Like others their age, Lynn and Paul Tran are looking at universities. Only these 16-year-olds are applying to graduate school at Duke and Emory.
The twins, who got a head start on college while still juniors at Forsyth Central High School, plan to graduate this coming spring from the University of North Georgia.
Their collegiate journey began when they decided to add some rigor to their class schedules through the dual enrollment program at the university.
In addition to their high school workload, they took 18 credit hours during that first semester. By the end, they had decided to change the arrangement.
“We realized that, first of all, 18 credit hours left us with a lot of free time and we felt like we could have made use of that time by just taking more classes that we enjoyed, a lot of the science classes that we really wanted to get into,” Lynn Tran said.
“Also, we thought that if we took as many classes as we could, then we could complete the requirements for the degree [before] next spring and we could actually go to medical school.”
So in fall 2012, when the twins began their senior year in high school, they decided to take even more college credits toward their double-major in biology and chemistry — a total of 47 college credits each.
This semester, the twins are each taking 26 credits — nearly double the normal college workload — and are on track to earn their degrees in May.
Their passion for knowledge began at an early age. Though they were born in America, their parents spoke to them only in Vietnamese, and always made learning fun.
“When we were little, our parents used to give us games to play that were more academically related,” she said. “We used to do math competitions at home.
“It was a healthy competition between Paul and I, and ever since we were little we’ve always wanted to do better.”
They entered kindergarten speaking no English, but by the time they completed the first grade, they had advanced enough to skip second grade. They also skipped fifth grade after two years of always one-upping each other to get a higher score.
“The driven part for us skipping grades and doing well was from us having competitions,” Paul Tran said.
A one-point difference on a test is cause enough to gloat, they said. Fortunately, both have earned only As in school and had the same high school grade-point average of 4.67 at graduation, tying for the highest in their class.
The competition is fierce, but Paul Tran admits — albeit just slightly — his sister would likely win an overall intelligence competition.
“Truthfully, Lynn is probably a little smarter,” he said. “She can think through things a lot more. I see this, especially when she writes her essays. I think she’s creative and through the essays I think it’s a good way to assess intelligence.”
Because they still had free time as full-time college students, the twins have undertaken responsibilities outside the classroom, conducting research. Their current project is working with bacteroides to explore antibiotic resistance, including specimens like E. coli.
Paul Tran said they are looking at an antimicrobial efflux pump and “trying to study that pump to see how good it is at pushing out antibiotics.”
Paul Johnson, an assistant biology professor at the university, said he gave the twins a “crash course on what an antimicrobial efflux pump was, how it worked, what classes of pumps there were, etc.”
“Then, only a few days later, they came back to me after having selected a bacteria that is challenging to work with and an uncharacterized efflux pump for their project, which told me how serious they are,” he said.
During their years at Central, where they were part of the class of 2013, the Trans were in the Flash of Crimson marching band, serving as co-drum majors during their senior year while also taking on more than 20 college credit hours each.
While they miss the band, they both also enjoy their university experience, which they’ve found surprisingly easier than high school.
“There was a lot of homework in high school. When I got to college ... there wasn’t that much homework,” Lynn Tran said. “I found it liberating.”
Despite the homework, the Trans were glad for their time at Central and the feeling was reciprocated by guidance counselor Grace Savage.
“Paul and Lynn Tran are exceptionally gifted students, and they truly understand the value of using their intelligence to impact the world in a positive manner,” Savage said.
While the siblings have managed to stay on top of their ambitious schedule, there hasn’t been much extra time for other activities, such as taking the driving test, which is why neither has a license yet.
They do, however, make time for family, which includes many close cousins. And that’s also why the two plan to stay close to their Forsyth home as they work toward doctorate degrees.
And wherever their careers take them, it’s unlikely they will be far apart.
“We do a lot of research together and we study together. Most of the time, we’re not arguing,” she said. “We’ve been together for so long, it would be really hard to picture ourselves too separate. We’ve kind of become really close friends.”
They both plan to continue on the biochemistry path, but Lynn Tran said her interests are more on the material chemistry side, whereas her brother prefers biophysics.
“We’ve been learning together for a very long time,” Paul Tran said. “It’s kind of funny. A lot of times during tests, even when we sit in different places, we still miss the same things. I think it’s quite probable that we’ll partner and we’ll probably live close to each other.”