BU grad studies neurology abroad as Fulbright Scholar

Being able to travel, study what you love, and have fun at the same time may seem impossible, but to Rachel Cliburn, it’s all in a day’s work.

Currently in the Netherlands, Rachel Cliburn is an outgoing, positive person who enjoys the study of addiction and its effects on the brain.

Cliburn said that while studying abroad in Maastricht, she wanted to learn about being a Fulbright Scholar and saw that the University of Maastricht offered a program where she could earn her master’s.

“She was aware it was a fine university. She worked with professors to put together a winning application,” Elizabeth Vardaman, Associate Dean for Special Academic Projects, said.

Vardaman said Cliburn was disciplined and had support from her faculty members.

“One of her greatest attributes was that she was a very grateful and gracious person. She was very disciplined. And very grateful for the support she received from her faculty members,” Vardaman said.

During her last few years at Baylor, Cliburn started studying how people make predictions even when they don’t know the situation or outcome.

Dr. Charles Weaver, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, said Rachel focused on researching whether people know they don’t know something.

Cliburn worked alongside Weaver to understand if people think this way or not by developing her own thesis and researching literature for about three months.

“She was always a very serious scholar and saw neuroscience as a field she wanted to go towards professionally,” Vardaman said.

Cliburn has been partaking in the cultural differences in the Netherlands but enjoys riding her bike, running and playing her ukulele during her free time there.

“It’s been a whirlwind coming here,” Rachel Cliburn said. “I thought this would only be a pipe dream to come back and the deadline for the Fulbright application was so close that I had a much tighter time scale.”

While Cliburn spends most of her time in the lab researching addictions, she also plays the piano, cello, guitar along with the ukulele. She has made several YouTube videos of her singing and ukulele playing abilities.

Cliburn said she had many hobbies and interests that helped shape her view on the world around her while she was at Baylor.

She was involved with Baylor crew, orchestra and Honors College, as well as being a student leader for science SI’s.

Cliburn said she also got involved with two internships and studied abroad in Maastricht as well as working two jobs, one being at Applebee’s.

She became interested in addictions and the brain her sophomore year at Baylor. The study abroad opportunity influenced her decision to apply to be a Fulbright scholar and study at the University of Maastricht.

“She has always been fascinated with the brain, knowing that it is very complex and most people know relatively very little about it,” Nancy Cliburn, Rachel’s mother, said.

Cliburn is not only interested in the general functions of the brain but is researching how chemicals that affect the brain, such as those found in alcohol and antidepressants, alter the brain’s everyday functions.

Her parents recall her first interest in science.

“In middle school she did a project on the brain and memory and really liked the subject. So then in high school she took a lot of science courses but did not want to be an engineer. She then found out about neuroscience and got interested in that,” Nancy Cliburn said.

Cliburn currently holds a bachelor’s of neuroscience degree from Baylor and has just completed her master’s degree of neuroscience from the University of Maastricht and is finishing her time on the Fulbright scholarship researching in the Netherlands.

Caroline Cliburn, Rachel’s younger sister who is currently a freshman studying mechanical engineering at Baylor, remembers over winter break when she got to see her sister.

“She would be playing the piano and then I will sing along but she always wants to change up the tempo so it becomes a fun moment for us,” Caroline Cliburn said.

Caroline said she misses her sister’s attitude on life and can’t wait to see her this summer.

“Rachel always takes the positive outlooks at life and this comes from her relationship with the Lord. She is very thankful for what God has given her,” Caroline Cliburn said.

Rachel Cliburn said that although she loves to have fun at times she knows that God has blessed her.

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Originally posted and published in The Baylor Lariat

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