She’s in Your Head: Yeo Bi Choi Conducts Important Autism Research and is Rectory’s Emerging Leader
FRED WILLIAMS: Yeo Bi Choi is a member of the class of 2010, and out of the three Emerging Leader Awards we’ve presented, two have now been awarded to members of the class of 2010; it was an exemplary class, for sure. I’m going to give you a brief comment on Yeo Bi and her time here at Rectory. She was exceptional; I really could end it right there. The award she received at graduation said it all. She received the Mabel Bigelow, which was for excellence in character and overall great contributions to the welfare of the school. Yeo Bi, you will be interested to know that the Mabel Bigelow award is now considered our top award for female students. Yeo Bi was certainly a scholar at Rectory and was recognized for that across her years. She was a phenomenal musician as well, and I actually have a Yeo Bi Choi CD, recorded right here at school. I’m going to hang on to it as it may be worth something at some point. Yeo Bi was the captain of the first girls golf team. She's been a trendsetter in many ways. She also was invited to be one of our first Rectory ambassadors. Now, I will invite Yeo Bi to share with us what she’s been up to since her days at Rectory and how she continues to exhibit leadership skills in her professional and personal life.
FRED WILLIAMS: Can you update us on what you’ve been doing since your Rectory years through your undergraduate college years?
YEO BI CHOI: Thanks so much for having me here. It’s really exciting to see everyone. I’m so glad that we are able to have this type of celebration. Since Rectory, I headed to Andover, Massachusetts for high school and spent three years there. For college, I went to the midwest to attend the University of Chicago, and I majored in economics and psychology.
FRED WILLIAMS: What did you think your career plans were going to be prior to Chicago, and how did they change?
YEO BI CHOI: Originally, I thought I would major in biology because I really enjoyed the honors bio experience at my high school, but when I went to college, the Chicago school of economics was really strong and inspired me to take this intro to econ class. That led me to pursue an econ major with a double major in psychology. Since my undergraduate studies emphasized theoretical, as opposed to applied, majors, I think that led me to pursue my further career in research and academia.
FRED WILLIAMS: We talked about the research you did at Stanford and Cornell. How did those experiences influence your career?
YEO BI CHOI: I worked at a neuroscience lab at Stanford, and before going there, I had interest in using neuroscientific methods to study autism, including individuals who are nonverbal and cannot communicate what they’re experiencing. I learned how to use fMRI methods at Stanford, and that really confirmed that for my PhD I would want to continue to explore neuroscientific methods. I worked at a clinical lab at Cornell where we studied treatments and diagnosis methods of toddlers with autism. That taught me that whatever research I do, I need to make sure it can be translatable in a way that helps the individuals that we are studying.
FRED WILLIAMS: You are now at Dartmouth pursuing your PhD. Can you talk about the work you are doing there?
YEO BI CHOI: My current research focuses on how neurons in the brain process information in a “0 or 1” manner similar to computers. There is previous research that in autistic brains, the individual dynamics that govern that process are atypical. I am hoping my research can help develop better behavioral and pharmacological treatments for individuals with autism.
FRED WILLIAMS: You’re doing some incredible stuff. You have a personal connection with autism. How has your research impacted your relationship with your brother?
YEO BI CHOI: The more I research autism in the lab, the closer I feel to my brother. I can't have a conversation with him because he is nonverbal, but by studying the mind and brain mechanisms of individuals with autism, I feel I can understand him better.
FRED WILLIAMS: When you receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine, what will your great contribution to science have been?
YEO BI CHOI: (smiles) First, I don't think that’s very likely. I would hope my greatest contribution would be developing more personalized care and treatment for individuals with autism. The spectrum is notorious for being heterogeneous, and one of the greatest challenges in the field today is to better understand more homogeneous subgroups of the spectrum and make the care for each group more personalized. I would hope to contribute in advancing that goal of the field.
FRED WILLIAMS: If you hadn’t gone into this field, what was the alternate career path you might have considered?
YEO BI CHOI: Recently, I’ve been taking up my interest in classical music. Since I enjoy classical music a lot, perhaps I would have gone into intellectual property law to help classical music production. That sounds really fun if I were to leave academia.
FRED WILLIAMS: Did you any of your experiences at Rectory influence your decision to pursue work in neurosciences?
YEO BI CHOI: I never would have imagined in middle school that I would go into neuroscience or psychological research. I do remember all the science classes taught by Mrs. Martin and Mr. Long as being really fun and among the classes I enjoyed the most. It definitely shaped my introduction to science as being very positive. Apart from that, the most significant influence that I got from Rectory was the feeling of support and unconditional love because I felt like I had a family here in the United States. That really made my transition to a new country so much easier.
FRED WILLIAMS: Yeo Bi, we are so proud of everything you’ve been doing, and we will continue to follow your life and career with great interest. Congratulations on everything you are doing.
- Emerging Leader