Most STEM students don’t usually study abroad. Less than 2 percent of all U.S. college students studied abroad in 2016 to 2017, and among them, only 5.3 percent were engineering majors and 2.8 percent were math or computer science majors, according to a recent survey.

But one Fordham student has beaten the odds.

Callan O’Shea, a graduating Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior, studied in Paris for six months last spring. For O’Shea, an integrative neuroscience student on the pre-med track, the trip was not only a “transformational experience to get a bigger scope of the world,” but also a unique step in his path toward becoming a neurosurgeon.

The Value of Human Relationships

Before O’Shea became a college student, he knew he wanted to become a doctor. Outside of his schoolwork during his first two years at Fordham, he volunteered at Mount Sinai West Hospital (formerly known as Roosevelt Hospital), located just a block away from the Lincoln Center campus. In the rehabilitation unit, he worked with elderly patients who had physical injuries, people recovering from stroke and spinal cord injuries, and patients with Parkinson’s disease. In the emergency room, he recorded patient needs and relayed their requests to medical staff.

It was there, he said, that he learned about the importance of connecting with patients—not just as clients, but as people.

“Speaking with patients in these often vulnerable conditions … they place a lot of trust in you, and it really touched me,” O’Shea said. “Then moving to emergency medicine, seeing the pace of that, and having the ability to do so much good so quicklyhaving that responsibility reinforced that.”

Nurturing a Passion for Neuroscience Abroad

Through online research, O’Shea began to look for research topics that connected his hospital volunteer service with his surgical interests. That’s when he learned about neural engraftment in Parkinson’s patients: taking skin cells from patients, turning them into new neurons, and implanting them into the same patients to rehabilitate motor skills.

“Being able to grow healthy neurons and insert them surgically into patients to restore function is something that really sparked my interest,” O’Shea said.

At the beginning of 2018, he studied abroad in Paris, where he conducted hands-on neuroscience research. At the Université Paris Descartes Centre de Psychiatrie et Neurosciences, he examined social memory in the brains of mice. He also traveled a few days a week to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, where he analyzed how information is recorded and communicated within a hospital unit.

In those six months, O’Shea also got to take in Parisian culture. He lived with a host family, improved his fluency in French, and took a tap and jazz dance class at the Paris Marais Dance School.

It was his first time traveling abroad, thanks to the Center for University Programs Abroadan independent organization introduced to him by Fordham’s study abroad office. This month, O’Shea returned to France for the annual Cannes Film Festival.

“[Studying abroad] was really important for me, as someone who didn’t really travel at all growing up and as a science student who doesn’t usually have the opportunity to incorporate language classes and things like that,” O’Shea said.  

When he returned from France, he wanted to extend that same potential to his classmates in the integrative neuroscience department, many of whom haven’t yet studied abroad.

“He set up a meeting with me and the chair of his department so the three of us could talk through how we could make [studying abroad]easier for his classmates,” said Joseph Rienti, Ph.D., the director of international and study abroad programs at Fordham. “One of the most remarkable things about Callan is that he does things not just for himself—there’s a real altruistic and broader vision that he has.”

Combining Neuroscience and Medicine

When he returned to New York, he began working as a research volunteer at the Icahn Medical Institute at Mount Sinai. O’Shea’s experiments spanned different strains of science: genetics, genomics, and neuroscience. In one research study, he and his colleagues took skin cells from schizophrenia patients and converted them into stem cells, then analyzed their potential.

“We essentially had cultures of patient neurons in a dish that we could test for certain drugs and analyze for genetic effects,” O’Shea explained.

After he graduates from Fordham this May, he will return to the Icahn Medical Institute at Mount Sinai; this time, though, he’ll be working as a full-time research technician. Once he gains enough out-of-classroom experience, he plans on applying to dual M.D./Ph.D. programs in neuroscience and neurosurgery next year.

But for O’Shea, the most rewarding part of being in the medical field is more than translating research into real-life applications. It’s the relationships—the intimacy of patient-doctor interactions and the special camaraderie shared among doctors, nurses, and technicians in difficult situations.

“The relationships that the medical field builds are really, really special,” O’Shea said.


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.