WINNING WORD: Elegiacal
DEFINITION: An elegiac couplet, a series of such couplets; poem or poems written in such couplets
After winning the Bee in the eighth grade, Ramachandran raced through high school in three years. At age 15, she won a $10,000 Westinghouse Science Talent Search scholarship. She started Stanford at age 16. She always lists her championship on resumes and applications, against the counsel of others. "Some people who give advice say 'Only listings from college or beyond,' but it's a great conversation starter!"
Today a Ph. D and M.D. resident in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, she's co-authored investigative studies on the Reproducibility of Biochemical Markers of Bone Turnover in Clinical Practice. She obviously has an eagle-eye for spelling errors. Says Ramachandran: "It's shocking to me how many people who are in tough fields are bad spellers. I had medical school professors who would misspell words on the chalkboard." She and another Bee competitor happened to be classmates in medical school and would exchange knowing smiles each time their professor butchered words.
To get things into the open, she told her future husband about her history early. "He's at least as good a speller as I am," she says. Her husband Joel Moore is a physicist at Berkeley.
As of 2006, seven Indian American spellers had won the Bee, five since 1999. In 1988 Raga was the second, and her little sister competed in the national competition seven years later. "I grew up in a home where a lot of different languages were spoken and there was a lot of respect for language," she says. (The family spoke English, Tamil and Hindi and she and her sister had French, Latin and German as well.) Ramachandran's parents were university professors themselves, both teaching math and statistics. By the time she was in sixth grade, she was competing in the national bee. Two years later, in eighth grade, she won. "My mom and I went shopping to get some new clothes for the week in Washington. I had an escort from our local newspaper [that] sponsored me, the Sacramento Bee. I would say it was one of the best times of my life." By Rita Healy
Next 1989: SCOTT ISAACS