Empowered by personal choice

Photo: Barry V. Williams for University of Miami

By Barry V. Williams

Photo: Barry V. Williams for University of Miami

Empowered by personal choice

By Barry V. Williams
Thanks to the Independent Major program, senior Phoebe Cohen is pursuing both of her academic passions—music and science.

Nearly four years ago, University of Miami senior Phoebe Cohen decided she would attend college thousands of miles from her native Los Angeles, California, for one big reason. Actually, make that two.

When Cohen was recruited to Miami by the Frost School of Music, the talented double bassist was elated to learn she could simultaneously pursue music and science at UM. As part of the Independent Major program in the College of Arts and Sciences, she is able to tailor her curriculum to fuel both of her passions.

“The more I learned about UM, the more I realized how great a fit it would be,” said Cohen, who is pursuing both a Bachelor of Science in Psychology-Neuroscience-Philosophy and a Bachelor of Music in Double Bass Performance. “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.”

On a typical day, Cohen toggles between orchestra rehearsals and neuroscience research in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Lab led by Lucina Uddin, associate professor of psychology. But, as she rides her bike across campus, she revels in the freedom of having so profoundly customized her academic experience.

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

Cohen’s penchant for mixing music and neuroscience began when she was young. As a student in the Milken Community Schools’ Mitchell Academy for Science & Technology in Los Angeles, she worked in the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California. There, she authored a scientific paper on music and the brain, later earning the Student Initiative Award from the Intel Science Talent Search, and an invitation to present her findings at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

But music—especially Cohen’s beloved double bass—holds a special place in her heart. She started piano lessons at age 4 and played competitively for a decade, but in middle school decided to try a new instrument. “From the very first time I picked up the double bass I was hooked,” she recalled. “I was drawn to how resonant and powerful the bass sounded, and the harmonic role it played in the ensemble.”

Now, as a woman in two male-dominated fields, Cohen said she is “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 weighing her varied options for post-baccalaureate studies, including masters programs and fellowships in User Experience, AI and Bioethics, science policy, cognitive science, music, and arts administration.

“I have a lot of interests, and I am excited to be applying to a variety of interdisciplinary programs,” she said. “I know I want an interdisciplinary career, whether through performance, graduate studies, a career in the arts, or continued work combining music and the brain.”