An MIT Alumni Association Publication

“Brass Rat Chats” Explore Career Paths for Recent Graduates

  • Nicole Estvanik Taylor
  • Slice of MIT

Filed Under

The world is counting on MIT to meet the great challenges before us. And you can help, too. Join thousands of fellow alumni and friends on March 11 during the fifth annual MIT 24-Hour Challenge.

More than 35 MIT departments and groups, including MIT10—MIT undergraduate alumni of the last decade—will hold special microchallenges to help reach the goal of 5,000 donors in a single day.

“We’ve all had different journeys in our professional paths…. Some of you might be like me, wondering what’s next, curious about what’s out there, and still figuring out what you might want to do when you grow up,” Kristina Hill ’18 said this past January, with a laugh, to a webinar audience of fellow “MIT10s”—those who earned undergraduate degrees from the Institute in the past 10 years. “Regardless of where you are on your path,” she continued, “this series is for all of us young alums to gather around the ‘virtual fireside’ and to hear some stories and insights shared from our fellow MIT alumni.”

As a member of the MIT10 committee, as well as a data scientist who recently worked to organize a Black tech health hack, Hill was the evening’s host for career conversations focused on social impact. The event followed other installments in the MIT10 Brass Rat Chats series that touched on biotech, product management, and founding one’s own startup. (A February 25 event about academia will soon join the playlist above.)

Among the speakers who joined Hill in January—sharing their stories and answering questions from an audience of recent MIT graduates—was David Sun Kong ’01, SM ’04, PhD ’08, director of the MIT Media Lab Community Biotechnology Initiative and the founder of EMW, an art, technology, and community center in Cambridge. In this recording of the event, Kong explains how he views his own career journey as a process of uniting his initially separate pursuits of synthetic biology, social justice, and the arts. He paraphrases the Japanese concept of ikigai: “Your job is something you are good at, something you are passionate about, something you can make a living off of, and something that is good for the world. If you have all four of those things, it is harmony,” he says—adding, “It took me a long time to figure out how to get there.”

At each stage of my life and my career, I am always doing something that scares me.

Kong’s fellow panelist, Lilly Kam ’04, works as senior product manager at, a company that creates AI-powered wearable devices, founded by musician Kam also serves as advisor to the Foundation, a nonprofit that brings STEM education programs to students in underserved communities, and she is a cofounder of Hack for L.A., an organization that brings Los Angeles’s tech community together with city government to solve civic problems through utilizing open data and app development

Kam relates how her early professional path relied on serendipity (“I was really bad at going to career fairs,” she admits). An offer from a fellow alum’s startup took her to China, where she learned Mandarin and stayed for several years, moving into university research before transitioning back into tech. A chance meeting with at an event sponsored by her company led to her roles at his company and nonprofit when she later moved back to the US. Though she didn’t follow a predetermined route to where she is now, Kam looks back and sees a through line: “It’s about putting yourself in the right situations to be helpful,” she says. “Even though it might feel kind of scary, just do it.”

Kong concurs: “At each stage of my life and my career, I am always doing something that scares me,” he says. “You become more extraordinary in your life when you challenge yourself and you overcome challenges.”

Watch their conversation, and others in the MIT10 Brass Rat Chats career series, above.

Learn more about how you can join forces with MIT10 alumni and many other MIT departments and groups during the MIT 24-Hour Challenge on March 11.


Filed Under