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Anthony Kilbridge
Charles Hsu ’14 is coxswain for the MIT men’s heavyweight crew team. In addition to crew, Hsu also dabbles in violin-making, works at Weiss Lab, and aspires to become a surgeon.
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Charles Hsu ’14 is a sophomore in Course 7 (Biology) who is on the MIT Varsity Heavyweight Crew Team. He enjoys creating things and aspires to become a surgeon. Charles was on the 2011 MIT IGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine competition) team that placed fourth out of over 150 international teams. He is also working on the Solarclave project, which won the 2011 MIT IDEAS and Global Challenge competitions. The Solarclave is a low-cost solar-powered autoclave designed to provide third-world rural clinics with a portable and reliable method of sterilization. He is currently working in the Weiss Lab on genetically engineering autonomously patterning tissues, and has also worked on microfluidics and high-speed photography of cell-printing. Charles balances his scientific interests with his passion for the viola. Not only does he play his viola for a chamber music group, but pursues the craft of violin making in his spare time.

The Tech sat down with Charles to discuss life as a student-athlete on the MIT Varsity Heavyweight Crew Team.

The Tech: What do you like most about the MIT Crew team?

Charles Hsu: What I like most about the MIT Men’s Heavyweight Crew team is that while everyone is driven by the same gritty desire to pull hard and win. Everyone on the team is so enjoyably distinct in their humor, aspirations, and even physical properties. For example, we have one Mr. Jack, for whom the laws of thermodynamics do not apply. Always rowing in just his unisuit, snow or shine, the best we could ever get out of him was, “yeah my hands are a little cold.” Then we have a Bear whose mind is like a computer and can queue conversations in his mind while he writes code. We have an intimidating ninja on the team who can be the nicest guy at times, and half of our team is Course 16, so I enjoy many physics-related conversations. Just an extremely interesting bunch of guys, you know.

TT: Describe your role at the coxswain position.

CH: If the rowers are the body of the boat, then the coxswain would be the mind and soul. As the voice in the boat, the coxswain not only decides the tempo but also the personality of the boat. The coxswain both motivates and calms the crew, calls both aggressive and tactical moves, and relays visual information of a crew’s position in a race. The coxswain diagnoses technical problems in the boat from observations on timing, oar pressure, body movements, wind, and current, making for a rather challenging task. The coxswain does not physically engage in the sport, but without a coxswain a crew of eight is technically blind and psychologically divided. Being able to steer a good course is the most fundamental role of the coxswain, and is something gained through experience. The coxswain has control of the rudder, but also has to account for many other factors to maintain control. The coxswain holds in his hands the safety of a crew, and must be sharp and focused at all times.

TT: How do you find a balance between classes and sports at MIT?

CH: Being on the river, even on the harshest of days, is always a great break from schoolwork for me, so crew and school blend together well. In high school I was on the cross-country team, and training off race seasons helped keep my mind fresh.

TT: What initially got you into Crew?

CH: I was a walk-on to the MIT Crew Team. A teacher in high school told me that I would like coxing, so I decided to try it out, and found that I did indeed enjoy it very much.

TT: Describe your life as a member of the Crew team?

CH: The Heavyweight Men’s Crew team normally practices from 5 to 7 p.m. during the week, and from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays. We also have two one-hour morning lifts in the varsity weight room. After practice, guys will often go for a meal together, and we have lots of conversation, both crew and non-crew-related. In the spring, we have our racing season, during which we travel almost every weekend to a different race against one or two other crews. The winner claims T-shirts from the defeated. The season culminates at the Eastern Sprints, where schools in the league compete for the championship.

TT: What are your favorite classes and why?

CH: My favorite classes at MIT thus far were 8.022 in Fall 2010 and 5.13 in Fall 2011, because they were the two hardest classes I have taken so far at MIT. In 8.022, I learned how to use multivariable calculus to describe E&M phenomena, and in the largely mechanistic 5.13, I felt like I was finally learning the “chemistry” of chemical science.