Fernandes ’21 Wins Neuroethics Essay Competition

Cherie Fernandes ’21 recently won the high school category of The 2020 Neuroethics Competition with her essay, “Redefining Justice: Updating Criminal Law to Reflect a New Understanding of the Mind.”

Cherie Fernandes ’21 recently won the high school category of The 2020 Neuroethics Competition with her essay, “Redefining Justice: Updating Criminal Law to Reflect a New Understanding of the Mind.” This competition is hosted annually by the International Neuroethics Society, an organization that “aims to foster education and dialogue surrounding social issues and responsibilities that come with advancements in brain science,” according to Fernandes. Fernandes is also a Hutchins Scholar and a member of Lawrenceville’s Mock Trial team, showing her interest in both the scientific and legal fields which form important aspects of neuroethics discipline.

According to Fernandes, neuroethics is a field in which researchers explore the psychological science behind human ethics. In regards to the importance of neuroethics as a field in the world of both science and humanities, Fernandes said, “It’s very important if you’re entering a science [or humanities] field to know about neuroethics.”

In her IV Form year, Fernandes became interested in the fields of neuroscience and psychology. While Lawrenceville does not offer a psychology course, Fernandes conducted her own independent study by using Advanced Placement (AP) materials and taking the AP test.

“I’ve always been drawn to interdisciplinary fields, so I liked the idea of combining my budding interest in philosophy and ethics with science,” said Fernandes. “I think it’s very important that scientists are aware of the social responsibility that comes with their job.”

As a Hutchins scholar, Fernandes received the opportunity to pick an internship that she wanted to work in over the summer. Fernandes “really wanted the internship at Gold Lab, which is a computational neuroscience and psychophysics at UPenn.” To get the internship, she worked with Director of Student Research Elizabeth Fox, Ph.D. to reach out to Dr. Joshua Gold, the mentor of the Gold Lab internship program. Upon receiving the internship, Fernandes spent 12 weeks this summer “popping into his lab virtually to participate in [her] project” and having lab discussion with Gold.

Through these discussions with her mentor, Fernandes developed an interest in neurolaw.

“He was very open to my questions about neuroscience, so we had a long conversation about the intersection of neuroscience and the legal system,” she said. After learning about the competition held by the International Neuroethics Society, Fernandes drew inspiration from her previous conversations to write an essay “exploring the relationship between ethics, neuroscience, and society.” In her essay titled “Redefining Justice: Updating Criminal Law to Reflect a New Understanding of the Mind,” Fernandes aimed to “deconstruct our perception of justice by talking about how neurobiological factors affect underlying criminal behavior.” The essay eventually segued into a discussion regarding the criminal justice system, in which Fernandes argued that “rehabilitation is ultimately just more effective and fair than attempting to enact justice or a punishment-based criminal justice system.”

After winning the competition, Fernandes received membership in the International Neuroethics Society, which gave her many new opportunities within the field. Fernandes was able to attend multiple lectures and presentations which allowed her to explore her interest in neuroethics further. In addition to these new learning opportunities, Fernandes shared that she “was really excited because [she] recently received an email asking if the essay could be published in Cerebrum, a magazine associated with the Damon Foundation, which is an organization with a similar mission to the International Neuroethics Society.” Having found a passion for neuroethics and neurolaw, Fernandes hopes to explore both in greater depths in the future through minoring in them in college and including them as “part of [her] academic track going forward.”

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