To Winston Peloso (C ’23), the world can be broken down to a mathematical equation. Sitting outside Houston Hall in the late afternoon, he easily switches between scientific jargon and the casual lingo of students as he talks about his time at Penn; emotions about senior year are carefully parsed, meanwhile the scientific process of creating purified crystal can be explained away as “super fucking specific.” 

However, despite the love of numbers that has defined his time at Penn as a physics and math double major, Winston is adamant that success is something that simply can’t be quantified. Tossing aside traditional numeric measurements of accomplishment, he looks to redefine his own metric of success, both at Penn and as he pursues further education.  

Winston’s passion for math emerged somewhat accidentally after he was placed in an advanced math class in 7th grade, a year later than the rest of his peers. Winston reflects back on the moment with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What the hell, I don't want to be in advanced math,' but my mom was like, ‘you're definitely going to be an advanced math.’ I was like, ‘Fine, whatever.’” That nonchalant acquiescence soon transformed into a love of math and science, as he discovered that his classwork could be utilized as a lens to understand the gritty details of the world around him. 

He smiles as he remembers a friendly neighbor he worked for as a gardener throughout high school. The man's profession had remained a mystery until Winston noticed the excess of physics books around the house, realizing that the many trips that were funding Winston’s pocket money had been for experimental physics research. When the neighbor asked Winston to join his lab, his answer was automatic. “That sounded like the fucking perfect thing,” Winston recalls. 

His experience working in a lab that summer confirmed his interest in experimental physics and set him down the path of research. But while discovering his passion for science that summer, Winston also experienced his first taste of failure. After months of development and thousands in investment, the lab created an ultra-purified crystal that they were going to send into testing. Winston was moving the crystal when he slipped and dropped it—shattering the $10,000 crystal and container across the lab floor. “I emotionally dissociated,” he said thinking back on the episode, “Completely blacked out.”

Winston spent hours that day in the laboratory sorting through shards to attempt to reconstruct the crystal. Ultimately, the lab was still able to send it out for testing, and the research continued. “You can fuck up and it can still be okay. You people definitely have a lot of anxiety when you don't necessarily need to,” Winston says, “Myself included. Definitely, myself included.” Both in the lab and the real world, Winston discovered that after any mistake, all you can do is dust yourself off, pick up the broken pieces, and keep on going. 

Winston continued to pursue his love of physics attending the University of Colorado at Boulder before transferring to Penn his sophomore year. That year, however, ended up challenging him in new ways. Considering a major in biophysics, Winston needed to fill out a prerequisite in cell biology and decided to take "Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology," BIOL 251. While intro biology was a prerequisite for the class, he figured that he would be easily able to catch up on the basics. What he didn’t realize was that the class primarily catered to seniors, many of whom were pre–meds majoring in neuroscience. 

Initially, Winston was confident, acing the first exam on electromagnetism. Then the tides shifted. “The second, third, and final exams just wiped the fucking floor with me completely,” he remembers, “That class fucking wrecked me.”

After that class, Winston decided to focus on physics and math, rather than biophysics. “I figured out that I'm not that interested in doing that kind of investigation.” He says, “You always take something away from any class that you take, even if you take away that you don't like that thing. You should take it as a learning opportunity to learn about yourself and your relationship with the different things that you can do.”

Reflecting, Winston realizes that part of his challenge stemmed from the way the class was taught. He noticed that pre–med courses tended to cover far more topics, while physics and math classes looked at fewer concepts but in greater detail. “What I did like I ended up remembering fairly in–depth. In a math course, it would be considered a relative success. But not in the case of that class,” Winston says. “I think that speaks to the very wide breadth of different communities at Penn. What’s a failure in one space is not necessarily considered a failure in another space.” 

Winston's worked internally to decouple his personal view of success from his grades—instead his metric of success is about passion. “I think that if you have something that you do that you value deeply personally, then that's something that you should consider doing." Watching his eyes light up as he talks about electrons and photoconductivity, it’s clear that Winston has clearly succeeded in finding his niche. Several times, he asks me to cut him off as he dives into a tangent on atom lattices or refraction—yet it's virtually impossible not to be drawn in by his colorful descriptions of science that could convince anyone of of its magic.

Still, he recognizes his laid–back attitude toward grades is unique in a school with a wide breath of academic attitudes and metrics of success. “I've met some academic units who are absolute motherfucking units. They're extraordinarily intelligent, and they have, like, out–of–the–water GPAs. I feel like we can acknowledge that people like that exist.” he says “I don't happen to be one of them and I'm okay with that. I can still contribute to science, and I'm still going to do my fucking best to be a scientist.” 

With a variety of communities at Penn, Winston is sure that, eventually, students will find their place if they just continue trying new things. His number one piece of advice: “If you are down bad academically, you should talk to people.” It’s difficult advice in a culture focused on success and images and something he himself still struggles with, but at the end of the day, he’s always found support from his professors and mentors when he gathers the confidence to ask for it. 

Paying forward the guidance that's gotten him to where he is, Winston is an active mentor in the community, working with the undergraduate physics chair to bring more undergrads to faculty events, guiding freshmen through the research process, and teaching physics at Paul Robeson High School. As a TA, he works to share his care–free attitude toward learning within the high-stress environment of Penn, so that students can have a chance to just enjoy learning. “I find it very important to create a place when I'm teaching that is as low anxiety as humanly possible. Because then people are open to being curious and just have less anxiety about not knowing things,” he says. 

After graduation, Winston is heading to Cambridge for a year before pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I definitely owe more successful things to previous failures and learning back then,” he says, looking off towards the construction in front of Houston Hall. It's a perfect metaphor for the messy, somewhat inconvenient nature of growth. After all, as physics shows, it takes friction to move forward.