Xiao Xiao, PhD

Creative technologist, mit

“Once you establish a framework for something, there’s also the danger of people who grasp on and refuse to see [beyond] it.”

"Insufferable". That's how Dr. Xiao imagines her high school peers saw her. Chasing the image of the ideal student internalized by her childhood in China, she became rigid in her pursuits. Her skill at piano and her aptitude in math became deeply entwined with her identity. She developed a framework for success, and as frameworks sometimes do, it evolved into a barrier.

At her core, Dr. Xiao is both an artist and a scientist. It was just a matter of time before her built identity fractured to make room for who she actually wanted to be. For a while, she swung from one extreme to the other, treating creativity and scientific inquiry as independent forces but finding it difficult to step away from either. There was an ongoing battle between social pressures to be the traditional "best" - following the rules - and taking a chance on improvising a new path. Her story exemplifies the impact that treating subjects as too distinct or grades as too much of a proxy for success can have on students.

It takes a lot of courage and persistence to decide you will fill a space that is rarely filled in society - in Dr. Xiao's case, the space between art and science. Today, Dr. Xiao studies learning music as a model for understanding how the mind forms complex thoughts. She uses piano in her work. She carved out space for both to co-exist, and she is an advocate for making it much easier to follow in her footsteps. Students should feel encouraged to break the mold, to define their own questions, make mistakes, use any combination of tools that call to them, and decide what their own success looks like.