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Student dives into conference

MIT senior Pei-Hsin Lin was one of the conference attendees.
MIT senior Pei-Hsin Lin was one of the conference attendees.
Photo / Deborah Halber

Pei-Hsin Lin had just finished her junior year at MIT when she jumped at the chance to attend the workshop in Crete (see accompanying story) that would bring together biologists, physicists, chemists and engineers from all over the world to discuss self-assembly of peptides and proteins in biology, medicine and engineering.

As a major in both biology and electrical engineering and computer science, Lin figured she would hear about the latest work in her field. She also planned to network. Her five-to-10-year plan: get a Ph.D., possibly in biomedical engineering, then an MBA. Then, when she finishes school at around age 30, she might have a shot at becoming a CEO of a startup company.

In addition to collecting a business card from a representative of Intel, she mingled with dozens of researchers from universities around the world.

This was not Lin's first major scientific conference. Just before she entered MIT as a freshman, her father, an organic chemist, took her to an American Chemical Society meeting in Boston. "I got to MIT about a week before all the other students," she said.

Lin's father is from Taiwan and her mother is from mainland China; she grew up in Alabama speaking Chinese at home. Her father earned a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama. As she describes it, growing up in Alabama wasn't a bad experience for her or for her younger siblings. But she often writes out and spells the English pronounciation of her name--"Pacing"--instead of the Chinese version.

In some ways, Lin reinforces the image of the driven MIT student. On an average of five hours of sleep a night, she printed out nametags for conference participants on the laptop and printer she brought in her luggage; helped edit a postdoc's research abstract until all hours of the night; and took copious notes on many of the research talks in preparation for writing a report for her advisors, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering and co-director of the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health, and Bonnie Berger, associate professor of mathematics.

Lin also built sand castles on Crete's stunning beaches, dined in waterside taverns and traveled to nearby Santorini to see the picturesque Greek towns there. But, she said, she kept falling asleep in the car during the island road trip because of all those late nights.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 12, 2001.

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