Tag Archives: inspiration

Thiel Fellowship Finals – The Real Version, please ignore earlier versions

Sorry. I realize the post I published earlier had some factual errors. Please ignore it, and here is the correct one.

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Ok Ok. I know I’m a little bit on the tardy side for writing this post. I’ve been extrodinarily busy lately. We’re hoping to open up HiveBio in the next month (More on this to come), so everything has been eating up my time like Pac-man. But away from what quickly approaches whining territory, and back to the amazing trips I took.

The finalist weekend was one of the best weekends in my remembered experiences. For the first time, I wasn’t the youngest in the room. I don’t mean to get all mushy on you guys, the emotional equivalent of a smashed pumpkin, but it really was incredibly inspiring.

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. 40 nerds were standing around in a hotel lobby…

They were all standing in a pack in the lobby, but it seemed easier to break in than usual. Everyone was warm and excited to meet other people.  After the appropriate time of tentative socializing, we departed in a mass cloud to the Bart station. I flitted around, trying to meet as many people as possible.

We arrived at ChezJJ and I ended up next to Karan Sikka. We talked for about 15 minutes, and then the social games began. We had two minutes to answer random get-to-know-you questions. I talked to Kettner, who originally disgruntled me quite a lot by questioning the credibility of my project. After reflecting on it though, I came to realize he wasn’t trying to shoot me down, just give me advice.

After the usual buffet breakfast activities, we meandered over the Hotel Marriot. Andrew Brackin was leading the way (though many checked his assuredness with Google maps.) We sat down at tables by numbers, and proceeded to hear the orientation – the catalyst of many jokes throughout the weekend as well as some useful information. I worriedly looked over to see that Mom had sat at the table with the Thiel committee, but based of their expressions, she didn’t seem to be berating their educational model.

And then  – the scavenger hunt began. I was with Taylor Amarel, Rachel Phillips, Nelson Zhang, Abody Aljoudi, and Charles Yu. At the beginning, we were extraordinarily competitive. Looking up pictures on our phones, running and solving puzzles frantically. We rushed to statues and parks, slowing bonding close together. (The grand irony of the job distribution was that I had the map – a paper map even! I actually did quite a good job of getting us around, with only one mistake)

After about three hours, we headed to the ferry terminal for a snack. Imperceptibly except on reflection, we had started to bond and become friends. We got to the water, and I happily lead us off the left. Just one building down – I continued to promise. We chatted along the way, me with Nelson, Taylor, and Rachel, and Abody trailing behind. Me and Taylor kept insisting that it was only one building more. “The next one. You can see it.” After a mile or so, we realized we had been heading in the wrong direction. We quickly harkened back. We fell upon the free samples at the ferry terminal like wild animals. There were more clues after that, but our motivation had decreased exponentially, and we mostly focused on getting back to the meeting place.

When we arrived again at Next Space, confusion arose at the sight of yellow police tape. What had happened? As we got in the news shocked us –a shooting?! I talked to Nikita, who retained the shock from hearing the shots, and benevolently relinquished one of my many oranges. We started to socialize, and I ended up next to Laura Demning and Riley Ennis. As Riley explained cancer immunology project, I attempted to occasionally ask and impressive question, but amounted to barely more than a conspicuous eavesdropper.  I eventually left to talk to Cessi Bakshi (name has been changed) and Christopher Olah, a current fellow, about the state of the US meritocracy. Cessi told us about how she immigrated to the US, was homeless for a period of time, and couldn’t even speak English in fourth grade. Because a teacher offered to tutor her, she managed to work her way up. She remains undocumented, but is working the help change immigration legislation.

As the official time ended, we were offered to attend a party at Connor’s house (a next of Thiel fellows).  But I had heeded Kettner’s advice, and realized the imminent need to file a provisional patent. Upon earlier information that Taylor had filed a patent, I hijacked him to help Cessi, Rachel, and me. We headed back Cessi and Rachel’s room, and had a party of our own. I actually enjoyed myself immensely in that stressful, studying-for-finals kind of way. We disperse at 2:00 am, though I worked until 3:00 in my room.

The next morning I woke up to have my interview, and slathered cover up on to try to hide my lack of sleep. I nervously headed up after a snarffed breakfast, and waited at the chair outside the door.

They began by asking me what I would make absurd in 10 years (Like how the idea of pagers is absurd now). I answered with some thing about how we needed to include biotechnology in medicine, and the rest of the interview followed as such. I felt like it went pretty well, they were laughing and didn’t seem to frown at ay of my answers. At the end, we joked about the gorgeous view from the office, and I headed down triumphant to breakfast number 2 (When in doubt, always more food).

I checked my phone, and my friend Matthew Scholz had emailed some IP lawyers he knew to see if any of them could look over my application. Gary Myles of Merchant and Gould offered to look it over, so I sent him the mess that constituted my draft. That evening he sent my a 27 page document. “What’s this?” He had turned my 3-page, 3AM patent into a 27 page provisional that actually made sense. He has spent his Saturday to do Pro Bono work for a girl he didn’t even know! (Right now he’s continuing to help me Pro Bono.   I recommend buying stock in some chocolate companies, because I owe him and other friends and mentors a lot chocolate.)

The next morning began the nervous energy of the lightening talks! We changed into our nice clothes, and frantically rehearsed (and in some cases wrote) our pitches. We nervously ran over to Yerba Buena, and met Mike Gibson along the way. We joked around with him, walking in slow motion and singing “The Final Countdown”, but soon, we entered the stage. We waited nervously in the dressing room, and I rehearsed my pitch while listening to variations of inspirational songs (much Disney was involved).

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Photo Credit to Matt Scholz, my amazing mentor/ friend.

