Fellow Feature: Lauren Leung

“I want to understand the broader forces and problems that shape our world, so that I can be more targeted about where and how I choose to work.”

Lauren Leung is a Health + Tech fellow studying computer science with a minor in geography at UC Berkeley. Here, she shares about her academic interests, her personal mission to help others lead healthier lives, and the growth she hopes to accomplish through the fellowship.

“I originally thought I was going to study English and sociology when I came to Berkeley. After my first semester, I realized that these two majors weren’t right for me, and started surveying a wider variety of courses.

I decided to take a computer science (CS) course, as I didn’t have the chance in high school. I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t understand what programming was — the topic just seemed so nebulous — and I really wanted to find out. After taking CS61A and enjoying the class, I decided to major in computer science. I was apprehensive at first, seeing as CS was so different from what I originally intended to do in college. With this decision, my whole perspective for what my career might look like shifted, but it was one of those things where I knew that if I didn’t try, I’d always regret it.

“With this decision, my whole perspective for what my career might look like shifted, but it was one of those things where I knew that if I didn’t try, I’d always regret it.”

Having started in the humanities, are you still keeping up with your interests in those subjects?

Yes! I didn’t want to totally let go of the social sciences/humanities, so I looked around for a minor to add. I was introduced to the field of geography when I took Global Environmental Politics with Professor Ann Laudati (Geography 138), which was a really thought-provoking course. I thought we’d be talking about environmental issues and their relation to politics, but we dove deeply into the narratives and framings that shape many of the international issues around the world, often trying to understand the incredibly intertwined natures of problems.

After that I decided to minor in geography, as I saw it as a really interesting blend of physical science, history, sociology, politics, and economics. I really like the field because it heavily emphasizes the interdisciplinary work of all these different disciplines. A funny note is that I had been so indecisive with choosing my major and minor up to that point that when I told my friends, they just said they’d check back in two weeks to see if I was still the same.

Studying something else beyond computer science also helps to provide another perspective besides one that focuses on tech; I think tech-based solutions can only be effective when paired with research and understanding of the wider social factors involved. It’s also eye-opening to see the differences in what each discipline focuses on and considers integral to the future of our society. There’s no point for me to be working on creating software or products in the future if it doesn’t tangibly impact people’s lives in a positive way. And how will I know if it will? That’s why I want to understand the broader forces and problems that shape our world, so that I can be more targeted about where and how I choose to work.

“I think tech-based solutions can only be effective when paired with research and understanding of the wider social factors involved. That’s why I want to understand the broader forces and problems that shape our world, so that I can be more targeted about where and how I choose to work.”

What kind of impact do you want to make on the world through your academic and professional work?

I’ll be happy if, in my daily life, I can draw on my experiences and knowledge to inspire those around me to pursue their interests and feel supported and loved. It doesn’t have to be big; for example, after I decided to pursue CS, I realized that I was the only girl in some of my communities, compared to the number of guys. I know that this means when I introduce myself in those situations and state my major, I’m increasing the visibility of women in tech in a small way.

I also have had a few conversations with peers who were interested yet scared of taking CS courses. Usually when this comes up, I tell them to try it if they’re interested and to not be intimidated — to me, Berkeley’s CS culture strongly discourages those with no experience in the field from declaring the major and it seems like a lot of people have already convinced themselves that CS “isn’t for them,” or that there’s no way they could do well in the courses. But, I’m proof that it is possible — not through my own power alone; a lot of credit goes to those who supported me in my classes. I’m really grateful that I now am in a position to encourage and offer advice, when I had struggled with the same thing before. Again, all I need to do is present myself; if I can do it, so can others.

Professionally, I honestly have no idea what I want to do. I’ve been thinking more recently that it doesn’t really matter to me what career or position I hold, as long as I am able to enjoy my work, contribute to improving people’s lives, and go home and enjoy time with my family or friends. A large part of me does want to become successful, however, so I can help support my parents and ensure they have a comfortable retirement after many years of providing for my three younger siblings and me.

On the left, Lauren’s youngest brother joins her outside to “study.” On the right, her family.

