October 6, 2022
During the fall of her freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MVHS alum ‘20 Audrey Cui applied for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). While she was initially hesitant, Cui applied after recalling something she had heard in her high school English class — men apply when they meet 60% of the job requirements, while women only tend to apply after meeting 100% of the requirements.
At UROP, Cui says she had the opportunity to collaborate and contribute to real research. An example of the research she worked on is relighting light sources in images.
“We did this by generating pairs of fake images with different lighting conditions to train a model that does image-to image-translation,” Cui said. “This model learns how to ‘translate’ an image under certain lighting into the same scene but with another lighting condition.”
Furthermore, UROP allowed Cui to explore her interests in a community of people who she respected, including her mentor David Bau, an older grad student who had worked as a software engineer before getting a PhD. Cui believes Bau is a “really wise person” and guided her throughout her research and was there for her with his “happy go lucky personality.”
However, there are times in research where Cui is unable to rely on others and has to deal with challenges. Cui recalls a time when a research paper she worked on for 20 hours was rejected from publication. Though she says the initial rejection was detrimental to her mental health and drove her into a wall of burnout and a lack of motivation, Cui ultimately learned to separate herself from work and academics. Her change in mindset allowed her to be more comfortable and take time for herself.
“At the end of the day, if you get into MIT, that’s great,” Cui said. “If you don’t get into MIT, at least you spent your time doing what you enjoy and care about. Probably, [furthering yourself as a person] more than MIT would. I think it’s great that MIT definitely has the resources to help you develop these passions further, but to be honest, other schools do as well. At the end of the day, just do what you enjoy and make yourself happy.”