At just 22 years old, Cuban-American Sabrina González Pasterki has graduated from MIT with a perfect GPA, received an open job offer from aerospace developer/Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and been featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. Sabrina – who is currently a doctorate student at Harvard studying theoretical high energy physics – could coast for the rest of her life and still have an impressive résumé.
At the age of 12, when most kids would rather be at recess than in the classroom, Paterski was building a plane. This Chicago native later taught herself to pilot it, taking a solo flight over Lake Michigan in 2009 (for which she had to obtain special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.)
This would seem like a big enough achievement – but for the woman who is being touted as the next Albert Einstein, answering the question “what have you done lately?” is a constant motivator. She got the mantra from a high school teacher who, upon learning that she had flown a plane said: “That’s nice, but what have you done lately?”
Since adopting the motto, Paterski has been racking up accomplishments. In 2012, midway through her education at MIT, she decided to shift her focus from engineering to physics, and proved equally adept at this field, gaining admission to a Ph.D. program at Harvard.
Funnily enough, however, Pasterski almost didn’t make it to either school. According to an interview with Forbes, she was initially rejected by both as an undergraduate, and later selected off MIT’s wait list.
“It was an interesting experience because it might have actually pushed me a little bit to re-evaluate where I wanted to be,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “(It) was a bit of a blow. At some level, I’m glad that I didn’t (apply to more schools), because if I had a safety school, I don’t know if I could have pushed myself in off the wait list.”
She credits being waitlisted as the reason she did so well at MIT; Sabrina felt she had something to prove. Now, she is studying space-time and black holes at Harvard, with a special focus on explaining gravity through the context of quantum mechanics. Her work has many in the media dubbing her Einstein’s successor.
While Pasterski has gotten attention for her work and academic achievements – in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, for example – she doesn’t seem to care much for the limelight. Other than a barebones website named PhysicsGirl, she doesn’t have a large digital footprint. She has no smart phone and even stays away from the most professional social media platform, aka LinkedIn.
Sabrina may not talk about her future in physics because “a theorist saying he will figure out something in particular over a long time frame almost guarantees that he will not do it,” but she would like to run an interdisciplinary laboratory in the future. In the meantime, she’ll continue making her high school teacher proud.
“I definitely feel like I have way more to do,” she said. “It’s great to get recognition now, but hopefully it builds up to something. I’ll hopefully be right about having some kind of gut feeling that (will become) rather big at some point. Fingers crossed.”