Anayah Scott: Conquering Neuroscience, Nurturing Community

Leaving behind a framework of structured resources for Amherst pre-med and neuroscience students, Scott is carrying her compassion and strength into her Fulbright research grant after graduation.

Anayah Scott: Conquering Neuroscience, Nurturing Community
Anayah Scott ’24, who majored in German and neuroscience, has known she wanted to study the brain since she was 11. Photo courtesy of Claire Beougher ’26.

Anayah Scott ’24 might be best described as a trapeze artist — or maybe an octopus. Despite knowing Scott for two years, as a friend and fellow e-board member, I cannot find an analogy to express how thoughtfully she pursues her unique passions and academic curiosities — with an acrobat’s poised strength and a cephalopod’s eight-armed, multitasking capabilities. From her presidencies in the Amherst College Minority Association of Premedical Students (ACMAPS) and Neural Network Community, to her Fullbright neurosurgery research in Germany, Scott finds ways to continually reiterate her passion for neuroscience, medicine, and community.

Assistant Professor of Biology Marc Edwards describes Scott, a Chicago native, as “gracious and kind … Unlike her favorite condiment, Chicago’s own Harold’s Chicken mild sauce, there is something special about Anayah Scott.”

While interviewing Scott, there was a warmth and security that came through in every anecdote and unintentional, perfectly-framed thread of wisdom. As Edwards noted, there is something special about Scott that, as will become clear, manifests in her humility, welcoming confidence, and compassion.

The Brain Game

Scott has known exactly what she wanted to study since she was 11. In elementary school, the National Geographic show Brain Games exposed Anayah to the expansive field of neuroscience. “I was obsessed with the show growing up,” she recalled, “I had no idea there was a whole science about the brain … I knew we [think] with the brain, yeah, but not … how you perceive color and how you process language. I found that so fascinating.”

Scott’s mom had a role to play in ushering her daughter to neurosurgery and medicine: “She was like, ‘Oh, Anayah, wait. When you’re a neurosurgeon, you could actually mess around in there.’ I was like, ‘You’re joking.’”

While the prospect of brain surgery fascinates Scott, she considers the humanistic value of medicine equally important. “My mom’s a school teacher [and] my dad’s a social worker,” Scott said. “I … have the background of people in industries who help other people.” Tempered by her family environment, Scott found that “I can still take what I’m passionate about and use it to also help people. [While] neurosurgery is about saving lives, … I can also engage with my passion of like, ‘Oh my god. So that’s what the amygdala looks like. Oh, my god.’”

Anayah Scott is familiar with work and competition. Coming from the suburb outskirts of Chicago, Illinois, Anayah tested into gifted programs that introduced her to a cutthroat environment. “Being [in] a public school, it’s kind of like … every man for himself,” Scott said. “You have to just learn how to take care of yourself and make sure that you’re number one in terms of your academics. Your hand isn’t being held all the time, so accountability is one thing you kind of learn … which I really appreciate.”

“I honestly think that [Chicago] gave me such a broader perspective on things in life. The majority of people where I [came] from were African American and minorities. Coming to a place like Amherst, which is kind of, at least to me, the complete opposite, I get to meet so many new people and [see] so many different perspectives.”

Amherst was not always on Scott’s radar. One day, on her way out to Chipotle for lunch, she caught wind of an Amherst representative visiting the school. “She was telling me everything about [Amherst]: the neuroscience, small class sizes, and SURF [Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship],” Scott said. The idea of Amherst promised Scott the perfect major, a unique and intimate class environment, ample research opportunities, and much more. However, as an incoming freshman during the height of Covid in 2020, Scott’s experience would fall short of her expectations.

Creating Community

Like most graduating seniors, Scott’s first year at Amherst was deeply colored by restrictions imposed from Covid. “Funnily enough, the day I moved on campus was my 18th birthday,” Scott said. She remembers that, since her family couldn’t accompany her to the main campus, “I literally started off adulthood by [getting dropped] off in the alumni parking lot and having to [move] in by myself.”

In the quiet of Amherst’s pandemic-era circumstances, Scott felt out of her depth. “I’m used to civilization … [In Chicago], there’s people always around, there’s noises, there’s always something to do,” she said. “To be trapped on campus, [where] we couldn’t even leave to go as far as Subway, was hard.” The campus was claustrophobic and Val to-go boxes quickly lost their novelty. However, Covid conditions led to a fortunate decision that shaped the trajectory of Scott’s academic career: “During Covid, you can’t really do much. I had my neuro courses for [the semester], so I thought ‘what if I take German.’”

Scott was enamored: she recalled “that the German department here was so nice, so sweet … I just kept taking classes every semester.” Neuroscience and German are a rare combination of majors. So, like many others, when I asked ‘Why German?’ Scott came prepared. “I did not want to be that American who did not know another language. Amherst is so metropolitan in the sense that people have so many backgrounds … I’m the only person in my family who speaks another language, [so] I really wanted to have a broader worldview.” For Scott, German is a language associated with advances in neuroscience, psychology, and chemistry, so fluency grants her access to valuable scientific resources as well.

Perhaps most importantly, Scott just “wanted to sound cool … You always hear angry Germans or angry Russians, and it was fun learning another language.”

As an aspiring medical professional, Scott served a variety of leadership positions in the Amherst College Minority Association of Premedical Students [ACMAPS]. “Once I learned more about ACMAPS I was like, ‘Oh, this is really interesting, because there really does need to be support for minority [premed] students here on the campus.’ I feel like a lot of things, especially in medicine, are such a hidden curriculum.” As the first in her family to pursue a career in medicine, Scott found that “I didn’t really have anyone … to help me or tell me about what it’s like in healthcare. I can only imagine how it is for other students of color … Our stories as minorities are similar, but … the vast majority have such different backgrounds that we might not all have [support] throughout pre-med.”

