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Master of Finance student conquers new horizons after winning sailing championship

Teamwork and perseverance—the hallmarks of sailing—translate well to Master of Finance program.

By Amy MacMillan Bankson  |  November 30, 2016

2016-Lee

Rachel Lee (right), her coach Zhang Yong Qiang, and partner Cecilia Low, after the 420 World Championship. Photo: Mervyn Kwok

The rigors of competitive sailing are comparable to studying in MIT Sloan’s Master of Finance program, said Rachel Lee, MFin ’17.

Lee should know. She starting sailing at the age of 10, and within a year, was competing in international events in Southeast Asia. She repeatedly finished in the top three places in the International Optimist Dinghy Association Team Racing World championships between 2006 and 2011. The following year, she and her sailing partner, Cecilia Low, won the 420 World Championship, becoming the first Asians to win the women’s 420 title. The 420 is a small, two-person racing boat that measures 4.2 meters (approximately 14 feet) in length.

Lee was on track to potentially compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but instead she left competitive sailing in 2013 and voluntarily enlisted in the Republic of Singapore Air Force, with plans to train as a fighter pilot. Today, she is a member of the MIT Sloan Master of Finance class of 2017, where she calls on the teamwork lessons she learned in her sailing years.

The decision to walk away from sailing and a potential Olympics bid was tough, but Lee had her long-term future in mind when she joined the military, which sponsored her enrollment at MIT Sloan.

“I wanted to do something that was meaningful and had a sense of purpose,” said Lee, who has an undergraduate degree in economics. When she is done with her military obligation, Lee will work in finance, possibly in the public sector.

Lee’s experiences have already charted a course that will serve her well. In sailing, the exposure to uncontrollable weather patterns and competitors’ strategies demands a high level of versatility and adaptability, which are skills that are relevant for flying military planes, Lee said. And both sailing and flying require a perseverance that has proven helpful in the Master of Finance program, which is known for its both rigorous and collaborative environment.

“Sailing teaches you about teamwork. There is a certain value to working on a team … when you train alone, you are not going to improve as much as when you are training with someone else. If you are training together, you pull each other up,” Lee said.

Lee said she misses competitive sailing, but she has taken up a new hobby—windsurfing on the Charles River in Cambridge.