Thank you, MIT
Maddy Kline SB ’20 shares how her MIT experience and the COVID-19 pandemic have shaped her career goals.
People sometimes seem surprised when Maddy Kline tells them that both of her parents are psychologists.
“When I reveal this to people, many immediately ask the question, ‘Do you feel like you get psychoanalyzed all the time?’” Kline says. “They carry this assumption that I must get more emotionally scrutinized than the average kid, which might be true. But, overall I think my upbringing instilled my desire to choose a career that put people first.”
Thanks to her childhood, Kline’s decision to pursue a career in medicine and health equity was obvious at a young age. With this in mind, Kline graduated in May 2020 as a dual major in biology and chemistry (“Course 5-7,” in MIT lingo). Now, she is excited to start her MD-PhD at Harvard Medical School this fall term.
In the meantime, she’s staying with her family in Sudbury, Massachusetts, reflecting on her cumulative experiences in both MIT science departments. Throughout her four years and global travels, she discovered her love for the microbiome and a passion to make healthcare more equitable – two topics she hopes to merge as a future career.
Kline remembers the daunting decision of choosing which college to attend, and ultimately picking MIT because of its culture.
“I was attracted to MIT’s culture of hard work and passion for making change,” she says. “I felt that the students really cared about global problems and gained skills to impact change, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
As an incoming freshman in 2016, Kline was excited to learn more about medical research and how to improve health on a larger scale. Her introductory biology course, 7.015, sparked the beginning of what would become her current passion: infectious disease and pathogen evolution.
Sitting in her 7.015 lecture freshman year, Kline learned about the microbiome — the microbes that reside in the human body — and was amazed by the untouched research areas related to antimicrobial resistance. This piqued interest inspired her to participate in the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program, which funds students to conduct research in foreign countries. Specifically, she applied to the MIT-Chile Program. For 10 weeks, Kline analyzed data on antimicrobial resistance in Santiago, and gained new insights into the global nature of the antimicrobial resistance crisis.
“Through my work in Santiago, it was evident that drug-resistant organisms don’t abide by man-made borders,” Kline says. “I gained insight into the unique considerations of antimicrobial resistance in different cities and countries. Ultimately, I learned this is a global problem that requires a global perspective and international collaboration to address.”
Returning from this eye-opening summer, Kline was determined to delve deeper in microbiome research. In her sophomore year, she joined the Collins Lab in the Department of Biological Engineering through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which she describes as “an incredible experience learning cutting-edge research in applied science and an immersion in the process of scientific research.”
Kline’s research focused on using the microbiome as a diagnostic for disease. She joined the lab to work on creating a diagnostic tool that could differentiate between irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. The microbiome consists of hundreds of bacterial species that vary in population size depending on the environment. In theory, these differences between bacterial species and their host environment can be detected and used to identify one disease state from the other. For the next three years, Kline aimed to detect these differences through novel diagnostic techniques, a project she hopes will be clinically-accessible in the future.
While in the Collin’s Lab, Kline heard about a two-week course named “Evolution of an Epidemic.” This program, which is sponsored by the MIT-Harvard Program in the Health Sciences and Technology (HST), brings students to South Africa to study the history and current status of HIV. Interested in expanding her perspective and understanding of global health disparities, she applied and was accepted as one of a handful of students.
For the month of January of her junior year, Kline traveled to South Africa and learned how the local healthcare system was tackling the HIV epidemic. During this experience, Kline saw first-hand issues in healthcare accessibility.
“We saw very isolated, rural clinics where access to highly modern technologies such as next-generation sequencing devices or a qPCR machines were not easily available,” Kline recalls. “For instance, we visited a program where traditional healers used HIV rapid diagnostics to connect their patients to care in the hospital system. Seeing this program shaped my vision of accessibility of the diagnostics I wanted to create; accessibility can be an issue of cost, but also ease-of-use and interpretability.”
As an MIT student with access to cutting-edge science, Kline realized that she was in a position to make a difference. Upon returning to campus that spring, she pursued a new project in the Collins Lab that focused on creating a low-cost, easy-to-use HIV diagnostic tool. This tool checks for common resistance mutations in the HIV virus, which would help guide what treatments to use for specific patients.
Moving forward, Kline intends to continue to strive to create solutions that are accessible for all — addressing clinical problems with simple, low-cost solutions in mind. In the case of HIV, this might mean creating a quantitative diagnostic test that the local healers can use with minimal resources needed.
Like many, Kline’s senior year was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she was sad to have missed out on senior year festivities, Kline is equally eager to attend medical school during this significant time in history.
“This pandemic has exposed so many breaks in our system like the disparity of infection rates between racial communities,” she says. “It’s an incredibly complex time to enter the medical profession but also a momentous time to make sure we play an active role in shaping the system we’re about to become part of. I am eager to use the skills MIT has taught me and start my training so that I can play a part in preventing and responding to future health crises.”
As her MIT chapter comes to a close, Kline will be forever grateful for the opportunities and friendships she made. Specifically, the MIT Biology faculty and elective courses provided by the department were highlights of her four years. Thanks to these academic communities and extracurricular clubs such as GlobeMed and Chorallaries (MIT’s oldest co-ed a capella group), Kline’s undergraduate career was an unforgettable experience.
Kline thanks MIT for teaching her how to critically think and learn. “MIT prepared me to think about problems and, more importantly, let me know what I still need to learn,” she says.