Women's Lightweight Crew

MIT Lightweight Women Rowers Pulled to Nuclear Science

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT's Nuclear Science and Engineering major, better known as Course 22, is one of the smallest departments at MIT, with just forty-four undergraduates, nineteen of whom are women.  On the MIT lightweight women's crew, we are lucky to have three of these women.  Head coach Claire Martin-Doyle sat down with Lauren Ayers, '12, Lizzy Wei, '12, and Sara Ferry, '11, to find out more about how they became interested in nuclear science, their current research, how rowing has helped them outside the boathouse and how they balance the many challenges of MIT. 

Name: Sara Ferry

Major: 22 (Nuclear Science & Engineering), 8 (Physics)
Hometown: Hanson, MA
High School: Whitman Hanson Regional High School

 When you did you first become interested in Nuclear Science & Engineering?

When I was accepted to MIT, I had planned on majoring in chemical engineering, but as I began looking at the other majors, nuclear science and engineering seemed to stand out. It combined interesting physics with challenging engineering problems, and I was attracted to the clean-energy aspect of it.


What's the primary area of your research?


I work at the H. H. Uhlig Corrosion Laboratory, where we develop and study materials for advanced nuclear applications. For example, the project I've been involved with the most involved developing and producing a corrosion-resistant steel composite for use in future lead-bismuth cooled reactors. I love the materials engineering side of the nuclear field, since as reactors grow more advanced, the science of the materials used to construct them has to keep up, or those reactors can never become reality.


Looking back, what are the three main things you get out of rowing?  


- I love that no matter how busy things get with school, there are a few hours every day that I am going to be able to spend with my friends doing something we like doing.

- I like being in such good physical shape, and also like that crew more or less forces you to eat well and get sleep, which generally makes for a much healthier semester overall.

- The times we've spent together as a team when we're not rowing – whether it's dinner, traveling to a race, or hanging out in Florida watching TV – are some of my favorite memories from MIT.

How hard is to for you to manage your studies, research and workouts?


At this point, I've been a student at MIT for more than three and a half years, so juggling everything honestly doesn't feel hard anymore – it just feels normal. It definitely gets stressful sometimes, and it takes a lot of discipline to get everything done, especially on days when I'd rather just sleep in and be lazy, but it's all been worth it, and I wouldn't do anything differently if I could go back.

Have you had any interesting summer jobs or experiences?

I spent one summer doing research at MIT, and the next two summers in France: during the first, I studied nanotechnology at the CEA Grenoble. During the second, I lived in Paris and worked at Areva Nuclear Power, where I helped develop software for a new reactor. I'm heading back to Paris this summer to work at Le Laboratoire, which develops novel products and hosts exhibitions that explore the interfaces between art and science. I'm definitely looking forward to going back.

Name: Lauren Ayers
Major: Nuclear Science and Engineering
Hometown: Portland, ME
High School: Phillips Exeter Academy


Can you name some factors, which led you to become a NS&E major?

Aside from the subject, the small department – the fact that I know most of the other students and professors in the department. Course 22 is also really great with getting students into research; there are a lot of interesting UROP and internship opportunities.


What do you envision yourself doing in your career?

I'd like to do something that involves some hands-on work. I had the opportunity to visit Oak Ridge National Lab this summer (when I was in Oak Ridge for club nationals, in fact!) and it only strengthened the idea that I'd like to someday work in a national lab… doing exactly what, I don't know yet, but I would like to continue in nuclear materials, which is my current branch of research.


What was the primary reason you decided to join the crew?

I learned freshman year that I really enjoy the sport, but I disliked watching the workouts happen instead of doing them. I think the real pull was that it was very team-oriented; in high school I generally cared very little about how my cross country or track team placed, and was very focused on my own individual races; in crew, we all work hard because we want our boats to be fast, which brings us together.


How do you think your experience on the crew will help you after you've graduated from MIT?

Crew has taught me to be less afraid of failure. It used to be a constant fear of mine, and it's not anymore – but not because I'm now satisfied with failure. It's because I am less afraid than I was when I first started rowing to go out a little harder than I think I should in the beginning of a piece or set goals that seem out of reach, and it carries over outside of crew. I think  this will continue to help me be more confident in myself and the things I can do; I think it's also given me a willingness to work harder for what I want to accomplish, which I know will help me post-MIT, both in my career and my personal life.


Name: Lizzy (Elizabeth, but no one calls me that) Wei

Major: 22 – Nuclear Science and Engineering

Hometown: Cincinnati, OH

High School: Sycamore HS


Can you name some factors, which led you to become a NS&E major?

 I've always been attracted to the math and the detail involved in engineering, so I knew I wanted tostudy something from the School of Engineering at MIT, but also needed it to be applicable to medicine in some way, which Nuclear Science is through things like imaging, CT scans, and nuclear medicine. I also liked that NS&E exposes me to many different fields, such as chemistry ,mathematics, and physics, and requires me to take difficult classes in all those areas. It seemed like a good challenge to take on!

What's the primary area of your research?

 Radiation imaging and cancer treatment.


What do you envision yourself doing in your career?

 I want to be a practicing doctor, perhaps in radiology or radiation oncology.


Have you had any interesting summer jobs or experiences?

I got to work in different research labs at the University of Cincinnati. In particular, this past summer I got to work in an MRI imagine lab, I also got to experience Cincinnati's boat club, where I met and rowed with new people.


Looking back, what are the three main things you get out of rowing?

Three things I "get out of" rowing stand out to me. First, the irreplaceable friendships I form with my crewmates and coaches. Second, just the experience of being out on the gorgeous Charles River. Though I'm rowing hard, it's a time for me to clear my mind from all the stress of school and remember how blessed I am to have these opportunities at all. Finally, the intense physical workouts of course have instrumental value.


How do you think your experience on the crew will help you after you've graduated from MIT?

Crew has helped to create in me certain virtues that I will continue to bring to other things after I graduate, especially discipline and learning my role within a team and performing it well. I've learned how much of a difference it makes to have your teammates and coxswains encouraging you, and to do the same for others. Our coaches stress positive attitudes, good sportsmanship, and accountability, all of which I think are important disciplines to practice far beyond MIT.