Profile with Stephanie Lin

Stephanie Lin (California & Hertford 2012) is reading for an MPhil in Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. At MIT, Stephanie became the Resources Coordinator for Health Leads Boston, a volunteer program to help healthcare providers meet underprivileged families’ needs. She was also a member of the MIT Global Poverty Initiative - a student-run program devoted to fighting poverty. Stephanie has conducted medical research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts, the Chao Cancer Research Center in California and El Instituto de Investigación Biomédica in Barcelona. She holds a BA in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Stephanie Lin: Probably Irvine, California. I moved around quite a bit when I was younger; I lived four years in Texas, two years in Arizona and then twelve years in different cities around Southern California (through the end of high school). I spent middle school and high school at Irvine, so that's where I did my most memorable growing up. I've spent the last four years in Boston, so I think Boston in many senses is also home. Oxford is slowly moving in the home direction also. 

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you read for pleasure? 

Stephanie Lin: I am currently reading Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. I have a copy of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, which is a book I read last summer but I really want to re-read. I'm about to jump on that today. 

Rhodes Project: What is currently playing on your iPod?

Stephanie Lin: A lot of dance songs. I joined the beginners dance team so I have a lot of cha-cha-cha and jive on my playlist. It's a mix dominated by sexy Latin music and Christina Aguilera, which is very fun for running and dancing to. 

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Stephanie Lin: I had three aspirations, actually. When I was in Kindergarten, I thought jobs were passed down like genes, so I assumed I would be an engineer because that's what both of my parents are. I had no idea what “engineer” really meant though; I think I looked it up on the internet and thought I was going to be something like a train conductor. When I realized I could actually want to do things, I wanted to be a librarian for a very long time. I thought they just sat in a library all day reading books, and that was my favorite thing to do. Then I wanted to be an astronaut, because I really liked heights and I thought space was the coolest thing. So I aspired to be some cross between an engineer, a librarian and an astronaut. 

Rhodes Project: What has surprised you most about your time at Oxford?

Stephanie Lin: First, the sheer diversity of the graduate students. I probably should have looked up numbers or something beforehand, but I hadn’t so didn't expect to meet so many people who were not British and also not American. For example, one group that I’m with a lot in my college is British, Bangladeshi, Turkish, Australian, German and American (me). That kind of diversity is everywhere, and is one of the things I love most about being here. Every conversation pushes me to think about myself and the world in a different way, and to recognize that how I think and perceive events is in many ways distinctly American. It’s caused me to really value empathy, and be aware of how and why people may think differently from me.

I've also been surprised at how much time I've spent on personal development here, in terms of reading books, learning how to dance, having meaningful conversations and trying new skills. I'm surprised by how happy I am with that. As undergrads, I (and a lot of the other students here) spent a lot of time pushing ourselves in extracurricular activities - running around to different meetings and events and working on projects all at once. I think Oxford has really made me pause and consider what I can do in two years, because two years isn't very long. I have to focus on very specific skills that I want to gain, which, counter-intuitively, forces me to learn more slowly but intentionally. I realized this is perhaps not the time to do everything at once - at first, I was very uncomfortable with this pace, but now I'm surprisingly happy with it. 

Rhodes Project: I noticed that you've done some research in Barcelona. Can you tell me about a memorable experience you had during the time you were there?

Stephanie Lin: I went to Barcelona during the summer that Spain won the World Cup, and some of my best memories are of watching the game with friends in the city. I remember there was one specific bar that we frequented, and we went there the night Spain won the semi-final match. As soon as they finished there was a massive crowd outside; everyone was chanting and walking up Las Ramblas, which is the main walking boulevard. It was an amazing experience. I've never felt so strongly and passionately excited for one country, and the country wasn't even mine. That was really beautiful. 

Then we saw the final match in Pamplona at Festival of San Fermin, when maybe a million people descend every year on this city of 200,000. They set up a giant screen in the center of town and as soon as Spain won the game, the nightly fireworks show went off. I've never seen such a large group of people go so crazy. It was pretty amazing. It was also interesting to see the difference between the excitement surrounding the match in Barcelona and Pamplona. Barcelona has a political history of being Catalonian, and many locals feel that pride more strongly than they feel pride in Spain. It was really fascinating to see that contrasted with Pamplona, which was full of Spaniards who were just excited about being Spanish.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Stephanie Lin: I would tell myself to worry less, and to trust my future self. I remember being really concerned about not knowing what to do when I grew up. I loved literature (that’s the librarian thing), as well as math and science, and was super concerned with finding a way to magically incorporate all of those in a future career. I would tell my sixteen-year-old self that she didn’t need to know everything, because my future self could figure things out too.  If you asked my thirty-year-old self what advice to give to my current self, I’m guessing I would say the same thing.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Stephanie Lin: I talk to people a lot. I think part of the personal development and slowing down of Oxford is taking the time to really engage with people in long conversations. It’s relaxing for me, and I love the process of learning how to empathize with what another person thinks and feels. Dancing is also relaxing because when I dance, I can’t think about anything else. This is useful because I have a propensity to constantly plan my day/night/week in the back of my mind. When I dance I am forced to clear out all of the other things; otherwise I trip. I would also say running gives me a similar sense of focus, but it’s not quite as relaxing because most of the space I clear in my head is spent thinking about how much I don’t want to be running.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one super-power, what would it be?

Stephanie Lin: To fly. I’ve wanted to since I was in second grade. Every time I pick up a dandelion and make a wish, I wish to fly. Also, every single one of my birthday candles since second grade has been used on a wish to fly. I love heights and speed; I like having a sense of control and being able to see lots of things at once;  birds are my favorite animal; I wanted to be an astronaut…everything really comes together in my desire to fly.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you and why?

Stephanie Lin: Seeing people who are passionate or excited about what they do. I think that’s part of the reason why I spend so much of my time here in conversation - that’s how you get to know what someone feels strongly about. The last time I remember being really inspired though was at a slam poetry event in Oxford a few weeks ago. This Canadian guy walked on stage, and my world just froze for about five minutes as he delivered his poetry. It’s so different from reading poetry on paper because the oration pulls me in, making me constantly look forward to the next line. It’s much easier to glaze over lines when they’re just printed on a page. I was so inspired by his performance to go home and write my own poetry…Then I remembered that I don’t actually like to write poetry all that much. Nevertheless, seeing him was a very inspiring experience.

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