“This is the type of life that I want”

Rising up in Idaho, Catherine Ji discovered herself with a number of time to jot down.

“Idaho is a superb atmosphere for writing as a result of it’s remoted and there’s a bunch of nature,” says Ji. “I wrote a lot poetry — a number of actually messy poetry. I simply cherished it a lot. It actually outlined my childhood.”

Now a senior majoring in physics and arithmetic, Ji finds time to jot down regardless of a heavy class load and quite a lot of different actions. She has taken a variety of literature and poetry lessons throughout her undergraduate profession, and has been acknowledged for her work as a winner of the Ilona Karmel Writing Prize in poetry and essay classes.

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Past writing, Ji has executed analysis in math, physics, and economics, sung in an a cappella group, co-chaired advocacy teams and math mentorship initiatives, and taught as a TA, volunteer mentor, and MIT-Italy GTL teacher.

Nonetheless, Ji needs she might extra totally discover MIT’s choices. “There are simply too many cool issues to do right here, and by no means sufficient time,” she says.

Encouraging metamorphosis

Within the city the place she grew up, which was 40 minutes exterior of Idaho’s quickly rising capital, tensions between the left-leaning metropolis and its extra conservative environment have been usually on show. Ji says experiencing that contributed to her capacity to adapt in quite a lot of environments.

“I believe Idaho has additionally taught me a number of expertise that I’m grateful for. Due to the extraordinary politics, you get good at adapting and actively coexisting,” she says. “How do I work together with individuals who have completely totally different worldviews? It’s one factor when such discussions on connectivity are theoretical or far-removed and there are constructions in place to simply disengage. It’s one other if you’re speaking about most of your loved ones, neighbors, buddies, and lecturers.”

The wide selection of opinions and beliefs taught her find out how to advocate for herself and others.

“On some stage, I simply needed to determine, ‘That is what I consider about all these items, and stand by it,’” Ji says.

She carried these expertise together with her to varsity. For instance, as co-chair of the Council for Math Majors, an advocacy group targeted on enhancing the undergraduate expertise in MIT’s math division, she has labored on range, fairness, and inclusion efforts for the division in collaboration with college and employees.

At MIT, “I needed to study a totally new toolbox of language and interacting with others, in addition to establishments,” Ji says. “An enormous query is find out how to self-advocate in an establishment that helps DEI however is tremendous decentralized. It’s ‘mens et manus’ [MIT’s motto of “mind and hand”] in that we now have to be the change we need to see; nonetheless, increased connectivity on all ranges would make life simpler.”

These classes additionally helped her discover her place within the Logarhythms, MIT’s oldest a cappella group that was traditionally all-male till accepting its first non-male member in 2018. Ji was the second.

“As with every establishment that experiences such a change, it’s a course of. At first, I felt very sophisticated about being within the group, however I’m extraordinarily completely happy that I caught with it,” she says.

Ji didn’t solely keep it up; within the fall semester, she ran rehearsals and arranged live shows as co-director. She additionally served as president and is now an historian going into her ultimate undergraduate semester.  

Pursuing interdisciplinary pursuits

Whether or not exploring poetry, scientific analysis, or difficult historic norms to make pupil life at MIT extra inclusive, Ji is deliberate about doing issues her personal manner.

Navigating MIT with a wide selection of pursuits, Ji jokingly describes her school expertise to be “like gradient descent,” referring to the way in which a machine-learning algorithm tries totally different paths to an answer and “descends” every time because it will get nearer to the right reply. “I ask myself: What do I get pleasure from most within the second? After which I transfer in that route,” she says.

These steps have led Ji to biophysics, the place she has studied the mechanics of polymers to the dynamics of starfish embryo crystals. “The identical math can mannequin something from the glug-glug of a draining bottle to photo voltaic flares to epidemics,” she explains. “All of those techniques in nature are related via math, which is basically cool.”

Contemplating her roles as a scientist, poet, and neighborhood member, she says: “These realms of my life are intently intertwined, and that is the kind of life that I need.”

“In a manner, all of us attempt to make that means and pleasure via connectivity, from mathematicians to writers,” she says. “This can be a lesson felt maybe most strongly throughout a pandemic. On the danger of being overly theoretical, I see literature, making a cappella music, advocacy, mentorship, and bodily utilized math analysis as all contributing to the identical objective of prescribing that means.”

For her ultimate undergraduate semester, Ji has many issues to look ahead to. There are thrilling lessons to take like 18.212 (Algebraic Combinatorics), a possible tour with the Logs in Tokyo, and an upcoming poetry publication in Electrical Lit, a digital literary journal. In between, she’s taking time to breathe and benefit from the individuals who have made her time at MIT so particular.

“I believe MIT college students strongly consider that placing your all into each space of life, from being housemate to a jazz ensemble participant to a fire-spinner, naturally results in higher innovators or ‘makers.’ They do their finest. And I actually admire that.”

Following commencement, Ji plans to pursue a PhD in physics or utilized math. In parallel, she needs to seek out avenues to advise science coverage in addition to lead advocacy and outreach efforts. And he or she hopes that her publication in Electrical Lit is one among many.


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