Vivian Lee, Finalist 2008

Returns to Psychology Field After Hitting the Right Notes in High School

Vivian Lee
“My winning project focused on psychology, and it was evident that I had clear passion and talent for that field.”

This is the second of three articles following the extraordinary careers of former winners of the Austin Regional Science Festival.

Vivian Lee’s 2008 Best-of-Fair-winning project at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival may sound like a common science fair project.

“I joke that I basically put a new twist on the age-old project: ‘How does music help our minds?’” said Vivian.

Vivian said previous iterations of this scientific question were neither robust nor adequately controlled. There were too many variables such as differences in instruments, tempo and volume.

“My project hoped to systematically break down each of these components,” said Vivian. “I reasoned that if we could isolate the most beneficial pitches, the most beneficial volume, the most beneficial tempo, etc., then we could essentially ‘engineer’ musical soundscapes that would lead to the greatest gains in concentration.”

Her thorough research brought her to the international science fair competition and then MIT for a double degree in Economics and Management Science. Now, Vivian is pursuing psychology once again with the mission to help others with mental health disorders.

Then a student at Leander Independent School District’s Vista Ridge High School, Vivian competed in Science Fest all four years of high school. She won first in her category three years in a row and won Best of Fair in 2008. Vivian advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where she won second place in her category, two special awards and even an asteroid named after her.

After graduating from MIT, Vivian worked in mergers and acquisitions, public relations and marketing, and business development. However, she said she finally had a “light bulb moment” where she decided to return to her passion — psychology.

“My winning project focused on psychology, and it was evident that I had clear passion and talent for that field.”

Vivian is finishing a Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Texas State and plans to continue on to a Doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. In the meantime, Vivian has worked on various extracurricular research projects in collaboration with several institutions, including The University of Texas at Austin, Boston University and Harvard Business School. Some topics of her research included career conceptualization in adolescents, culturally informed eating disorder treatments and the psychology of viral videos.

Vivian is currently a counseling intern at Austin Recovery, a substance use disorder treatment non-profit. She also works as a Behavioral Health Counselor for Eating Recovery Center. Vivian said she is dedicating her life’s work to help others heal and overcome mental health hardships.

Vivian is also still participating in Science Fest, but now as a judge. Vivian has volunteered to be a judge at Science Fest since 2016. Austin Energy, the City of Austin’s publicly owned electric utility, hosts and sponsors Science Fest every year in February for nearly 3,000 students from 3rd - 12th grade.

“I'm consistently astonished with how intelligent these young minds are,” said Vivian. “There are some students conducting research that I have to pause and really think about. There are some that completely surprise me with new findings. And then there are some who — like I did once upon a time — take a popular topic and put their own unique spin on it.” 

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Date last reviewed or modified: 2/4/19

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