Tag Archives: Thiel Fellowship

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.

————-

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).

Image
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”

Advertisements

Hackerpaces

So I’ve been talking a lot about Hackerspace on this blog, but I just realized I should upload this essay I wrote on them. This was part of my application for the Thiel Fellowship for the prompt “Tell us one thing about the world that you strongly believe is true, but that most people think is not true. If this belief shapes the way you live, tell us how.” As a member of the public school system, sometimes I marvel about the fact that I still like science. Lab’s turn into assembly lines where creativity is debilitating because of lack of materials and time. One of my hopes for Hackerspace like BioCurious, Genspace, and soon to be HiveBio, is that they can help get kids interested in science. People will be able to actually play around, because honestly, biotech is just awesome!

Ok, here goes the essay…

Our society leaves the talent of youth unharnessed. We place a higher emphasis on age than innovation. Some of the best ideas in our day and age stemmed from “kids” who still get excited with new ideas. We need to encourage innovation, giving more opportunities for young people to explore their ideas, rather than telling them to wait “until they’re older”.

Everyone has memories of being told, “because grown-ups know best”. That galled me as a 6-year-old, and it only festered with time.  Science fair projects based on friction seem fun for 11-year-olds, but no one’s supposed to even think about fission until long after college. When I started looking for lab prospects last summer, the dearth of opportunities for youth shocked me. Even in Seattle with a huge pool of biotech companies, only one summer biotech program existed for teens. One woman even told me, “You have a great idea, but you often seem to forget you’re only a high school student.” Science depends on new ideas competing for novelty, because being the second person to invent the iPod doesn’t really matter.

Clearly then, people with ideas need to be encouraged, no matter their age.  People under 21 have sparked some of the leading innovations in our time. Facebook stemmed from college fiddlings. Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft at 19, and started programming in middle school. Yet our society keeps youth waiting until years after college before they are supposed to pursue with ideas. Entrepreneurs I met while networking, like Cindy Wu of Microryza and Matthew Scholz of Immusoft helped inspire me to follow my dreams, encouraging me to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. But I’m one of few. For the rest, society must nurture innovation from a young age.

We need to encourage young people to share their ideas, and when they’re good enough, work hard to turn them into something. Furthermore, we need opportunities for young people to actually have access to new technology – to work with their ideas and experiment. Public School science mostly consists of a few pathetic kits, and uninterested teachers. It shows kids that science equals baking soda and vinegar or boring, outdated textbooks, just when they start to find their interest.

Hackerspaces like Noisebridge in San Francisco help to inspire innovation, but we need places all over the country.  Hackerspace, community spaces allowing for experimentation without formal background, exist for computer science, but are blaringly absent for Biology and other, less technology orientated sciences. By setting up places where people can work on their ideas without having it as their formal “work”, people start to innovate. These environments help to obviate the concept of failure, which is essential for innovation. People can test out their ideas without the threat of high-pressure venture capitalists breathing down their necks. And most importantly, people can start on their ideas right away, without trudging through a fifteen-year system of school, and entry-level jobs.

Youth have untapped potential to change the world – if only given a chance. I refuse to accept the fact that I can’t come up with ideas, or start a business because I’m “still a kid”. The enthusiasm of youth kindles innovation and fuels passion, but ideas aren’t considered without a degree and thirty years of age. We encourage every child to play sports, but we need scientists much more than one more NFL player.. The ideas around youth need to change, and more opportunities for them to explore their ideas need to be created. We need creativity safe havens for ideas to prosper and grow. Not just for them, but for the sake America’s place in the world.

BioCurious

BioCurious

With Regards,