Like a lot of pre-med students, when senior Surya Pulukuri first arrived on campus, he planned to focus on biology. But after a first-year orientation presentation about majors, he found his mind veering toward biochemistry and so he switched.
“I met some students from Sargent College and looked into its programs and realized there was a whole other college dedicated to healthcare professions,” he recalls.
So he wondered whether to jump to human physiology. Fortunately, the coursework in the two majors overlapped in the first few years, so he had time to decide.
“It’s just a very different understanding when you look at a subject through multiple lenses at the same time.”
“I realized there was no good reason to let go of either major. I decided to pursue a dual degree. Something I hadn’t even known about at first.”
Those pivots wouldn’t be Surya’s last, as he discovered more unexpected avenues of intellectual pursuit at BU, each seeming to fall into place like dominoes.
Take the relationship he formed with his chemistry professor Binyomin Abrams, for example. “His teaching style was amazing,” Surya says. “He had a great way of connecting the things we were learning in chemistry to neuroscience, the humanities, and even religion to help us think about things that science can’t explain.”
Surya would soon learn that this multiperspective approach is baked into BU academics. In a psychology class, he was learning how the mind processes vision. When he realized that his biology and chemistry classes were tackling the same topic but from different angles, a light bulb went off.
“In all of my classes, by complete coincidence, my professors were talking about the same thing in different ways,” Surya says. “In psychology, we were learning how vision is processed as particles of light that our brain interprets. In biology, we learned that certain cells in your eyes capture energy and change its form into information your brain then processes with neurons. And in chemistry, we were learning about how different kinds of molecules in your eyes capture light in different ways. Making those connections was something I would not have done on my own.”
That philosophy of learning, coupled with the impact of Abrams’ teaching, led Surya to uncover another passion: education research.
“I got the opportunity to do research on human subjects. You talk to students, you try to develop tools they can use to learn well, you recruit students into studies, and you survey them about how well they’re learning. I was able to really blend together all the things that I was learning at BU through my research project.
“I want to be a physician but also an educator. I came to BU wanting to do medicine, but I had no idea that I could learn about teaching medical students how to learn. It’s because BU is so flexible and interconnected that I was able to learn about myself, discover new passions, and also pursue them.”
To read more about Surya's academic journey, please scroll down.
Q: How did you discover your major?
A: When I saw the long list of majors at BU in the Common App, I was surprised to see so many options. I wanted to do something related to healthcare and I knew that a lot of pre-med students do biology, so I came in as a biology major. I had no idea what kind of doctor I wanted to be. Did I want to do public health? Did I want to be a physician or some other sort of medical practitioner? I just knew that I liked the idea of medicine, of treating disease, but I had nothing more than that going for me when I first came to BU. During orientation, I got a deeper dive into majors and when they described biochemistry, I thought it was very interesting and said, “that’s going to be my major!” That started my path to biochemistry and molecular biology majors.
Q: When did the dual degree program come into the picture?
A: It was when I met some students from Sargent College and looked into its programs and realized there was a whole other college dedicated to healthcare professions. I wanted to pursue human physiology and decided to take some courses at Sargent. I was quite intimidated at first, but I found the courses to be really interesting. Luckily, the biochemistry and human physiology majors had a lot of overlap in the first few years. So that gave me time to decide which major I wanted to pursue more. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to pick one over the other, and I could simply pursue the dual degree.
Q: Where are you now in your journey?
A: I have a much more comprehensive idea of what it means to be a doctor and the amount of training that’s going to go into this. In terms of what kind of doctor I want to be, I’m still trying to figure it out. I love working with my hands and doing origami, so sometimes I feel like I should be a surgeon. I’m still exploring. It’s beautiful to see patient outcomes change, sometimes within days or hours.
Q: What’s a significant faculty relationship you developed during your time here?
A: Dr. Binyomin Abrams in the chemistry department taught my first-year pre-lab. His teaching style was amazing, and he always knew how to take our learning a step further. He had a great way of connecting the things we were learning to neuroscience, the humanities, and even religion, to how he thinks about things that science can’t explain.
That was a really deep and meaningful relationship, to go beyond your own subject matter and talk about your personal beliefs without just impressing them upon students. I worked for him as a course assistant for several years, and I’m still working for him now. I wouldn’t have gone into education research if he hadn’t helped me discover this interest.
Q: Can you point to an “aha” moment in the classroom where you suddenly saw things differently?
A: I was taking courses in psychology, general chemistry, and biology. In all of my classes my professors were talking about vision. In psychology, we were learning how vision is processed as particles or waves of light that your brain interprets. In biology, we learn that certain cells in your eyes capture energy and change its form into information that your brain then processes with neurons. And in chemistry, we were learning about how different kinds of molecules in your eyes capture light in different ways, training your body to process the light. I had that moment of realization where by complete coincidence I was able to see that all my classes were talking about the same concept, but in different ways. And it’s just a very different understanding when you look at a subject through multiple lenses together. That’s definitely not something I would have discovered on my own.
Q: Are there any collaborative experiences at BU that stand out for you?
A: I serve on the Faculty Teaching Awards Committee as well as the provost’s Undergraduate Student Advisory Board. Both have representation across all BU colleges. Usually, the provost or different working groups have some concept or idea that they want student input on. For example, the Student Information System upgrade that BU is making was brought to the committee for discussion. It’s a great way for all of us from different colleges to collaborate and bring our advice and opinions to the table. It’s a great intellectual and interdisciplinary exercise, thinking not only about yourself, but also about every person at the University.
Q: You mentioned interdisciplinary. That’s a big feature of research at BU, of course, but have you experienced that on the academic level?
A: Crossing over disciplines is definitely evidenced in academics at BU. The BU Hub, BU’s general education program, is a great way to promote a liberal arts education. I’ve had some really interesting intellectual moments in my classes. For example, we were learning in my Greek class about how the ancient Greeks viewed medicine and the role of doctors. And it blends in so easily with what I’ve learned in my physiology classes. In neuroanatomy, we were talking about all the Greek philosophers and their initial contributions to how the brain works. These are connections that I would never have made had I not had that kind of interdisciplinary education.
Q: Can you talk about a non-classroom experience that was particularly impactful?
A: I do a lot of work in education research. It’s an esoteric research field. I hear a lot of pre-meds saying, “I’m doing clinical research. I’m doing research in basic sciences, I work at a lab on a lab bench all day.” Education research is something, as a pre-med student, that I would never have considered, but it’s one of the most transformative experiences I’ve had. It’s a lot of research on human subjects. You talk to students. You try to develop tools they can use to learn well. You recruit students into studies. You survey them on how well they’re learning. It really blends together the things that I’ve learned. I came into BU with the idea of wanting to do medicine, but I had no idea about wanting to do education research as well. It’s because BU offers an interdisciplinary education that I was able to pursue this.