We walked onto the dark stage, and waited our turn. The nervous energy was almost crackling in the air. I stepped out on the stage. I gulped a deep breath of air, and began. “Imagine a world where you can prick your finger and if you have a certain disease, a light turns on. I’m making that dream a reality.” Two minutes! How can you fit everything you want to say in two minutes! The timer blinks distractingly, whispering it’s siren song of distraction “45, 44, 43”, “Genetic…. Genetic catalyst”. I recovered quickly, and bolted to freedom.

But at the same time, as I nervously sat in the back of the auditorium, I wanted to do it all over again. Get back on that podium. Tell them why they should support me. Explain my vision. Because I want the chance to tell as many people as possible. I’m like the parents with a new baby, happily showing it off to every befuddled passerby.

Zach Hamed ended with an amazing speech, heartwarming, and emotion raising. We then scrambled off to our tables for the Mentor Match! This part involved Cafe Style interviews where the mentors would walk around and talk to who they were interested in. We milled around, inhaling boxed lunches, nervously worrying that we would be left like the fat kid being picked for baseball teams.

I happily welcomed my first mentor to the desk as soon as they shuffled in, and from that point on, my table was packed. I actually had people circling by – trying to find a place. I only had one moment where I was alone.  I got lots of advice, and gained new ideas as well as made new connections.

We ended with an emotional closing circle. Put a bunch of super passionate kids in a room, add high stakes and little sleep, and normally you get a Hunger Game’s like match up. But I didn’t even register competition. And this is from the girl that breaks a sweat from concentrating on board games. We really felt like a family. I would happily invite everyone of them to come live with me (Ok, I actually did invite my roommate Laura Ball.) I left feeling reinvigorated in a very tired way. Seeing other people doing what they loved, helped to convince me that I really do love what I’m doing. I think all of us have the small doubt in the back of our mind “What if I actually hate this. Then I’ll have studied for 20 years and for what?!” I mean, what if I miss my calling as a professional hip hop dancer? Or opera singer? (My friends would argue that I have no calling towards these careers as they involve being able to sing and dance. I think I perform a great version of “I’ll make a man out of you”.)

With Regards,

Katriona

P.S. I didn’t get the Thiel Fellowship this year. I’m figuring out how I can finish my research, as well as the parent supported IB program. I’m a little disappointed of course, but the Finals were an amazing opportunity. I’m really happy to have gotten this far. And as a friend told me, “A No is always a Maybe until it’s a Yes”

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Visit to Genspace

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The Sterile Room at Genspace

I just returned from New York a couple of days ago. We got back at 12:30, though i wasn’t even sure we would get back that day. Due to extreme fog we were diverted to the Portland airport, where all the passengers, like middle school girls, huddled around whispering about what was to happen. When I heard in the telephone train that we weren’t going to get out until the next morning I almost needed resuscitation. My poor feet after 4 days of walking around New York could barely hold me up.

But back to the far more interesting matter of New York and visiting Genspace. If you don’t know about Genspace, it’s the first Biotech Hackerspace. It’s set up in a loft in Brooklyn. They run classes and offer lab space and advice, like most Hackerspaces, it started out in the corner of a different ex-Google run Hackerspace. Joseph Jackson from Biocurious and my friend Cindy Wu helped set up a meeting with Ellen Jorgensen, one of the PHD heads. Genspace is pretty small, taking up about 1/4 of the top floor of the loft. It has a computer room with a big table, then a sterile room closed off by glass for bacteria, and a workbench area

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A look at Genspace. It ends after the book shelf. You can’t see the computer/ reading area from here. But the glass at the left is the Bacteria Room, and the benches to the right are work area.

Me and Ellen talked about Hackerspaces in General and she gave me some quality advice about starting and running one. She told me that a Hackerspace needs:

  1. Someone with Lab Experience to be there in operating hours (12-8 pm). Seems pretty obvious, but I actually hadn’t quite realized it. Generally good to make sure no one’s creating genetically engineered bunnies. Yes they could be benign Bunnicula like creatures (Please tell me you’ve read Bunnicula!), but in case they weren’t, I think death by bunny would be a bad way to go. I mean how pathetic would that be to have on your gravestone. You’d be known as the sucker that got beat up by a bunny rabbit forever.
  2. A person with authority who knows what they’re doing. 
  3. 1-2 people to devote all their time and coordinate with an expert. Because really, who needs a social life? I’m in the IB program in highs chool so social interaction just seems to foreign. I’ve come to the point where not having any work is stressful, because I must be forgetting something! So this part will work wonderfully for me.
  4. Someone to give and teach introductory classes. Anyone out there with biology experience looking for a karma boost or spare cash? The Holiday season tends to inspire both needs as we tell too cheery colleagues that “No, you can’t pull of that elf outfit” and mom’s candle turns out “to cost how much?!”.
  5. Create and atmosphere with support and fun social environment. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to do slightly more than advertising free pizza…
  6. Must have a Science Advisory Board to give opinions on tough questions. Like, “We probably shouldn’t let this girl genetically modify her boyfriend to want to watch less video games. Right?”
  7. The space must have non-absorbant floors for bacteria. hadn’t thought of that one, but good point. The neighbors would probably get unhappy if their ceilings started to glow. I mean, I would think it was great. But I’ve found not everyone shares my view of mixing synthetic biology and interior decorating.

She also highly recommend having Workshops to have funding. 

Seeing Genspace and meeting Ellen was really cool and definitely made me inspired about a Hackerspace in Seattle. I’m enclosing some pictures, so enjoy. And if anyone has lab equipment they don’t need. Well, post a comment and I’d be happy to pick it up!

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Genspace work area

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One shot of the Computer area

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The other side of the computer reading area. This is the other boundary of Genspace