Brandon Forys wins prestigious UBC undergraduate awards

Brandon Forys

Join us in congratulating Brandon Forys, a Research Assistant in the Soma Lab, for receiving the HSBC Emerging Leader Scholarship, the designation of Wesbrook Scholar, and the Suedfeld Scholar Award.

The HSBC Emerging Leader Scholarship is an annual scholarship awarded to eight UBC students who have demonstrated leadership, community service, and high academic achievement.

The Wesbrook Scholar is an annual designation awarded to 20 undergraduate students with outstanding academic performance, leadership abilities, and community involvement. On April 3, Brandon joined Dr. Santa Ono, UBC’s President & Vice-Chancellor, in a ceremony to celebrate the scholars.

Brandon also received recognition from his peers with the UBC Psi Chi chapter’s Suedfeld Scholar Award. This award recognizes a student who has excelled in academics, research and leadership.

For Brandon, a 3rd year BA Honours student, psychology is an opportunity to investigate how people think and interact with the world—using a multidisciplinary approach. He’s held a number of research positions in UBC psychology and psychiatry labs, blending psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence into his learning and research.

Outside of the lab and classroom, his interests are as varied as his research. He’s a member of the UBC Debate Society and is VP Academic-Internal at UBC’s Model United Nations Student Association. He co-founded the AMS Turing Club @ UBC, where he uses his AI and Machine Learning knowledge to help others.

In a Q&A, Brandon reflects on why he chose UBC’s psychology program and he offers advice for students on carving out their own academic path.

What does it mean to you personally to win these awards?
I’ve always been deeply focused on my studies, but in university I’ve discovered many wonderful opportunities for teaching, learning, research, and building valuable social connections that give me a deeper appreciation of the world around me. At UBC, I’m engaged in many life-changing activities that have come to define me as a person, and this award is a wonderful recognition of my efforts.

Why did you choose psychology?
Initially, I chose psychology because I felt it would be a way for me to help others more effectively and helping the people in my life is important to me. However, as I learned more about the field, I saw psychology as an opportunity for me to investigate how people think and interact with the world from a multidisciplinary approach. These are problems that truly interest me; the human condition, in general, fascinates me.

Can you tell us about your research interests?
I’m a research assistant in Dr. Kiran Soma’s lab and Dr. Rebecca Todd’s lab in the Department of Psychology; I also work in Dr. Timothy Murphy’s lab in the Department of Psychiatry. My research interests include cognitive and human factors psychology – I’m fascinated by how people perceive and interact with objects in the world, and how they cognitively process the world around them.

Is there a single most important moment that has stood out for you during your time as a psychology student?
Although I’ve had many wonderful and defining moments as a psychology student, I would say that my first honours seminar in September 2018 was a particularly significant moment for me. At the start of that three-hour event, I could count the people I knew in that room on one hand; at the end of the event, I knew that I had found the community and camaraderie that I had been looking forward to since learning about the psychology honours program at UBC five years ago.

What is your favourite class and why?
My favourite class is PSYC 321 – Environmental Psychology, taught by Dr. Jiaying Zhao. A good friend suggested the course to me, and it has turned out to be an incredible journey through everything from climate change issues, through human factors psychology, to cognitive investigations of the mind. We also get the opportunity to work with UBC clients on an exciting psychology project that will influence future policies at UBC – this is an exceptionally meaningful experience.

What advice do you have for students on how to carve their own academic path?
I would have two main suggestions. The first is to not be afraid to approach professors and talk to them after class about topics that you find interesting, or about their research. This is a great way to become involved with your department’s community at UBC – to learn about the amazing research that’s going on, and to become a valuable part of that research. The second suggestion is to become an expert in a skill that’s in high demand. As an example, if you have a passion for programming – or creating surveys, or any skill that a psychology or neuroscience lab needs – then you can become a critical element in a wide variety of projects in your department. Many professors and graduate students are more than happy to take on someone who is committed to and passionate about their work and having that crucial skill can set you apart from other people and help set you on a great academic path.

What do you do when you’re not studying?
As Vice-President and co-founder of the AMS Turing Club @ UBC, I teach UBC students from all backgrounds how they can build their own AIs, with no programming experience required. As the VP Academic-Internal at UBC MUNSA, I organize Model United Nations conferences for UBC students – I help them explore international relations issues and build their confidence in writing and public speaking. I judge and occasionally debate at debate tournaments with the UBC Debate Society. I’m also working with a global team of engineers and designers called rLoop to design a one-person flying machine for the Boeing-sponsored HeroX GoFly Prize – this gives me the chance to explore human factors psychology, as well as topics like interface design and aircraft control systems. In my free time, and when I’m not doing research, I like to read sci-fi novels, teach myself and practice computer programming, and play video games.

What are your plans after graduating?
I plan to go to graduate school for (most likely) an MA and PhD in cognitive, human factors, or industrial/organizational psychology, while continuing to do neuroscience research as well. After that, I hope to continue doing research in academia or in the private sector.

Lastly, what’s your advice for students entering psychology?
If you are just entering the psychology program at UBC, and you are feeling somewhat stressed or uncertain about research or about what psychology entails, remember that these feelings are normal as you enter university! Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers and the faculty around you and take time to explore various fields inside and outside of psychology. University is a time for exploration, and UBC is truly an amazing place to explore.

This Q&A was originally featured on the UBC Psychology website.