Let Your Passions Guide You and Seize the Opportunity!

Victoria Ko reflects on Dr. Nita Farahany’s impactful, interdisciplinary career at the intersection of science, philosophy, law, and society.

Dr. Farahany captivated my attention as she discussed her accomplished career: she is a
Robinson O. Everett Distinguished Professor of Law and Philosophy, director of Duke’s Science
and Society, co-founder of Huang Fellows, appointee for President Obama’s Bioethics
Commission; her list of influential service to society goes on and on. Dr. Farahany’s
commanding presence reminded me the importance of communication to absorb your audience
and convey a memorable message.

“She mentioned, ‘Seize the opportunity,’ which to me, meant cultivating relationships and being openminded.”

Dr. Farahany recently released her critically acclaimed book “The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology.” In her TED Talk, Dr. Farahany introduced to the audience the power of neurotechnology, and the dangers that come with its magic. While decoded neurofeedback can help to overcome PTSD and brain sensors can notify patients of epileptic seizures before they occur, the massive amounts of brain data collected from neurotechnology could be used against us to hack our minds. In my Duke Writing 101 class: Connecting and Connection, we reflected on various avenues of connection, both to self and others, in this modern age of technology. I learned that we now live in constant tension between comfort & trust in novel technology versus its invasiveness. Dr. Farahany argues for preservation of 3 human rights: right to mental privacy, freedom of thought, and self-determination over our experiences and brains. To ensure these liberties, Dr. Farahany actively uses her influence in her various positions to advocate for government policies.

During the seminar, I asked her, “what makes a persuasive presentation?” How can we use better communication to achieve lasting impact? Dr. Farahany, as an active debater during high school and undergraduate years, revealed that the secret to being a better public speaker lies in the 3 P’s: prepare, points, and presentation. Prepare by doing research and structuring your talk. Outline key points: don’t overwhelm the audience with too many claims. Effective presentation requires that the audience is engaged in the conversation. Dr. Farahany demonstrated these skills in real time, showing flexibility in navigating many questions from the curious Huang Fellows while maintaining charismatic eye contact and open body language.

With her interdisciplinary background in genetics, neuroscience, technology, ethics, philosophy, and law, Dr. Farahany must clearly communicate the relevant points in order to successfully deliberate the crossroads of so many fields. She recommended that we give talks as much as possible to connect with potential mentors in interesting careers. She mentioned, “Seize the opportunity,” which to me, meant cultivating relationships and being openminded. Dr. Farahany initially despised the abstract nature of philosophy, but through a wise mentor, she realized that philosophy gave her the tools she needed to ask and answer complicated ethical questions. In my high school, our core curriculum was in philosophy. I used to have a similar, narrow viewpoint: philosophy seemed like long, complicated trains of thought with no answers. But by examining philosophy through the lens of science, history, law, and literature, I appreciate and realize how philosophy can give us the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are truly applicable to any field.

As I envision my future as a physician scientist, Dr. Farahany taught me the power of my voice. Through education and advocacy, I hope to utilize the robust knowledge and skills I gain from Duke and my life experiences to communicate science and medicine to people of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to the impact of the individual voice, Dr. Farahany shows the importance of teamwork and collaboration while presenting to presidential committees and other government boards. She discussed how the board must come to a consensus: otherwise, how can policy makers implement constructive change that can influence millions of lives?

Dr. Farahany’s career involves a variety of work from professor to author to consultant for advisory boards, etc. Not only does she have a breadth of professions, but also a breadth of knowledge. She graduated with an AB in Genetics, Cell, and Developmental Biology; JD, MA and PhD in Philosophy; and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies in Biology. I am particularly inspired by her high expertise and devotion to so many fields, and I hope to accomplish the same feat. I love Duke because of its opportunities for interdisciplinary exploration and collaborative atmosphere. Last year, I was in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Law FOCUS cluster, where we discussed neuroscience research and methods, neurolinguistics, sleep in society, and its implications in health policy—we even got to learn about dolphin cognition while swimming with the adorable marine mammals in Miami!

As Dr. Farahany proves, I don’t have to disregard my other interests as I uncover my career path. Instead, I can continue to let my passions guide me as I seize each opportunity. Dr. Farahany is driven by a balance of optimism and risk-taking in her endeavor to make a positive transformation for humanity. As I continually discover what impact I want to make now and in the future, I am determined to be transformational—not transactional—by embracing the intersections of science, medicine, and service while also absorbing new fields of study to broaden my perspective.

Victoria Ko, Huang Fellow ’26

Vivian AppleVictoria Ko is a first-year student from San Francisco, CA, intending to double major in Chemistry and Biology.