Refusing to Choose

UM News, 08-20-2019

Student pursues passions through A&S independent major program.
Phoebe Cohen Dual Degree


Phoebe Cohen traveled thousands of miles from her native Los Angeles, California to attend the University of Miami.

“The more I learned about UM, the more I realized how great a fit it would be,” says Cohen, who was originally recruited by the Frost School of Music. She set out to find a university that would allow her to study both of her academic passions: music and science. “I was drawn to how heavily UM encourages undergraduate research, its neuroscience research labs, its emphasis on individualized learning, as well as the Frost School,” she adds.

A highlight for this busy senior has been UM’s support and encouragement of her academic pursuits. When she graduates, Cohen will hold dual-degrees with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology-Neuroscience-Philosophy and a Bachelor of Music in Double Bass Performance. As part of the Independent Major program in the College of Arts & Sciences, Cohen is able to tailor her academic needs to her professional goals.

“Because I am designing my own curriculum,” she says, “I can hand-pick the courses that I deem most interesting and relevant to my studies.”

A typical day finds Cohen toggling between orchestra rehearsals and neuroscience research at the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Lab, where she holds an undergraduate research position directed by Dr. Lucina Uddin. But, as she rides her bike across campus, she revels in the freedom of having so profoundly customized her academic experience.

Cohen’s curiosity about the sciences began long before she came to UM. As a student of the Mitchell Academy for Science & Technology, she worked in the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at USC. There, she authored a scientific paper on music and the brain, later earning her the Student Initiative Award from the Intel Science Talent Search, and the request to present her findings at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

But music—especially her beloved double bass—has always had a special place in Cohen’s heart.

“As a woman in STEM and a woman in a male-dominated instrumental field,” she says, “I am most inspired by people who are pioneers in their fields, innovators with creative ideas, and all who pursue work that they are truly impassioned by.”

Cohen is well poised to walk that walk. She is already weighing her varied options for graduate school, which could take the form of doctoral studies in neuroscience, music, or bioethics.

“I’d like to continue my interdisciplinary career after graduation,” she says, “whether through performance, graduate studies, a career in the arts, or continued work combining music and the brain.”

She hopes to help pave the way for future interdisciplinary students here at UM, bridging the gap between science and the arts.