As Scott began preparing for medical school applications, she realized that among students, “no one likes to help or share anything. [When] I became ACMAPS President, I just wanted to … make sure that the club [remained] a place to support students.” I was lucky enough to serve on the ACMAPs e-board during Scott’s presidency, and I was continuously impressed by how she pursued goals with steadfast precision. Making the pre-med experience more fruitful and more accessible is a difficult task, however Scott held the vision to pin down specific improvements. Last spring semester, ACMAPS polls revealed that students were either unaware of or unimpressed by Amherst’s assistance with the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). In response, Scott spearheaded discussions with administration for more adaptive, up-to-date, MCAT study resources. “I thought it was really important that we had something to kind of support us through this process,” Scott said, otherwise “you just [have] to make it up a creek without a paddle.”

Community is important for Scott, and where she can’t find it, she creates it. During her presidency in Amherst’s Neural Network, she led a mentorship program, pairing upperclassmen neuroscience majors with underclassmen. Compared to the other STEM departments, Scott said that for neuroscience, “you see the people you have classes with, but unless you’re working in a lab with them, you don’t really get to [know] them. Granted [neuroscience] is one of the heaviest majors at Amherst … so we’re all busy, we all have things going on, but there wasn't really a sense of community… Not even being president. Just like being a person within the club, we really wanted to build community.”

Scott observes community needs and matches them with sustainable, structured solutions. By developing the Neural Network’s mentorship program, and addressing premed concerns, future students for years to come will reap the benefits of her work.

Pre-med Reflections, Post-grad Suggestions

As a senior, Scott has survived one of Amherst’s most grueling STEM disciplines, a pandemic-tainted freshman year, and navigated the twisted, prickly pre-med journey. So, she has a few takeaways. “I think that you’ve probably heard this speech dozens of times, where you were first a big fish in a small pond in high school,” Scott commented. “Now, you are very small fish in a very big pond. Coming here, especially having [the] minority background … as a black woman, it’s just hard to share spaces with certain people that attend institutions like Amherst — you get challenged a lot. I’ve been talked to like I’m dumb. I’ve been thought of like I wasn’t capable. I’ve had professors say I was wrong, and then, to another student, say the exact same thing was right.”

In these environments, where odds and institutions lie against your favor, Scott affirmed that “a lot of it is gaining confidence in yourself like, ‘No, I’m here for a reason.’ You don’t have impostor syndrome. Own it, that you’re smart and bold in your own way.” As a pre-med student, Scott shared that “going into healthcare … you’ll have to learn certain qualities before you get there, or it might just eat you alive. [This] time has definitely [been about] becoming more strong and confident, but also willing to be more dynamic [in] how you learn and interact with things. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to be right. It’s how you navigate that.”

Anayah’s wisdom has inspired her friend Angie Camarena ’25, who stated that “[Anayah] was always very supportive and compassionate and kind … She inspired me a lot as a neuro major myself to just keep going and [recognize] that eventually you'll see the fruits of your labor.”

Anayah Scott ’24 has pursued neuroscience research throughout her time at Amherst, and has been able to present her summer work to a scholarly audience. Photo courtesy of Anayah Scott ’24.

Especially “at a harder place like Amherst, there are going to be times where you stumble and fall, and you [will] have to learn how to pick yourself back up and keep going,” Scott said. As a fellow Chemistry 161 veteran, Scott shared a deeply relatable anecdote that represents the flexibility and humor required to thrive at Amherst. “[Chemistry 161 students] really were buddies … We would bully [Professor] Cartier [Senior Lecturer in Chemistry], and he’d bully us back … We’re crying, joking. Looking [back], it was just too iconic … During our final, I left the room to use the bathroom and another student had walked out … We were crossing because he was coming back and we looked at each other and we started laughing. We didn’t even say anything. We just started laughing because like, what? I’m sorry, Cartier, if you’re reading this, but what was that final?”

In her German courses, too, Scott encountered relevant and touching wisdom. “In [the] class Kafka and Nietzsche … there’s one story that Kafka wrote called ‘A Little Fable.’ It’s about a mouse saying, ‘Oh, at first, the world was so vast, and I was just running around. But now the walls are closing in on me, and I see where it ends, and I don't know what to do.’ Then a cat comes in and says, ‘you need only change direction,’ [and] ends up killing the mouse because he was trapped. Now, whenever I think, ‘Oh, the world [has become] so vast [and] everything’s closing in … and it doesn't seem like it's going to get better, I need only change my direction and how I view things and things will get better.”

Auf Wiedersehen! A New, Yet Familiar Chapter

As a Fulbright grantee, Scott will head to Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Europe’s largest university hospital, after graduation. During her 10-month stay, she will be researching predictors of responsiveness for Repetitive Navigational Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rnTMS) treatment in patients undergoing brain surgery. She also hopes to volunteer at Each One Teach One (EOTO), an organization that supports the Black diaspora in Berlin.

When discussing her Fulbright, Scott remarked, “There’s so many intersections of all of my interests.” Committed to community engagement, Scott reflected that “from taking German classes here, I learned so much about the Afro-German community that’s in Germany … I want to volunteer and [work to] support members of the African diaspora in Germany.”

Scott’s friends echo her resolution, talent, and kindness. Kiiren Jackson ’24 remarked that “Aanyah is just so kind [and] dedicated … She’s on her purpose and succeeding in her craft. I'm super proud of her. She's one of the smartest students that I have met at this campus.” Kim Agosto ’24 adds that “Anayah is incredibly level-headed and rich with her morals. I often find myself thinking, ‘what would Anayah do?’ Above all, she is a person with backbone and high discipline that I completely look up to.”