In the competitive landscape of Penn, where pre-professionalism often reigns supreme, students often feel lost amid the relentless pursuit of perfect resumes, impeccable cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles. In the midst of this, Christine Kong's journey stands out as a testament to the value of intellectual curiosity. She not only thrives in her chosen major but dares to explore her passions, whether they lead her to the lab bench or the symphony stage. As she approaches the culmination of her time at Penn, Christine imparts a vital lesson—one that emphasizes the profound significance of exploration.

Name: Christine Kong

Hometown: Glen Head, NY

Major: Biology and Health and Societies

Minors: Survey Research & Data Analytics and Computer Science

Activities: Penn Symphony Orchestra, Phi Delta Epsilon, Chemistry LA, Weingarten Tutor, Research and Volunteering at CHOP, Gryphon, Service Link, Peer Research Advising

Can you tell me a little bit more about what inspired you to get involved with Penn Symphony Orchestra?

It's actually a funny story because when I first came to Penn, I didn't intend on joining the orchestra. I thought I would leave that part of my life behind in high school, even though it was a big thing back then. I figured at Penn, I would have many new opportunities to explore different things. But somehow, I kept coming back to it and thinking about it. So I ended up joining in the spring of my freshman year, shortly after arriving on campus. I didn't even bring my cello initially. My parents brought it to me from New York because I didn't plan on playing. 

Now, I love it so much because I get to play many works and orchestral symphonies that I never thought I'd have the chance to play since I assumed I'd stop playing in high school. We actually have a concert tomorrow, and today, I'm doing an Instagram takeover. So it's something I've become more involved in as my journey at Penn continued. I also wish I had time for chamber music, but it's something I haven't been able to prioritize.

As a TA for Biochemistry and a Weingarten tutor, you're clearly involved in teaching and mentoring. What's the most rewarding experience you've had while guiding fellow students in their academic journeys?

Especially for organic chemistry, last year, I did a lot of group tutoring and one-on-one tutoring. It was very rewarding to identify what a student was struggling with and provide them with focused practice problems, tips, my own notes, or study guides. They would come back to me and say, "I did so well on my exam, thanks to you," and that's incredibly fulfilling. Now that I'm a TA for biochemistry, it's even more involved. I teach classroom recitations, and it's a way for me to apply the knowledge I've accumulated over the years while giving back to students who are having a tough time. 

These classes are challenging, and I remember how much I struggled with the workload and content. I enjoy teaching and seeing people understand things. It's come full circle as I've had students come up and tell me they're now tutors for the same subjects I tutored them in, which is heartwarming. I'm also passionate about mentorship. I'm a CURF research peer advisor and a College Peer Advisor, so I often have one-on-one meetings with my advisees, helping them find the right professors for their classes, get involved in research, or start their research journeys.

Can you share how your interests in HSOC, anthropology, bioethics, and the sciences have intersected and influenced your research in mitochondrial diseases?

So I do mitochondrial disease research. And I think when I say that, a lot of times people don’t even know you could do that because the common preconception is that the mitochondria are just the powerhouse of the cell. But I respect them so much now because they're so important in the body that they are in almost every cell. And disorders of the mitochondria can really have some debilitating effects. So I think the research that I do, combines all of my interests into one in a very unique package: biochemistry and all these mechanisms that I've learned about metabolism, and then it combines all these other sciences like Orgo, while also being a very, ‘lab bench to bedside’. 

For example, I use the cells that my PI collects from the patients that she sees in clinic and whenever I shadow her, I'm able to see the patients whose cells that I'm working on. So it feels very full circle. I know what my work is going towards. [Right now] mitochondrial disease has no cure and doesn't really have many viable treatment options in the long term. So I think it just makes me feel good that no matter what I do, even if it's really small, it’s probably making at least a little bit of an impact on the community. 

I know that the mitochondria seem really niche, like, it's such a random thing to be interested in. But I've genuinely found a very deep interest in it and how it connects to all these other organ systems and all these other scientific fields. And now that I'm a senior, I'm at CHOP literally every day. Because whether it's research or volunteering, I've become really involved with the community there in terms of seeing the impacts of my research. I just love hanging out with kids and making them feel better.

I've heard through the grapevine that you put together an Anatomy Fashion Show for CHOP! How did it feel to support CHOP in that way?

So, that was actually during my role as Vice President of Finance for our student organization. My main responsibility was fundraising for our local philanthropy, which is quite a job in itself. I was involved in raising funds for them in a sort of tertiary way. We had this idea last year to organize an anatomy fashion show on campus, which had been done at other schools across the country, but had never been attempted at our university. So I took on this undertaking and all throughout the summer, I was planning it, recruiting people, reaching out to sponsors and donors. And then it happened in the fall 2022.

