Sophomore Subin Cheong. Photo by Dani Massey.
Double majoring before the pandemic was challenging enough. It consisted of maintaining time for yourself, getting around to doing everything on your to-do list and staying on top of your work while everything around you demands some form of attention. However, sophomore Subin Cheong faces each of these challenges with a lab coat and a wide smile on her face. Cheong majors in both biology and computer science and minors in data science. Sounds busy, right? But wait, there’s more! Cheong spends the time she isn’t in class working in the biology stockroom, setting up labs for different biology classrooms while making sure everything meets high lab standards. Cheong is the essence of biology, eating, sleeping and breathing it with every atom filled with a love for the sciences.
As you can piece together, science is a part of Cheong’s everyday life but digging into her freshman year, Cheong recalled she started at Lawrence with a focus in English literature. Cheong reflected, “I wanted to come in doing English literature, which is crazy ‘cause I took a U-turn. I came [into Lawrence], and I learned a little bit more about Lawrence’s science department and it just drew me in– like the whole science building.” She said that this first moment of inspiration came from her first term of college in which she took Biology 130 professors Beth De Stasio and Shannon L. Newman. This opened a new door of opportunity for Cheong, one she hadn’t ever taken the chance to fully open. She mentioned struggling to find practicality in her future if she stayed with English, and she thought her parents felt the same. This newfound passion that Cheong unlocked was met with happy approval from both her parents and from herself.
Cheong didn’t set her tunnel vision onto the sciences simply for parental approval, though. Biology is written into Cheong’s history. She explained that she grew up sick. “I grew up mostly in the hospital and so all around me, it was biology, you know, science and stuff like that,” she said. “So I was like, you know, maybe I could give [biology] a shot. I do really enjoy bio.” Cheong’s history with the hospital developed a hidden passion within her. Her young self held onto the curiosity of that world–the world of medicine and science–until she was ready to foster it into a fully realized passion.
With this newly developing passion thrust into her life during her first term of college, a time of new discoveries and self-growth, Cheong found comfort in being at Lawrence. She found herself with support from her peers and advisor, professor Karen Hoffmann, who helped nurture this change. She recalled that the transition from the English department to biology was extremely supportive as her advisor helped through every step of the process, “I talked to my advisor who is an English professor because obviously I came in with English and she was so supportive, and she reached out to multiple [biology] professors to help me out with scheduling my [biology] classes for the year. And I couldn’t have been more grateful for that.” Cheong was met with validation from her peers and guidance from her advisor from the beginning, the kind of support that would allow her to be comfortable with change and seek out what she wanted.
For someone like Cheong, who enjoys the challenge of change and new opportunities, Lawrence’s liberal arts education is perfect. She began to push her curiosity beyond biology and tried new classes. Of these classes, she hooked onto computer science and data science as another major and minor. After taking one term of each, she found herself exhausted but with a vast amount of new information. While she recognized the difficulty of the course, ultimately the payoff was too rewarding to not pursue. She recognized that because of the experience Lawrence gave her, “You’re able to explore all kinds of different things. Even if you’re a science major, you’re open to taking music classes or humanities classes, and vice versa. It just felt like I was free to choose my own path. I wasn’t constrained from the very beginning to go down one certain path and then have to go through this whole process of trying to change majors as other colleges do.”
Cheong is driven. When she isn’t in biology class or the labs, she’s in the stock room working to either set up a lab experiment or make sure everything is in place. If somehow you don’t find her there, you can catch her coding Java and Python for her computer science classes. While Cheong is very busy and has a lot on her plate every day, Cheong said that she has found a sense of community and home with people in her classes and her work which has helped mitigate feelings of burnout and prevent being overwhelmed. She explained that working in the biology stockroom with other people experiencing the same frustrations and successes gave her a sense of support and community unlike any other. She also found that the people with whom she takes classes have helped her find ways to cope through shared experiences. They recognize and validate her day-to-day experiences at the same core level.
Subin Cheong’s world is a love for science. She is driven by the urge to find biology in everything around her and understand the world from a biological standpoint. While Cheong is figuring out the next stage of her life, one thing is clear: this passion and love is her driving purpose, one that she will undoubtedly pursue long after Lawrence. This is the name of someone who will be important in science and a name to remember.