Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Cayden Franklin (C '23) came to Penn hoping to make waves as a recruited athlete for Penn’s Lightweight Rowing Team. But his dreams extended outside of athletics, as Cayden hoped that Penn would provide him with the skills necessary of getting into an elite medical school. Now a second—semester senior, Cayden has found a different path for himself. He has since exchanged rowing for rugby, and these days you might find Cayden racing his way down the pitch instead of the Schuylkill. Outside of his athletic endeavors, Cayden has kept himself busy with academic research, volunteering at the VA hospital, and being active in his fraternity.
Name: Cayden Franklin
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Minor: Computer and Information Science
Activities: Greek Life, Bumble Ambassador, Tishkoff Lab, CHOP Volunteer, Club Rugby
How do your athletic endeavors affect the way you approach daily life?
Well for about seven or eight years of my life, I was all about one thing. That one thing was rowing. That was the most important thing to me in the world at the time, and by the end of high school, I was spending 40 hours a week at practice getting up at 4:30 a.m. I was rowing in the middle of January in a boat by myself. Then, I went to college and was still in that same rhythm. Morning practices, afternoon practices, lifts—all that stuff.
I think when you're in that headspace, it's very easy to view all of life as a competition. Everything [becomes about] position, how I'm doing, and so on. I think there are some really good things I've gotten out of that. I've gotten such great firsthand lessons about hard work, perseverance, time management, et cetera. Rowing races are like this: you hit the start line, and you know that at some point, within the seven minutes, your legs are gonna be shot. Your lungs are going to be on fire, and everything is gonna hurt, but you just have to keep going. I think that [athletics] has given me the ability to push through things and navigate challenges and obstacles in life by finding a way around them. But if I can’t, sometimes the only way out is through.
What prompted the switch from rowing to rugby?
One of the reasons I picked up rugby is because rowing is a full—time varsity sport and a full—time job. It's 30 to 40 hours a week. As a part of being on those teams, you're also going to be working out in your free time, because you just want to be good. You have to put in the hours. It's a full—time job, and balancing that freshman and sophomore year was a big challenge.
Over COVID–19, I kind of took a look at what I was doing and the things I was interested in. I got into volunteering and undergraduate research in a lab at Penn, and I realized that I want to make those a bigger part of my life and not rowing. So I started playing rugby; with two practices a week and one game a week, [playing rugby instead] made it much easier to fit everything.
Do you have a specific memory that really encapsulates your Penn experience?
When I was working in the Sarah Tishkoff Lab, I was doing research into some of the underlying genetic traits that impact height. When I first started [researching at the lab] I was just making graphs for someone else. Eventually, I started doing my own work, actually investigating, and shaping my own project. I was doing things the way I wanted to. And I remember I had been working on this [one project] for about three months, and I was sitting down with my mentor, who was a PhD student in a lab, and we're looking at my results and I was like, "You know, I think the conclusion here is this method just doesn't work. It does not provide any of the more relevant information we wanted."
I think I realized in that moment I'd sunk a lot of time into this, and I didn't get some crazy groundbreaking result, but that's okay. There's a lot of times in life where you have to accept that, you know, kind of going back to the competitive thing, we're not going to be number one most unrivaled success all the time. It's about how you move forward which is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned here.
How have you balanced your academic and social endeavors?
Everyone has 24 [hours] in the day. Sometimes I look at my peers and I think, "Wow. This person is doing some incredible research or academic work. Maybe if I had been less social I could have been doing more research, taking more classes or whatever." But there’s a cost to every extracurricular that you add and fill out your schedule with.
However, I also think that both [my social and academic endeavors] have helped shape me in different ways. I think that if I was only exploring myself in academic contexts, I would feel pretty unfulfilled. I’ve really learned and grown through having roles on the executive board of my social organization. I also think it would be super unfulfilling if all I was doing was just partying 24/7. I was just able to strike that balance between the academic and social that I am happy with.
What was the most meaningful experience that you’ve had at Penn?
I think as far as talking about things that give you meaning. I think one of the things that I did over COVID really helped [me] realize that at the end of the day, I just want to help people. I volunteered at the VA hospital, Corporal Michael J Crescenz VA Hospital, and I was helping elderly veterans get their shots. I got to see all of the different people from I don't know how many walks of life, backgrounds, and histories. There were guys who served in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and I just talked to them about their day as they [got vaccinated]. It was a fantastic experience.
What are you most excited for post–grad?
The opportunity to pick exactly what I want to do. I think a lot of people get a little stressed out or concerned when they’re graduating, because there’s a lot of structure to college life. All of your friends are in a small radius, if you’re in Greek life you have all of your social events planned, and you have classes that you have to go to at a certain time. But after I graduate, I get to figure out what work I want to do. I get to manage my career on my own basis. I gotta manage my friendships and relationships on my own terms.
I think I’m just really excited to see what I want to do. I didn't come into college thinking I wanted to do management consulting. I had no real interest in business. Actually, what I wanted to do was genetics, which I explored through my major and through research in a lab, and that's still something I could see myself doing. I know it's possible my path takes me back to another advanced degree and then into the biomedical space. I like that I now have the flexibility to decide when I want to do that. And so I'm really just really looking forward to finding that out.
What’s next for you after Penn?
I’m doing management consulting at BCG in Seattle.
No–Skip Song? "Delilah" by Fred Again.
Favorite Food Spot Near Campus? DIG.
Favorite Movie? Jurassic Park. That’s actually how I got my interest in biology in the first place.
Hidden Gem on Campus? Tangen Hall.
If you could choose your final meal what would it be? Sushi.
There are two types of people at Penn… People who swear by Penn dining and those that detest it.
And you are? I detest it.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.