The following is an excerpt from the Extracurricular Activities chapter of our Best Book.
Before going to MIT, in high school, I worked for an entrepreneur. He was a doctor, and he had started some companies. At the time I was really interested in 3D video animation, so I would go to the video lab a lot in high school and work on my craft. As an extracurricular activity, he said, “Hey, I want to patent this new laser eye surgery procedure. Can you help me out with something?”
This doctor was an ophthalmologist, and he was involved in working with LASIK, the laser eye surgery device. He invented a new method of surgery, with a different laser pattern on your eye. The normal one starts big and gets small, oblates the cornea, and changes the shape of the eye. He had a new method, and he wanted someone to make a 3D video animation so that he could demonstrate his ideas to the patent offices and illustrate how different it was. I did that for him and I got a pretty fat check for a high school student. For a high schooler looking at summer jobs, this work was an amazing alternative.
I had a friend whose dad was an optometrist, and my friend was really into research, he ended up going to HST and going the cancer research route. That’s Harvard Medical School plus MIT’s health and science programs. It’s a joint venture, and he ended up getting an MD/PhD from there. He’s now working at Partners in Health, which is a Boston hospital. He was into research and introduced me to this doctor because he knew both that I did a lot of animation work and that this guy need someone with those skills. I essentially walked in and he just told me what he wanted. He was also always looking at new start-ups and ventures.
Even in high school I thought that was going to be impossible. He was always thinking of ideas like that, new ventures. I liked that he had his hand in lots of different pots. In retrospect it was probably one of the things that distinguished me, because I had done this 3D animation and I was working with this doctor leading up to a research project where I was a Westinghouse semifinalist doing laser eye research, creating a synthetic material that would essentially mimic the cornea when you put a laser to it. Everything builds on each other. Get involved with your interests and you never know when a fun hobby, like 3D animation, can turn into an MIT admission.