Alum's Woodpecker Research Making Waves

February 12, 2018


Although he is an Associate at Wall Street Share, a New York venture capital firm, George Farah ’15 was all over the news last week for something completely different—his scientific research on the brains of woodpeckers.

A biochemistry major at Stonehill, Farah conducted the groundbreaking research for his master’s degree at Boston University’s School of Medicine, which he received last year. With fellow BU scientists Peter Cummings and Don Siwek, he discovered that the brains of woodpeckers actually contain build ups of a tau protein associated with brain damage in humans. This, in turn, leads to the possibility that the small bird might hold the key to a better understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) a force related brain injury in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

Major media outlets the world over covered the story, which upended a long-held consensus that woodpeckers, who bash their heads into trees at 15 miles an hour every day, do not suffer head injuries. To challenge such a consensus meant that Farah had to question research from 1976 that was cited in over 100 scientific papers. However, he says his experience at Stonehill prepared him to do so.

Rigorous Research

“Under the mentorship of Professor Nicole Cyr, I learned to be rigorous when researching. As my principal investigator, she really taught me to always question science and never accept one paper as fact,” recalls Farah.

The research from 1976 had used an outdated staining method to reveal damage in the brain. So, Farah and his BU partners redid the work with modern technology, approaching museums for woodpecker specimens whose brains they could study.
So, if Farah is such a good scientist, why is he working on Wall Street and not in a top research lab?

Bridging Science and Business

“While working on my master of science in anatomy and neurobiology at the BU School of Medicine, I realized it wasn’t my passion and I had to make a career change. Fortunately a friend mentioned that people with science backgrounds were in demand within investment banking. If banks are investing heavily in the life sciences, biotech or pharma, they need scientists and I do understand that world,” says Farah.

Then, without a business degree or background, Farah began the hard work of searching and competing for interviews. A posting on indeed.com caught his attention and that of 296 other candidates, but, at the end of the day, he got the job.
From Stonehill, to Boston, to Wall Street, Farah is now successfully bridging the gap between science and business.