Skip to content ↓
MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Incentive to Drop Out by Matt McGann '00

Two MIT students get $100,000 and lots of opportunities in a two-year fellowship.

Yesterday, the Thiel Foundation announced the first class of the “20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows.” Though actually numbering 24, all of the Fellows are indeed under 20 years of age. According to the press release, more than 400 people applied, a selection rate of less than 6%. The fellowships are the idea of Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal.

The Fellows were selected to “become the next generation of tech visionaries.” Dealbook said the objective was “Finding the Next Mark Zuckerberg.” Each winner receives $100,000 and two years of support from Thiel’s network in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The MIT students (or should I say former MIT students?) who won the fellowship are Laura Deming and Jeffrey Lim. Deming was one of only two women to win (and the only American woman); the other 22 Fellows are male. Here are the official bios from the Thiel Foundation:

Laura Deming wants to extend the human lifespan for a few more centuries—at the very least. She started working in a biogerontology lab when she was 12, matriculated at MIT when she was 14, and now at 17 plans on disrupting the current research paradigm by changing the incentives embedded in today’s traditional funding structures. Too often, researchers design quick incremental projects to please grant-making bodies instead of taking on risky, long time horizon problems. With her fund IP Immortal, Laura plans on commercializing anti-aging research, bringing therapies out of the lab and into the market sooner.

Jeffrey Lim wants to increase the amount of voluntary exchange and cooperation in the world by revamping some of our core economic and social institutions. He believes it’s time the means of exchange caught up with the Information Age. Once he stops out of MIT, Jeffrey plans on using his fellowship to create technologies that will help people self-organize to solve social problems. He’s particularly interested in helping people protect the wealth they create from the harmful effects of inflation.

I can add a little more about each.

Laura is a sophomore majoring in physics. At MIT, she has done research in the Weiss Lab and Glenn Lab. She is a sister of the Sigma Kappa sorority and has a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Jeffrey is also a sophomore, majoring in computer science. He does linguistics research and competed in the International Linguistics Olympiad. He is a brother of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.

Congrats to both Laura and Jeffrey! And whether or not you return to MIT in two years, I wish you all the best for the future!

Interested in applying next year? The Thiel Foundation says that information about applications for the next round of fellows will be available at in late October.

9 responses to “Incentive to Drop Out”

  1. anon says:

    Wait, I’m a little confused. Laura matriculated when she was 14, but is now 17 and a sophomore? Did she take a few years off…? Either way, congratulations to both of them!

  2. prefrosh says:

    This is funny because I read an article about this just a week ago. It wanted to give college students an incentive to drop out. I recall my MIT interviewer saying “I like MIT. It doesn’t waste your time like other colleges do.” When I read the article, I had to agree. I wouldn’t drop out of this school because it’s way too amazing for me. but congrats to them. smile

  3. prefrosh says:

    for anyone interested, this is the article btw:

    this is a very interesting opportunity.

  4. Piper '13 says:

    @anon – Her birthday could’ve been between matriculating and starting attendance, and she could be a sophomore/rising junior.

    @prefrosh – Sometimes you can have the best of both worlds! You are allowed to take time off from MIT. I’ve seen people decide to spend a couple of years at a startup, then return to finish their degree. ^_^

  5. prefrosh says:

    In that case, I think I’ll do it :D.
    might as well take a risk & be able to come home if I need/want to wink

  6. @prefrosh:

    Definitely agreed. After a year here, I can’t consider any of my classes to have been a waste of time. I think that’s definitely something to consider when reading philosophies about dropping out of college because it’s not really worth anything. I mean, sure, if you have a really strong incentive, go for it– but I think MIT really is worth the time and effort, and maybe even the expense.

  7. abnormLomma says:

    Great Post. I add this Post to my bookmarks.

  8. JW Deming says:

    Laura’s birthday on May 4 explains all. Laura was 14 when she was accepted by MIT in April 2009. Then she turned 15 on May 4 before matriculating at MIT at age 15 in September 2009. Since her birthday is May 4, she just turned 17 after spending most of her sophomore year at MIT as a 16 year old. If Laura returns to MIT in 2 years, she will be c. the same age as most other students in her class.

    BTW, Laura loves MIT and really appreciated the students, grad students and profs that she worked with there. In her opinion, they’re some of the greatest human beings around. Adrian, if you happen to read this, you’re probably at the top of that list.

  9. Angela says:

    Regarding “Deming was one of only two women to win (and the only American woman)” – actually, I know of at least one other woman who won, but she declined. Given the nature of the fellowship, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a fair number of kids turn it down.