Ben Johnson’s Reflection on Year One of the Marshall

Ben Johnson is a 2018 recipient of the Marshall Scholarship studying human cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Edinburgh. Ben (NHS ’17) is on leave from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine while he pursues his studies as a Marshall Scholar. 

Six months since moving to the United Kingdom, it’s hard to decide if it’s been an age or an eyeblink. Time has flown, but it has also been so full of adventure that almost every week is a remarkable one. One of the first major decisions of being a Marshall Scholar is determining where in the UK you would like to study—from sleepy southern coastal cities, to the incredible super-metropolis of London to Oxbridge’s ancient halls of learning to the cold and rocky north. The flexibility of the scholarship, to attend any UK university, in any city, and study any subject, is a major advantage. For me, I was slightly nervous to choose the road less traveled by selecting to go to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, but the choice has absolutely paid off in the unique cultural experience I’ve had.

The university, which turns 437 years old this year, never fails to impress, with its history as a center for medicine, philosophy, and computer science. It has an incredible list of discoveries and alumni including Bayes, Darwin, Hume, Alexander Graham Bell, Robert Louis Stevenson and many more. Even just walking to class along cobblestone streets has an element of grandeur to it, as Edinburgh tends towards stately stone architecture, reminiscent of Georgetown’s Healy Hall. Despite all the city and institution’s historical ties, I study a rather modern subject, Human Cognitive Neuropsychology, essentially the science of relating neurological techniques such as MRI and EEG to the psychology of memory, personality, and disease. For my dissertation, I will be studying how teamwork changes in the extreme environment and isolation of Antarctica. Since UK master’s programs are only one year long, the dissertation work has come up on me very quickly, but the positive aspect is that I will be able to achieve masters degrees in two different subjects in the two years of the scholarship!

As I alluded to, Edinburgh is a cultural gem. While my British friends have taken me out for UK-wide holidays such as Bonfire (Guy Fawkes) Night, I’ve particularly enjoyed Scottish holidays such as St. Andrew’s Day and Robert Burns Night. For Burns night, the tradition is to eat haggis and recite Burns’ deeply Scottish poem about the dish, “Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware/ That jaups in luggies/ But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer/ Gie her a Haggis.” Other wonderful activities have been many ascents of the rocky summit of Arthur’s Seat overlooking the city, and trips through the midlands to Sterling Castle and Linlithgow Palace as well as up to the Highlands to see Inverness and cycle along Loch Ness.

The Marshall Scholarship, named after American Secretary of State George C. Marshall, is a living gift from the people of the United Kingdom to the USA. In addition to the tuition fees and living expenses that it covers, there are a number of remarkable events throughout the year that the Marshall organizes. These have been very special indeed such as our initial reception at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with opportunities to meet Members of Parliament and high ranking diplomat staff. Additionally, the Marshall staff advertises speaking opportunities to UK universities, and so to date I have given two talks already, at Newcastle Uni and Uni of Exeter, on the Marshall Scholarship and my research on space medicine, both of which have led to additional connections and opportunities for me, as well as being funded opportunities to check out new cities. A big event that is coming up in a few weeks is the Marshall class trip to Belfast, in Northern Ireland. I’m very much looking forward to it, not just because of Northern Ireland’s pivotal role in recent UK history, but also its current complicated involvement in the Brexit negotiations. It is certainly an interesting time to be in the UK.

Lastly, and perhaps the element that is only beginning to make itself clear to me, is the wide variety of highly talented people that I have been meeting in the Marshall class. From musical composers to policy buffs, future diplomats and future doctors, there is an array of interesting futures ahead for my fellow Marshall Scholars – it will be incredible to watch them all achieve their potential and continue to be friends with so many highly capable people I wouldn’t have otherwise met! For next year, I am looking forward to moving down to London, continuing my exploration of space medicine, and enjoying the people, places, and events of the Marshall and the UK.

Ben standing in front of a cream-colored building with lots of windows

Ben standing in front of the Guildhalls of Brussels.

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