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College of Science & Engineering


Brooke Boisvert

Brooke Boisvert '21 received a Fulbright scholarship to Vienna, Austria the year after her graduation from TCU. Embracing the chance to become immersed in a new culture, conduct research, and grow personally and professionally, her experience abroad has profoundly shaped her path through medical school and beyond. Boisvert shares the ins and outs of her Fulbright, from her application to the memories made.

What initially interested you in applying for the Fulbright program? 

I always knew I wanted to study abroad; it was something I was super passionate about. But being a pre-med student, I wasn't sure how that might be able to fit it into my academic schedule. When I was a freshman, I was able to talk to and met with Landon Hendrickson '18 who was in the process of applying for a Fulbright to Poland. I didn’t know much about it, so I started berating him with questions about what Fulbright was like and what he’d be doing. He explained he got the opportunity to take a year off between undergrad and medical school and ultimately get to teach and be fully immersed in a different country for a year. That was exciting to me and was always in the back of my mind. With Covid, most of my class couldn’t study abroad, so I became set on pursuing a Fulbright grant and decided to look into the program and see looking into what options would be available to me. With my research background at TCU and experiences I had during the summers, I found the Fulbright-Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Award for Research in Science and Technology. 

What was the application process like? 

Since I started thinking about Fulbright as early as my freshman year, I used my research experiences as a cornerstone for building an application. Another big part of the application process is having letters of recommendation so I made sure I had people who could attest to that. For my program, you had to have a research mentor in the country you want to study in before you apply. During the summer before my senior year, I reached out to different investigators in Vienna. I asked, “Would you have any capacity to host a Fulbright student? I wouldn’t need any funding, just space in a lab and some mentorship along the way.” Otherwise, it’s just personal statements and attestation to your research experience. Those elements were due around October of my senior year; the application process comes early, so you should be ready for that the summer before. 

What experiences within the College of Science & Engineering (CSE) and the John V. Roach Honors College led to your success in attaining the grant? 

Having the opportunity to get involved in research early at TCU was huge for me; I was able to participate in a lab during my sophomore year. I learned what research was like, what I did and didn't like, and gained hard skills which furthered my passion for scientific research. Also, CSE and the Honors College makes sure you are exposed to both the sciences and liberal arts to explore different cultures in your curriculum. This well-rounded education definitely pushed me to apply and gave me an edge in my application. 

What was the focus of your Fulbright study, and how did you decide on it (both topic and location)? 

The nice thing about Fulbright is you can go to the website and see what countries and programs are available to you. I have a passion for teaching, so I was considering teaching English abroad, but I really loved research. The program in Vienna, Austria had just started and was geared towards students who were interested in attaining a Ph.D. or attending medical school. Vienna captured my attention for several reasons, partly because it’s biggest city in Austria and has huge centrally located medical center, and I love the city’s history. They also have medical school there with a center for brain research. So, with my neuroscience background from TCU, that was the first place I looked.

Ultimately, I studied the effects of post-natal THC exposure on developing hippocampal astrocytes. Previous research in the lab had already investigated the effects of pre-natal THC exposure on hippocampal neurons, but little was known about how early post-natal THC exposure might affect neuronal and astrocyte populations. Using an in-vitro preparation, we treated early hippocampal astrocytes with THC both in the presence of neurons and without evaluating the neuroprotective properties of astrocytes against THC. While this research was conducted on a cellular level, our findings began to elucidate a relationship between early post-natal THC exposure and neural changes in the developing hippocampus that may be important for mothers and babies worldwide. This research was really exciting to be a part of, not only because of the broader implications and questions this research brings, but also to have the opportunity to work on a project investigating THC, as there are many federal regulations in the US that create barriers to conducting research without existing permits. 

Share your experience overseas with Fulbright. What did you learn, both research-wise and personal development-wise? Any stories you would like to share? 

