Three MIT Graduate Students Awarded 2018 Paul And Daisy Soros Fellowships For New Americans

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
by Julia Mongo | Office of Distinguished Fellowships

Three MIT graduate students — Sitan Chen, Lillian Chin '17, and Suchita Nety — are among the 30 recipients of the 2018 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Sylvia Biscoveanu, a recent graduate of Penn State University who will be pursuing a PhD at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research next fall, was also named a Soros Fellow.

The Soros Fellowships provide up to $90,000 funding for graduate studies for immigrants and the children of immigrants. Award winners are selected for their potential to make significant contributions to United States society, culture, or their academic fields. This year, over 1,700 candidates applied to the prestigious fellowship program.

In the past eight years, 29 MIT students and alumni have been awarded Soros Fellowships. Eligible applicants include children of immigrants, naturalized citizens, green card holders, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients. Beginning in 2019, the fellowship will expand its requirements to include former DACA recipients should the government program be rescinded.

MIT students interested in applying to the Soros Fellowship should contact Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships and academic excellence. The application for the Soros Class of 2019 is now open, and the national deadline is Nov. 1, 2018. 

Sitan Chen

Sitan Chen is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science and a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Theory of Computation Group. Chen's award will support work toward his doctorate in computer science.

Born in Hefei, China, Chen was 1 year old when his family immigrated to Canada so that his father could complete his doctorate at the University of Toronto. The family moved to Suwanee, Georgia, in the early 2000s, and Chen’s experiences throughout high school with math contests and programs like the Research Science Institute ultimately motivated him to study mathematics and computer science at Harvard University.

Chen graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 2016, receiving the Thomas T. Hoopes and Captain Jonathan Fay Prizes for his thesis on geometric aspects of counting complexity and arithmetic complexity. Chen’s mentors in Harvard's Theory of Computing research group encouraged him to pursue graduate studies in theoretical computer science.

In the fall of 2016, Sitan began his doctoral program in computer science at MIT. His work with PhD advisor Ankur Moitra, professor in the Department of Mathematics and principal investigator at CSAIL, centers on algorithmic problems in machine learning and inference.

Chen is focusing on developing new mathematical frameworks to analyze techniques such as the method of moments, Gibbs sampling, and local search that are popular in practice but poorly understood in theory. He has presented his work at venues including the Symposium on Theory of Computing and the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing.

Lillian Chin '17

Lillian Chin graduated from MIT in June 2017 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and computer science. She continued on to a doctoral program in the department, and her award will support work toward a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science. As a graduate student at MIT, her research interests are in robotics — specifically, integrating versatile hardware design with strong control algorithms.

Chin was born in New York City after her parents left China and Taiwan to pursue graduate school in the United States. Her parents instilled Chin’s love of science by frequently taking her to their lab and explaining their experiments. As she grew older, Chin began pursuing engineering and research more intensely, competing on an international level in the FIRST Robotics Competition and being nationally recognized for bioengineering research through the Intel Science Talent Search.

During her undergraduate career at MIT, Chin further developed her skills in strong interdisciplinary research, creating new materials that could be used to more efficiently move soft robots, and designing a novel manufacturing process that can print tissues and circuits. Chin also was able to pursue summer internships at Apple, Square, and the Toyota Research Institute. And in February 2017, Chin bested thousands of applicants and 14 on-air competitors when she won the 2017 “Jeopardy!” College Championship, representing MIT.

As a graduate student at MIT and a 2018 Hertz Fellow, Chin is currently working on better integrating the mechanical advantages of soft robotics with the latest in learning and planning algorithms. Her ultimate career goal is to become a professor in robotics: designing systems to enable human achievement.

Suchita Nety

Suchita Patil Nety was born in Sunnyvale, California, to immigrants from India who came to the United States to attend graduate school. She draws inspiration from her upbringing in the dynamic and diverse Silicon Valley as well as her grandparents’ experiences as freedom fighters for Indian independence.

Nety’s research projects throughout high school, including cancer imaging research conducted at Stanford, earned regional and national-level awards. In June 2017, she earned a BS in chemistry from Caltech. While there, she spent four years in the lab of chemical engineering professor Mikhail Shapiro. Her work with protein-based reporters for ultrasound imaging resulted in a patent, publications, presentations, and awards, including Caltech’s highest honor for undergraduate academics and research.

Nety is interested in forms of storytelling and healing that complement her future role in medicine. While at Caltech, she pursued her love for literature and obtained an English minor, won writing prizes, tutored in the campus writing center, and volunteered for a literacy nonprofit. She attained professional status in Bharatanatyam, a style of Indian classical dance, and is an avid hip hop choreographer. 

Nety's award will support work toward an MD/PhD at Harvard Medical School and MIT. After completing this training, Nety hopes to serve patients as a medical oncologist while developing molecular tools to engineer robust and safe cell-based therapies.

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