Varna Jammula: “Own Who You Are”

Photo courtesy of Varna Jammula.

Varna Jammula’s passion for the brain started at age seven when she wanted to find a cure for her chronic migraines. At Penn State, Jammula majored in biobehavioral health because she hopes to care for patients and do research as a physician in her future career.

“I have always been curious about the why’s and how’s of everything,” says Jammula, “and I would love the opportunity to understand these questions through research and bring it directly to my patients.”

Coincidentally, Jammula’s grandmother had wanted to be a doctor but never could. Back then, women were expected to get married and have kids — not careers.  What’s more, her grandmother lived in India, as did Jammula’s parents. Jammula was born in the United States; her hometown is Saratoga, California. Jammula felt self-conscious of her Indian heritage as a child.Photo courtesy of Varna Jammula.

Photo courtesy of Varna Jammula.


 I felt like I had to hide it because it was different from everyone else’s culture. I think that, especially when you’re in elementary school and middle school, all you really want to do is find friends and fit in. When someone did something that didn’t fit the norm, it was easy to pick on that person. I had never really been picked on, but it was always something I knew that could make it harder to make friends.

Jammula wanted people to see her as someone that is no different from them, despite being brought up with different traditions. Even in India, Jammula felt like an outsider because she was American. She was nervous coming to State College from California, not knowing what to expect or how she would be viewed. Getting involved on campus helped a lot — Jammula worked in research, volunteered as an emergency medical technician and joined THON committees every year.

 Everyone was extremely welcoming in all of these activities, which made me feel more open to being myself,” she said. “I very quickly didn’t feel like I was any different from my peers, and that’s what made it so easy for me to own who I am.

The experience taught her an important lesson: “Own who you are. Own how unique and different you are. It is easy to get lost in the Penn State community,” she says.

After graduating from Penn State in the spring, Jammula accepted a position as a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. For the next two years there, she will be doing research in the Neuro-Oncology branch at the National Cancer Institute. After that, she plans to go to medical school to get her M.D.

When VALLEY asked Jammula what words she lives by, her response was: “A life of giving is a life worth living — giving back is so important. Also, be nice to everyone else; kindness can spread.”

One way that Jammula hopes to give back is to make the “biggest possible difference for a huge population.” She thinks becoming the U.S. surgeon general could give her that chance, though she’d be happy to make a meaningful impact as a physician of any sort. VALLEY is sure Jammula will succeed at whatever she pursues!


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