The Wonders of Biology: Virtual Event Showcases the Beauty of Science

Upon his arrival at MIT, Hanjun Lee initially intended to pursue a Course 5 chemistry major. His perception of biology, derived from high school, revolved around pure memorization.

His academic trajectory shifted upon enrolling in course 7.03 (Genetics), under the tutelage of then-professor Aviv Regev and Peter Reddien, respectively. Reddien is a professor of biology and a core member and associate director at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Lee observed a rarity among his peers—a specific course, 7.03, influencing their academic choices. The allure of Course 7 and, particularly, 7.03 stemmed from the profound impact of genetics within MIT’s biological realm.

Reflecting on the transformative power of genetics within MIT’s biology department, Lee muses, “Biology embodies logical reasoning, scientific inquiry, and the art of posing pertinent questions.”

Subsequently, as a teaching assistant for 7.002 (Fundamentals of Experimental Molecular Biology), Lee appreciated the meticulous approach MIT biology professors demonstrated in structuring their course materials.

Asserting his admiration for MIT professors’ dedication to teaching, Lee states, “It’s enlightening to witness the thoughtfulness behind their educational methods. They convey knowledge in a structured way that allows you to perceive the beauty within; the beauty lies in deciphering nature’s patterns.”

An Unexpected Journey to MIT

Lee’s aspiration to attend MIT wasn’t a lifelong dream. The notion materialized after his participation in the 49th International Chemistry Olympiad, where he secured a Gold Medal for South Korea in 2017. It was at this juncture that Lee encountered MIT affiliates, fostering his decision to apply to MIT—a choice echoed by over half of his peers from the Olympiad.

Recalling the impactful encounter, Lee shares, “Prior to that, MIT was shrouded in mystique. The experience was life-altering, as I listened to stories from individuals hailing from diverse backgrounds but sharing a common fervor for science.”

At the time, Lee was already pursuing medical studies in Korea, envisioning a stable medical career. However, opting for MIT required a drastic pivot in his career trajectory, necessitating a departure from familiar surroundings and loved ones.

In spite of his parents’ reservations towards his MIT ambitions, Lee resolved to fulfill the application criteria independently. He recollects the pre-dawn excursion at 3 a.m. to secure a SAT testing location in South Korea, a venture he presently reminisces with amusement. In a mere three months, he compiled his application, with MIT being his sole U.S. institution choice.

His sojourn to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2018 was fleeting, attending MIT for only a semester before fulfilling a two-year mandatory military service commitment in Korea.

Lee utilized his military service to immerse himself in scientific literature, delving into research topics. His interactions with MIT faculty stirred a newfound interest in cancer biology.

Rekindling Connections at MIT

Upon returning to campus, Lee vowed to engage fervently with faculty members to discuss their research initiatives. His involvement with the MIT Undergraduate Research Journal enabled him to conduct insightful interviews with professors, exemplifying MIT faculty’s zeal for interaction with undergraduates.

During his U.S. tenure, Lee reached out to Michael Lawrence, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, pertaining to a preprint on APOBEC, an enzyme Lee had explored at Seoul National University. Lawrence’s research team was exploring the interplay of APOBEC and cancer evolution, specifically its potential impact on cancer treatment resistance.

Commending Lee’s prowess, Lawrence expresses, “Since joining my research lab, I’ve been astounded by Hanjun’s scientific acumen. His accomplishments are remarkably rare, especially for an undergraduate.”

Lee made significant strides in analyzing genomic data, co-authoring publications such as a paper in Molecular Cell and another in Nature Genetics. The latter contribution unmasked the source of background interference in chromosome conformation capture methodologies applied in cellular chromatin analysis.

Anticipating Lee’s ascension to scientific leadership, Lawrence extols his potential, while Lee underscores the demanding nature of such accomplishments and the value derived from resilience in the face of setbacks.

“Embarking on research endeavors has been enlightening, revealing that science entails encountering failures as stepping stones to eventual success,” Lee reflects.

Broader Horizons

Lee advocates for a holistic perspective in academic pursuits, emphasizing the importance of delving into diverse scientific domains beyond one’s primary field. His philosophy underscores the collaborative essence of scientific exploration and the individualized paths that each student can chart.

Highlighting the pivotal role of interpersonal connections at MIT, Lee asserts, “Your MIT journey is shaped by interactions, guiding you towards self-discovery and personal growth.”

Recognized as an American Association for Cancer Research Undergraduate Scholar, Lee has recently showcased his research at the Gordon Research Conference on Cell Growth and Proliferation, illuminating his work on the RB gene product’s impact on retinoblastoma.

Buoyed by positive feedback from teaching endeavors as a TA, Lee aspires to instill inspiration in future students through pedagogy. Pursuing a PhD in cancer biology at Harvard Medical School, Lee retains his curiosity across diverse biological realms, harboring a multitude of unanswered scientific inquiries.

Lee’s parents, initially apprehensive, now exude pride as devoted MIT parents, poised to celebrate Lee’s impending graduation in Cambridge this May.

“Throughout my tenure here, their observation of my evolution has been profound. I’m not yet a distinguished scientist, but I’ve gleaned the essence of the scientific journey,” Lee concludes.

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