I'm from a small town in Texas about 40 miles outside Fort Worth, so I grew up in DFW area my entire life. This was the first time I was able to branch out and explore the world for myself. When I first landed in Austria, I was terrified. I had packed up my whole life right out of college and moved to a place I had never been before, didn't know what was going on, and didn’t know anybody. You could say it was a little overwhelming! What's nice about Fulbright is that you have built-in community with the rest of the program. Early on, you get plugged in with other scholars in the area, and that became my lifeline. I met some of the best friends I'll ever have. Having the opportunity to do life with other Americans living abroad and finding commonality, but also learning from all the people around me, was by far the greatest experience I had.  

One of the things that showed the bridge between two cultures was that we had the opportunity to throw an American thanksgiving that first November in Austria. We gathered a group of friends that were American, Austrian, German, Italian, French, Luxembourgish, a huge group from all over the world. Many had never experienced an American Thanksgiving for obvious reasons. So, everyone got together and brought a dish. We had to teach them what a casserole was, and we tried to find a turkey (which was really challenging in Vienna!). We all got together that night, and it was beautiful and emotional hearing everyone share what they were thankful for. Participating in the mutual cultural exchange and sharing one of my favorite American traditions was something I’ll never forget. American Thanksgiving in Austria

Research-wise, I gained soft and hard research skills from the opportunity to present at the Fulbright conference and within the research team in Vienna. It was great to see how each lab you join in science approaches a question differently, and it grew my approach to question asking. 

The most important thing I learned was the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Daily I encountered difficulties in communication, learning how to get around, a new lab setting, and even trying to get a gym membership. Understanding it’s not the struggle that's the problem but learning and gaining the tools to effectively address those adversities is something that has made me stronger, more resilient, and an empathetic student. I also learned the plight of going to another country and not understanding the language and how that impacts medical care. 

I had to go to the doctor in Austria, and I experienced some of the challenges a lot of people in the US face when they don’t speak the same language as their doctor. I didn’t speak German, and it was a challenge trying to find a doctor that spoke English. It can make you feel alienated and distanced from the people who are there to help you the most. I've really taken that to heart. Already in my medical school journey, I've seen many people who must use a translator to communicate. Since I’ve been the one on that side before, I can relate to the frustration and fears of these patients. Now as medical student, I'm actively learning Spanish to help bridge that gap with my patients and help them understand I do care about not only their physical health but also their mental health. 

What are you doing post-Fulbright? How does the experience lend to your current work and path? 

I'm currently in my first year at medical school. In the career I had at Fulbright, I was going into the office every day, and I was using science as part of daily life. Transitioning into medical school has been a pretty easy experience. It’s been instrumental having those scientific tools to do research and using my experiences as a person who has immigrated to another country and adjusting to a different culture. My goal is to try to bridge the gap between empathy and understanding as a physician. 

What advice do you have for current CSE students (and/or TCU students in general) interested in applying for a Fulbright? 

Immediately, I would say: apply! If you have any interest, I would 100% recommend it. I got a lot of questions like, "Oh you're going to take a gap year. Won't that put you behind? Don't you want to start right after you graduate?” For me, college was really hard. CSE and the Honors College does a great job of preparing students to be well rounded and thoughtful scientists and that comes with hard work. I wanted to rediscover myself coming out of undergrad outside the classroom. Fulbright allowed me to discover the world and who I am as a part of it. It's made me a better, more intelligent, empathetic physician in medical school. 

I have this thing called Front Porch Test. When I’m 80 and sitting in my front porch looking back on my life, rocking in my rocking chair, am I going to say, “Dang I really regret taking one year to live in Austria, meet new people, explore the world, and become best version of myself?” Or am I going to say, “I wish I started my career a year sooner.” For me, this was the most valuable, life-changing year of my entire life. My capacity as a physician and to be a better person has increased because of that experience undoubtedly. I believe medicine is truly a calling and that calling isn't going to go away from spending a year abroad. Make sure you want to pursue it, and you'll be better off for it. 

If you are a TCU student, reach out to Dr. Tracy Rundstrom, Director of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, for guidance with the Fulbright application at .