Ever wondered how top STEM students get their start? Curious what sets them apart from the rest of the pack? Empowerly sat down with Changxiao, our CTO (Chief Technical Officer), to learn more about what extracurriculars in science helped him on his path to Princeton. We asked all the questions you might want to know. Read our interview to understand his perspective on admissions and high school extracurricular activities!
Changxiao had great achievements in various science fairs, the National Science Bowl, and Science UIL (University Interscholastic League) before attending college. At Princeton, he studied electrical engineering and computer science. His path to Princeton has taken him to work in Wall Street, IBM Blockchain, and Facebook Machine Learning. He continues to leverage that technical expertise at Empowerly to build the mentorship platform that enables any successful professional to provide personal and valuable mentorship to every student that needs it.
What were your accomplishments?
I was district champion for Science UIL 4 years in a row.
Also, I won the Science Fair Regional Grand Award for my region, State 3rd place for Chemistry, and earned a place as an Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) finalist & ONR (Office of Naval Research) award recipient–competing against 1700+ students.
I also won Science Bowl as regional first place, competing against 200 students, and a finalist in Washington DC as well.
Empowerly Tip: It’s a great idea to track your competitive field with numbers, like Changxiao does here. This adds credibility and communicates the scope of your accomplishment.
Could you describe your preparation process?
For the science fair, I started research in 10th grade with a professor. After research and some results, I made a poster and practiced presentation.
For Science UIL, I prepared with AP courses and some reading on the side.
For Science Bowl, I read a college general chemistry and organic chemistry textbook and took notes and basically memorized everything. General Chemistry took me 2 weeks, and Organic took about twice that time.
Empowerly Tip: If you have a subject you are passionate about, actively pursue it! Changxiao’s passion for STEM becomes clear through continued engagement with science opportunities.
How old were you when you won?
I mostly won these junior and senior year of high school. More specifically, I won science fair junior year and Science Bowl senior year.
Empowerly Tip: It’s effective to spend your first two years of high school on foundational skills, then showcase them in your later years once they are honed, like this. This provides a strong path to Princeton tier applications!
What previous experience did you have?
I didn’t have much previous experience in science fairs. It was my first time competing and doing research. For Science Bowl, I had a lot of knowledge from Science UIL and my AP courses, so I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.
Empowerly Tip: Starting early on your college roadmap allows you to build up skills to advanced levels by the time you start your applications.
How did you create such successful project?
To be successful, you need to have a great mentor to guide you. You also need to be doing real research and put in a lot of work. I think it’s about the resources you have access to and your work ethic. Also review other journals and publications and see how other people present their work. Presentation in science fair is—you must be concise and clear.
For science bowl, you have to be smart and fast. I knew enough to compete. That wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was learning how to think and get the answer to the problem in seconds, to be able to recall information quickly. That comes with practice.
Empowerly Tip: Reach out to your network, or ask others for help. Mentors who are willing to take the time to show you how to get where they are now are truly invaluable.
Do you have any advice for students who compete now?
My resources for research came from my father, who had a professor friend that was willing to allow me to do research with him. Generally from my experience any professor likes free labor so it shouldn’t be hard for a good student to find a research position.
For students now, they must start early, read a lot, don’t skim, and try to get a deep understanding of all the mechanisms in what they are doing.
Empowerly Tip: Taking initiative for your learning, and being a responsible student, pays its due dividends. Ultimately, you are in charge of your learning.
What is the difference between Science Bowl and Science Fair? And how did you like each?
I have opinions about the quality of the competitions because I’ve been to both Science Bowl and Science Fair. Science Fair is more prestigious and it’s a really fun time, and less stressful because you just have to worry about your own project, and you are not competing directly. Science Bowl on the other hand, I realized that everyone there is extremely smart and know so much about multiple subjects, even if they only specialize in physics or chemistry (I did chemistry mainly, but also was able to cover questions about physics and math).
Empowerly Tip: If you don’t enjoy a particular activity, that’s okay. You can find other activities (even still within your area of interest) that fit your learning style better.
Looking for more tips, and advice from a mentor like Changxiao? Empowerly can help you find your path, just like Changxiao found his to Princeton through science. Be sure to book a free consult with one of our team members to discuss how we can set you up with a counselor as soon as possible. The sooner you start working towards your dreams, the farther you will go.