Fellow Feature: Lea Raha, Conservation + Tech ’21 (Cognitive Science)

Lea Raha is a Conservation + Tech fellow studying Cognitive Science with a minor in Biology. Here, she shares more about her personal and professional interests and why she chose the Fung Fellowship.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m a junior transfer from Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley to be specific. I’m an intended cognitive science major. I recently switched from psychology, based on how my interests evolved over time and as I gained more experience in the psych field. I’m also minoring in biology because I hope to eventually pursue medical school. Right now, I’m also a part of the Fung Fellowship in the Conservation + Tech track.

What inspired you to study cognitive science?

I chose cognitive science because it feels like a more empathetic field of study for me. It’s focused a lot more on humanity, and a bit less on theory like psychology was. Cognitive science is interdisciplinary, so it feels more like a medium where several fields converge to actually study human subjects and ways to improve quality of life from person-to-person. I felt like it fit me as a student a lot better.

What are your professional goals?

I eventually want to go to medical school to become a neurologist, but first I want to do a few years of academic research. I think it’s really important to give myself some grace, and going straight into medical school from undergrad would probably lead to burnout. There are so many world-renowned researchers here at UC Berkeley so it would be amazing if I got an opportunity to work with one of them. I really value hands-on learning, because learning in a classroom setting is fun, but the practical work is often really different.

Lea alongside her design challenge team discussing their project with Coleman Fung.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world through your academic and professional work?

I want to help people. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true! I really want to do something that actually helps human beings — not in a “fame and fortune” way but something that actually ameliorates humanity. I’m only one person so I can only do so much, but my goal is to do whatever I can.

“I really want to do something that actually helps human beings — not in a “fame and fortune” way but something that actually ameliorates humanity.”

What are some of your hobbies/passions?

I have “grandma hobbies!” I love to crochet — I make sweaters, hats and beanies and it makes me feel really accomplished. I have a friend who knits so we’ll just have “grandma hobby nights” together, which is really relaxing and fun. I also like reading; I guess that’s another “grandma hobby.”

I also like weightlifting, because I used to play club volleyball so it’s a way to stay active without the stress and pressure of organized sport.

What inspired you to apply to the Fung Fellowship?

I saw it as an opportunity to actually do things and help people. As I said, we spend so much time learning about the theory and the implications of doing things in classes, but we don’t end up spending a lot of time applying what we’ve learned. Also, after quarantine I had a bit of an epiphany moment where I realized that I wanted to really get involved in a community and for a cause that I actually believe in. I was super excited when I got in!

Can you share some of the design challenges or projects you’ve worked on or currently working on in the fellowship?

Right now, we’re working on repurposing human waste and making toilets more eco-friendly through urine reclamation. My group came up with a really cool idea for how to approach the challenge. It involves so much research but it’s really engaging and rewarding work so we all really want to put in the time. When they first introduced the topic, I was a little skeptical, but once I started doing the research I became really interested in the science behind it. I feel like I’m learning a lot through this project.

“It involves so much research but it’s really engaging and rewarding work so we all really want to put in the time.”

What’s your favorite part of the fellowship, so far?

The graduate student instructor (GSI) for our lab section, Tyus, is super engaging and interesting. He really listens to our questions, concerns and areas of interest and cares so much about the Fung Fellowship experience. The lab sections are where I feel really connected to the course because it’s a smaller group setting and Tyus works hard to make sure we all feel comfortable and supported.

Fun fact:

I’ve been speaking French since I was five, and both of my parents are multilingual.

Edited by Danielle Valdez.
Photos by James Wang

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