The concept of the show was to have models wear body suits representing different organ systems, like the muscle system or the circulatory system, and then walk down a runway. But it wasn't the most successful event. I've done a lot of other fundraisers since the anatomy fashion show. Since the anatomy fashion show, I've organized numerous other fundraisers, and almost all of them have been more successful. And almost all of them have been so I think it also taught me a lot in terms of sometimes you just put in so much of your work, and it just doesn't pan out. And that's perfectly okay because that's just how life works sometimes. 

I look back on it now and can't help but laugh at how silly and goofy the whole idea was. There was even a DP article written about it, so it was a fun experience. I doubt I'll ever do something like that again, and I certainly wouldn't encourage anyone else to try it, but it was a cool and unique little venture.

If you think through your three years at Phi Delt, what’s the one moment that stands out?

Well, besides the anatomy fashion show, I've been involved in a lot of really enjoyable fundraisers during my time as VP of Finance. One that stands out is our Python event in the spring of 2020. We managed to get nearly all the class presidents and even a professor to participate, which was quite a feat. Our marketing campaign featured the involvement of class presidents from various years, and we even had Kanye Lou Boston, who performed at the concert. It was a fantastic day, and I have some great pictures to look back on.I've also organized other fundraisers like a poker night and 'Drench a Delta,' where people could pay $10 to dump a bucket of water on someone's head. These events were all about finding creative and innovative ways to make fundraising enjoyable and not your typical run-of-the-mill experience.

You have an incredibly diverse set of interests and experiences. Can you share one surprising or lesser-known fact about yourself that people might find intriguing?

I think, judging from my experiences, people tend to assume that I'm somewhat reserved, which, well, I am to some extent. But here's the thing–I'm genuinely interested in almost everything. I mean, if I had more time at Penn, I would've loved to take classes in history, music, Poli Sci, or pretty much anything else. That's probably why I feel like my academic journey has been quite scattered. Part of me is deeply rooted in the STEM world, but another part of me values the humanities, interdisciplinary studies, anthropology, and just stepping back to take a more holistic view of the world. I find that balance between these aspects is a journey in itself. It's like trying to merge the scientific side of me with a more relaxed, open-minded approach to life and the world. You can probably tell what I study by what I study, which is a bit boring, I suppose. But here's something fun–I'm really into crosswords and puzzles. My goal is to complete a Sunday New York Times crossword all by myself without checking any answers. Not sure when that's going to happen, maybe someday. Oh, I also enjoy a good solid core workout, and I'm trying out new exercise routines. Yeah, I might be a bit basic, but I'm just here, living my 'hot girl' life, you know?

What was your favorite class? 

I took a capstone class with Andy Johnson, which was all about sports and medicine. I absolutely loved my project for it. You know about the pink tax for period products, right? It's about paying extra for certain products because they're marketed towards women. Well, I discovered that this pink tax exists in other areas as well, like for haircuts; women often pay more, even though men can have long hair too. Another example is laundry; sometimes, it's more expensive for women. 

So, I wanted to see if this pink tax also existed in athletics, specifically for athletic clothing. I compared different sports like tennis, golf, soccer, and so on. I did online shopping and noted whether items like tennis skirts were priced the same as their male counterparts like tennis shorts. Obviously, the women's clothing was significantly more expensive. I dug into the history to understand why this was the case, and it turned out that tennis, golf, and swimming were the biggest culprits. These sports have a history of reinforcing traditional gender roles. So, it was fascinating. I even came up with a method to analyze it and called it the 'pink tax percentage' to describe whether an item is more expensive for women. I grew up playing a lot of sports, although I'm totally retired from them now. But the class itself was all about the history of sports and sports science. Have you heard about the LZR swimsuit from the 2008 Olympics that made everyone faster? It's crazy how it led to records that will probably never be broken. So, that's what we learned about in the class–the history of sports, sports science, and various issues like gender discrimination in sports. It was all super interesting.

You were on a time square billboard? 

Oh my God, I won this science competition back in high school. One of the prizes was having our pictures from the award ceremony displayed on a billboard in Times Square. Another fun fact I often mention is that during the same science competition's award ceremony, Bill Nye was there, and I had the chance to meet him. I was like, 'Oh my God, can I get a picture with you?' and he was like, 'Yeah, but make it quick.' He didn't even smile for the photo. So now I enjoy spreading some anti Bill Nye propaganda.

Lighting Round: 

If your life was a reality TV show, what would it be called? Process overload

Campus celebrity? All of my friends exes

The worst question your student mentees ask?  Will this information be provided for us on the test? 

There are two kinds of people at Penn… the people on Locust who are “flyering” and yelling and the people who are walking really fast trying to avoid them. 

And you are? I’ve been both. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.