Heather Secord, for not only motivating her to participate in the competition, but to get in touch with the Siddiqui lab. Of her Brain Bee experience, Rachel says, “It was awesome. I don’t regret it at all. It was a really great experience, especially going to McMasters and the patient simulations where you had to diagnose them.  That was when it definitely clicked that I wanted to do Medicine. I’ve always wanted to do research paired with medicine.”   Indeed, for many students like Rachel, the Brain Bee experience has served as a gateway to a career in neuroscience research and medicine.

The Winnipeg Brain Bee is organized by the Manitoba Neuroscience Network and the Winnipeg chapter of the Society for Neuroscience. The 4th Annual Winnipeg Brain Bee will be held on March 10, 2018 at the University of Manitoba Bannatyne Campus.  The 2018 International Brain Bee will be held in Berlin, Germany.