Before he graduated from Kenyon to work at the National Institutes of Health, we asked the neuroscience major and musician some questions about his time on the Hill.
Adama Berndt ’17 knows how to command a crowd, whether he’s freestyle rapping or delivering one-liners with his stand-up comedy group, Two Drink Minimum. But the Indianapolis native is just as comfortable in the lab as he is on the stage, analyzing DNA samples and studying the resistance of bacteria to aspirin for his senior thesis (which he passed with highest honors). Before he graduated from Kenyon to continue his genetic research at the National Institutes of Health, we asked the neuroscience major some questions about his time on the Hill.
1. When did you know you wanted to major in neuroscience?
The month before I came to Kenyon, I read a book by Oliver Sacks, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” He talks about all of these rare neurological disorders, like the inability to recognize faces. That book lit my fire about studying science more than any of the classes I took in high school. Plus, my mother suffered from mental illness. Seeing her go through that made me want to learn everything I could about it.
2. What else lights your fire about science?
Before I came to Kenyon, I viewed science as this unerring monolith, this sea of facts. But in actuality, when you get into studying science, you realize that it is a pool of unknowns and deeper questions that only lead to more questions for you to answer.
3. What is an important skill to master in the lab?
To admit when you don’t know the answer. It’s super important to say to your professor, “I don’t think that makes sense because of this. Can you add what I’m missing to this picture that I have created?” Always try to create the picture before you ask the question.
4. Name a professor who has influenced you.
My lab head, Professor Slonczewski. I worked in a bacterial lab with her, and she was a force of nature. With the help of her National Science Foundation grant, we were able to spend more than $10,000 sequencing these metagenomes in DNA samples. She trusted me to see to fruition a project where, up until that point, I had no expertise. People at Kenyon are willing to put faith in you if you show that you can do the work.
5. What is the learning experience like at Kenyon?
The Kenyon vibe is all about prioritizing the purpose. We’re all here to learn, and we understand that knowledge is the most important thing. At the end of the day, do you know what you’re talking about? Being happy is important here, too. Good research comes out of happy students, and the professors stress that.
6. Name a favorite course you took outside your major.
“Queer Texts, Queer Tales” with Janet McAdams. That class does a good job of looking at alternative perspectives from queer authors. I learned writing techniques that helped me with my rap, too, like how to use potent imagery to evoke a desired feeling and how to set a scene to communicate an experience, rather than telling someone what they are supposed to feel.
7. What do you love about performing rap music?
I most enjoy writing and figuring out the puzzle of the words. It’s the same thing I like about stand-up comedy — solving a joke is like solving a rhyme. It’s a puzzle where precise wording is going to achieve the desired and maximal effect.
8. What are you most proud of accomplishing at Kenyon?
I’m really happy to be able to exist creatively in this space, and pursue my hobbies of music and comedy with the same passion with which I pursue my work.
9. How would you describe Kenyon students?
Smart goofballs who are really passionate about what they’re doing.
10. What are you going to miss most about Kenyon?
The fry pies at the Village Market. All of the creamcheese flavors are pretty next-level.