Like many young aspiring doctors, high schooler Sojas Wagle is a high achiever. His perfect score of 36 on the standardized ACT exam made his years of preparation all worthwhile. In 2015, Sojas placed third in the National Geographic Bee, winning $10,000. In July of last year, he competed in the popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” winning $250,000, the amount at which he chose to take the money and put it away for college expenses. This year, Sojas has added more successful endeavors to his list: winning both the U.S. Brain Bee and the World Brain Bee.
The sophomore from Springdale Har-Ber High School in Arkansas first won his local Brain Bee, a neuroscience question-and-answer competition for high schoolers, before representing his state at the U.S. championship in Baltimore in April. As the U.S. winner, Sojas then competed at the 19th annual World Brain Bee, August 3-6 in Washington, DC, and took home the top honor: a cash prize of $3,000 and a trophy.
At only 15 years old, Sojas has shown unquestionable promise. He discovered at an early age that competitions were an ideal way to challenge himself, while also learning a lot. After self-studying for the Advanced Placement psychology exam, Sojas said, “I got really engrossed with the biological parts of the brain.” Looking for his next competition, with an emphasis in science, he came across the Brain Bee. After placing third in the state-level competition last year, Sojas returned this year, vowing not settle for anything less than first place.
“Last year when he came in third, he was disappointed because he didn’t get to go to Denmark,” the location of the 2016 International Brain Bee, said Sojas’ mother, Aparna Wagle, explaining her son’s aspiration to see the world. “This year he is thrilled to compete in DC. Sojas is very hardworking. Everyone thinks he gets things easily, but he works really hard toward whatever he wants to achieve.”
Andrew James, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), is passionate about science education and has organized the Arkansas Brain Bee for the past few years. “Science can’t exist in a vacuum, and you need education to go along with it,” James said. “My goal is to make this science accessible to people of all ages.”
James works closely with students such as Sojas to prepare for the Brain Bee. The students shadow UAMS researchers and spend time looking at histological specimens and observing researchers in the brain imaging center.
“Sojas is very bright,” James said. “He’s especially sharp at neuroanatomy and neuroscience.”
Sojas is also interested in building friendships and skills through his recreational activities. He has fun sharpening his violin-playing technique in the local orchestra and enjoys keeping up with current events through the debate team. “Debate is one side of my personality, where I think on my feet, while neuroscience requires lots of studying,” he said.
Sojas said his brother, Saurabh, currently a pre-med and biomedical engineer major at the University of Arkansas, has inspired his interest in competition and medicine. “My older brother is very inspirational,” Sojas said. “Getting into competitive settings, he’s developed a great work ethic. I want to follow in his footsteps.”
He also credited his parents. “Growing up in an Asian family, my parents have instilled in me the drive to learn since I was very little,” he noted. “Now I do things independently.”
Sojas said he is grateful to James and the UAMS staff for allowing him to use their resources for his studies as well as to the local doctors who helped him to prepare for the Brain Bee.