P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Q&A: Physics PhD Student Iris Cong Looks Back At The Fellowship

  • iris march

    Iris and her parents at the 2018 Awards Dinner for the UCLA School of Engineering. Iris was selected among all graduates of the Class of 2017 as the sole recipient of the Edward K. Rice Outstanding Bachelor’s Student Award.


Born in Los Angeles, 2018 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Iris Cong is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who epitomize the American Dream. Her parents came to the United States in 1985 for their graduate studies, with only $30 each. After overcoming many challenges, Iris’s father became a distinguished UCLA professor, and her parents founded and sold two tech startups. Their inspiring stories taught Iris three indispensable lessons: pursue the best education, dream big, and persevere.

Iris decided early on to pursue scientific research, so she took calculus at age 11. At age 13, she skipped high school to enter UCLA, majoring in computer science. Amongst classmates of much stronger academic backgrounds, Iris persevered and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. That year she received the only school-wide Outstanding Bachelor of Science Award. As an undergraduate, Iris wrote four first-author publications, gave multiple invited talks, and won the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. 

A 2018 Hertz Fellow, Iris pursued her research in Professor Mikhail Lukin's lab at Harvard, where she has been working to develop and facilitate cutting-edge applications for near-term quantum devices. 

You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

The Fellowship has been not only what I expected but so much more! I never realized until attending the Fall Conferences that I could form such strong, lifelong bonds and friendships in just a couple days. I’m so thankful for the experiences I’ve shared with everyone in the PD Soros community–the staff, the Soros family, and the Fellows.

As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?

The PD Soros community gives me inspiration to persist through challenges, both within and outside of academics. The incredible research and innovations being developed by past and current Fellows continually motivates me to push myself harder in my own studies. I am also deeply moved by the stories of how many Fellows overcame hardships or adversity as New Americans to achieve their dreams. My experiences with the PD Soros community give me confidence, especially in these trying times, that immigrants do make this country great.

What has The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program brought to your life?

Through the PD Soros Fellowships program, I’ve gotten to learn about a rich variety of other New American stories. These experiences have helped me develop a deeper gratitude for many of the opportunities I have had. I’ve also formed so many lifelong friendships, which I will always be grateful for.

Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?

One of my favorite memories in the past two years was reuniting with the Fellows in my cohort on the first morning of our second Fall Conference. Even though we had previously only spent two to three days together, it truly felt like we were all one family. I’ll never forget the hugs we shared and the excitement that bubbled in the room that day.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

It’s easy to get stressed about fellowship applications but try to enjoy this opportunity to reflect on your past experiences and your future ambitions. How did you arrive at where you are today? What do you want to accomplish most, and why? When I wrote my application, I was a first-year PhD student deciding on a specific research area and lab. Delving deeper into these questions, I found the application quite helpful for learning more about myself and ultimately choosing my research path. ∎

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