During the first couple years of college, I was able to reflect on my relationship with food and my body. I realized that a lot of my attitudes and actions in middle school and high school qualified as disordered eating. I talked to some of my close friends about this, and I heard from many that they had also experienced this struggle with their body image growing up, yet never addressed it because at the time we all thought it was normal behavior. It wasn’t though; it was really damaging.

Through a combination of experiences starting in middle school, I’ve gradually come to develop a great appreciation for and passion for health, and stemming from that, fitness. This includes dealing with a major injury, body image issues, and poor mental health in high school. There are so many facets that can contribute to a person’s wellbeing. Being injury-free, sleeping well, managing stress, having healthy body image, proper nutrition, addressing chronic illness or pain… All these can help someone be as healthy as possible and achieve their professional and personal goals, and usually everyone is managing or struggling with something different.

Over the years, I’ve worked to have a more positive attitude towards my body and what it can accomplish, as well as build up a knowledge of nutrition and fitness that isn’t based in diet culture or making people feel like they have to look or perform in any specific way. When I have conversations with my friends now, we’re able to support one another in developing healthier mindsets towards ourselves. It really bothers me when I see people struggling with the narratives and false advice they’ve been given about fitness, so I’m also glad to be able to use any knowledge that I’ve built up over the years through dealing with it personally to counter this.

I also really enjoy physical activity as a stress-reliever and a way to set and achieve goals. I played volleyball in high school, and one of my friends got me into strength training during freshman year, which is fun. Currently I’ve been running more since it helps me get out of the house. It’s funny because I was that person who avoided running at all costs, and told everyone that “I just hate running.” But it just goes to show that sometimes you can end up enjoying something you thought was impossible. Being able to push my body in sport is a blessing and a privilege that I don’t take lightly at all.

Because of this, I think one area of work that might be interesting for me to enter is sports tech. I’d love to work on creating tools to help people live healthier lives, whatever that means to them, or help people recover from injury.

Lauren and her friends on a trip to Joshua Tree last winter.

As a fellow, I really just hope to learn a lot and grow out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done interviews for the purpose of design, or worked with many of the ideation/organizational tools we’ve been using. It’s great to get that practical experience and also to work with a variety of different teams.

I’m really glad that Dana and AJ place a big emphasis on mental health in the classroom, because something I’ve realized over the past few years is how important that is. I used to be fine with packing my schedule full of different activities and classes, basically feeling like if I had an hour [available], why not put something in it? But I’d get anxious simply doing things like grocery shopping or even stopping for an impromptu conversation, because of the time it would take out of my schedule for studying or doing club activities. I was running so thin I eventually broke down and randomly started crying on the 51B (sounds like a song title). That definitely wasn’t healthy — to be running around constantly without time to reflect, have fun, or even just rest.

I know that many of my peers in the fellowship are dealing with unusual living situations and time differences, but yet have committed to this program and are getting involved in really admirable ways. My hope is that we can all support and show one another understanding when things get tough.”

“My hope is that we can all support and show one another understanding when things get tough.”

Any other things you’re working on or enjoy doing outside the fellowship?

A woman with short blonde hair and a woman with short black hair hold up magazine in front of a pink wall.
A woman with short blonde hair and a woman with short black hair hold up magazine in front of a pink wall.
Lauren holds up one of Caliber’s recent issues.

I’m currently Head of Design at Caliber Magazine, which is an on-campus publication that publishes a semesterly magazine with a bunch of photography, writing, and illustration from our staff! (You should check it out.) I’ve been a part of the organization since fall of my freshman year, and I’m really glad to have something to work on that’s totally unrelated to my studies; I find layout design really calming and pleasing. Due to COVID-19, we didn’t publish an issue last semester so we’re going to be putting out one big issue for all of 2020, which is definitely going to be both fun and a lot of work for me to compile.

I also enjoy photography and have since high school. That hobby in particular is special to me since my grandpa, who was really passionate about photography, gave me his camera when I first was interested. I hope in the future my design, writing, and photography skills might inform my ability to think creatively and tell stories.

An assortment of Lauren’s photography, featuring her friends.

Connect with Lauren // As told to Alison Huh

Fellow Features is a series dedicated to showcasing the Fung Fellowship community and learning more about their lives and their stories. If you’re interested in being featured, please fill out our feature nomination form: https://forms.gle/bqVYCGUJFsAt99bW8

The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱

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