Herchran Singh ’17: Nobel Conference Networking Leads to Research at USC

Posted on November 18th, 2015 by

hanna and antonio-2

Herchran Singh with Antonio and Hanna Damasio.

As a Gustavus Adolphus College sophomore last year, Herchran Singh volunteered to serve as a student host for one of the speakers at the College’s annual Nobel Conference. At the time, she had no idea that the decision would lead to a research experience at the University of Southern California, a relationship with leading neuroscientists Antonio and Hanna Damasio, and a connection with Nobel laureate Dr. Eric Kandel.

Born in Canada, Singh grew up in Rochester, Minn. and chose Gustavus for its personal attention and the warm and welcoming community that she found. When she heard about the opportunity to host one of the Nobel Conference speakers, the biology major with neuroscience and classics minors jumped at the chance. “Nobel is by far the most inspirational activity I have participated in since being at Gustavus. It goes beyond increasing interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and addresses innate human curiosity,” she said.

As a student host in 2014, Singh was responsible for helping neurobiologist and consciousness researcher Antonio Damasio navigate the campus, connecting him with Gustavus faculty, administrators, and other invited guests, and assisting with final preparations for his lecture. However, the most rewarding part of the three-day experience for Singh was the opportunity to listen and talk with Damasio and his wife, Hanna, about their research. “They were here for the conference, but that’s not all they wanted to talk about,” she said. “The meals were always memorable because we discussed their work and what they were passionate about.”

The access to the Damasios and the relationships that Singh built during their time at Gustavus paid off this summer when she traveled to Los Angeles to research in the Damasios’ Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. The opportunity materialized after Singh emailed Damasio to inquire about the possibility of working in the lab. To her surprise, the door was wide open. “If you ask, there’s bound to be a way to make it happen,” she said.

Michael Ferragamo, director of the Gustavus neuroscience program and Singh’s academic advisor, is impressed by her ability to network and make authentic connections. “She’s very expressive and proactive in thinking beyond just the next step,” he said.

Singh poses with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel.

Singh poses with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel.

During her time at USC, Singh worked with cognitive and social psychologist Assal Habibi to write a literature review on the role of music education on social and emotional growth in children. She also spent two days shadowing Dr. John W. House, surgeon at House Ear Clinic and former president of the prestigious House Ear Institute. During the shadowing experience she attended clinical appointments, watched House make diagnoses, and observed a cochlear implant surgery.

“My experience this summer was one that will be integral to how I approach the remainder of my time at Gustavus as well as the decisions I make about my future,” Singh said. “As a learner, integrating research and clinical application is perfect for me, especially if I can use it to serve others.”

Singh also reflected on the circumstances that led to the summer experience. “Both the Brain and Creativity Institute and the House Ear Clinic have shown me the importance of mentorship and education. I believe that by simply asking for guidance and networking via the Nobel Conference I have gained several mentors and friends, as well as found clarity and direction for my future,” she explained.

Back at Gustavus, Singh volunteered to be a student host for the Nobel Conference again this fall. She was paired with Dr. Eric Kandel, 2000 Nobel Prize winner for medicine/physiology and the Nobel Conference’s opening speaker. An acclaimed memory researcher, Kandel is the director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University and a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“She’s had the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the preeminent scholars in the field,” Ferragamo said. The networking connections that Singh made with some of the top researchers in the world exemplify one of the many benefits of the College hosting the Nobel Conference each year. “Herchran embodies the enduring impact of the Nobel Conference on the Gustavus community,” he explained.


Singh (front) is heavily involved in campus life at Gustavus.

In addition to her research, Singh is involved with the Pan-Afrikan Student Organization (PASO), International Cultures Club, Tri-Beta biology honors society, Gustie Greeters, Diversity Leadership Council, and Student Senate. She also volunteers with the Mayo Clinic. A future doctor, Singh hopes to attend medical school at Mayo Medical School, Columbia University, or the University of Southern California.

“The most rewarding part of being a professor is watching the trajectory of the students,” Ferragamo said. “The experiences that they have here make students emerge in ways that can surprise them.”

After making the simple decision to volunteer for the Nobel Conference as a sophomore, Singh has built a network of connections and experiences that will help make her medical school dream a reality.

“Seek out opportunities and create them for yourself,” she said. “Be ambitious in your pursuit of knowledge.”

Nobel_Display_4CThe Nobel Conference is the first ongoing educational conference in the United States to have the official authorization of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Held each fall on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College, the Nobel Conference links a general audience with the world’s foremost scholars and researchers in conversations centered on contemporary issues related to the natural and social sciences.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin



  1. Narindar Singh Pelia says:

    Congrats. I am very proud of you for participation in this great Nobel conference & hosting it successfully. Keep the flag flying in the sky. May Guru Nanak Devji Bless you as a future doctor. You will be the first Doctor for our many generations. Once again I am proud of you Herchran my lovely grand daughter. Bless you.

  2. William K. Freiert, Professor of Classics Emeritus says:

    A wonderful story, but no surprise. Herchran’s creativity and enthusiasm for learning is immediately obvious to all who meet her.

  3. magistra McGouirk, John Marshall High School says:

    Congratulations on all your success, Herchran. I always knew you would do great things.

  4. Denise Cobb, math teacher and gifted services specialist, JMHS says:

    That was an excellent story. So awesome to see a JM grad going places. After having you in class, though, I was not surprised at all!

  5. Simarjit Kaur says:

    Wonderful story!

  6. Amy Dayal says:

    Congratulations Hercharan for an amazing accomplishment and for many more to come.

  7. Sandy Nieland says:

    Congratulations on all your success, Herchran! Think of all the amazing informative speeches you could do now! All my best.