Alumni Profile: Justin Lee

Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Register to hear Justin speak on campus on Tuesday, March 5th at 6pm.

Justin Lee

Education

Courses 7 & 8 (S.B.) '08

Course 2 (S.M.) '11

Ph.D. HST '17

Biography

Justin is Director of Imaging Technologies at PathAI, an AI-for-healthcare startup based in Boston, MA. He has a varied background in optical engineering, computational imaging, deep learning, and medicine, and he loves that he gets to utilize a wide variety of these skills at work.

Justin graduated from MIT in 2008 with degrees in Physics and Biology. After a short stint in medical school, he returned to MIT for a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering and PhD in Health Sciences and Technology.

Justin Lee

Interview

What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?

 

I've always loved building things and originally wanted to double-major in Course 6-2 and Course 2 (and be able to "build anything"). After realizing that this would be too much work for me to handle, I decided to study Course 8 as a compromise, hoping that a solid physics foundation would make it easy for me to pick up EE and/or ME skills later in life. I acquired an interest in medicine at age 14, when my father died of lung cancer. I wanted to do work that I was not only passionate about, but also that I also found personally meaningful. As an undergraduate, I felt the best way for me to help cancer patients was to become an oncologist (Course 7/pre-med). Physicists and biologists treat problems in very different ways, and having a background in both engineering and medicine has enabled me to communicate comfortably with different engineers, scientists, and physicians.

 

What influenced your choice of graduate program/programs? How has it/have they shaped your career choices and professional ability?
In many biomedical engineering graduate programs, you come out with a mixed degree in medicine and engineering but aren’t really a true expert in either field. I wanted to study in a graduate program where I could grow vertically in a pure science/engineering discipline while also learning how to think clinically (“how can this work tangibly help patients?”) so that I could be in a position later in life to apply a core expertise toward various medical applications. I found the MIT HST program perfect for this and did my PhD in the 3D Optical Systems Group (Barbastathis Lab) at MIT. Having a solid engineering background and medical understanding has been absolutely instrumental in my ability to work effectively at my current position.

What do you wish you'd done differently or more of while you were at MIT?
It’s very easy to get bogged down in coursework and the week-by-week Pset grind. I wish I had taken more time as an undergrad to think about the big-picture in my classes — “Why am I learning this?/What do people in the world use these methods for?/When in history were these techniques developed and how do their stories unfold?” Having that wider perspective is motivating and makes it much easier to remember what you learn.
 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I love my job! I'm fortunate to have found an company/occupation that: 1. Is challenging and “fun” to me (my “work” doesn’t feel like work at all) 2. Utilizes a large chunk of my skill set (so many PhD’s end up working in totally unrelated fields) 3. Has a direct positive impact on cancer patients (personally meaningful).
 

Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, is really challenging. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?
Talk to a lot of people -- as many as you can from different walks of life. Having all those perspectives can help you make better-informed career decisions.
 

What's the best piece of career advice you've received?
Figure out what it is in life that matters to you and don't get hung up about the other stuff.
 

What career advice do you have for current MIT students?
If you have a lot of interests, consider working at (or founding) a startup. Things move a lot faster in startups than in research labs, and you get the chance to wear many hats.
 

What does "work-life balance" mean to you, and what do you do to maintain a work-life balance?
After having a kid, my whole life changed. I used to have a lot more hobbies, but now most of my free time is spent enjoying quality time with my family. All of my decision-making has changed to revolve around my children (Will this be good for him? Can he do X if I do Y?), and this includes trying to find good “work-life balance.” To me, that means balancing career growth and family. My son will only be young once, and I don’t want to look back later in life and feel like I’ve missed his entire childhood working. To do this balancing, I’ve sacrificed many of my older hobbies (I can always pick them up again after my kid is older or after my wife and I are more financially independent) and have actively searched for a career at a company where: - Work is task-oriented (vs. clocking hours in on-call shifts) - Day-to-day workload is realistic - Management is understanding and flexible with regard to working from home when I need to be with family (e.g., kid is sick and no babysitter is available). - Compensation is sufficient to provide for family and not be stressed about money - Management has children and understands first-hand what parents go through.
 

What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration?
Travel, build stuff, go on dates with my wife, hang out with family and friends.