IGEM:Peking/2007/Experience-colletcion

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Contents

Questions From Catherine Goodman

  • noticed that this was your first year in the competition. What inspired you to join in, and what was it like getting involved in the program from a logistical standpoint?
  • I read on your website that you all spent several months brainstorming ideas. How did you decide on the final projects?
  • What are the various backgrounds of the students on the team? How many were planning to become scientists/engineers before the competition, and has that changed since?
  • Did you find it intimidating or exciting (or both) to try to come up with ideas for scientific projects and make them work? Did you find any problems in communicating (intellectually) between people from different scientific backgrounds?
  • What was the most interesting aspect of the whole process?
  • Will you participate again next year, and if so, what have you learned from your experience this year that will help you next year?

Answers From Qinsi Zheng

Project Decision

  • At the begining, we have about 10 ideas presented by various team members, including in-vivo evolution of drugs and storing and searching information in E. coli. After about two months' discussion, we decide to do two projects, which is Switch and Count. I think the most interesting thing is at first we just do these projects seperately, but later we found that they have things in common, and describe them as bacterial assembling line to present our two projects in a single frame work.

Background of Team member

  • Most of our team members are biology students, but there is two students studying chemistry, and one studying physics.My name is Qinsi Zheng, and I am an undergraduate student in chemistry department. Before the competition I am not a biologist at all, I just thought Synthetic Biology is cool, so I joined it. I need to learn a lot, but I think it is not so difficult. Here I encourage non-biological stidents to join iGEM. It is fun, cool, promising and not too difficult, but of course you should love it and work hard on it. Before the competition, I was thinking about becoming a scientist, but not so sure then. During the competition, I think I feel good while doing research and cooperating with others. Now I am quite sure that I will become a scientist or an engineer.

About Next Year

  • I will. I think our project next year should be about a more practical problem, for example, health and enviorment. The iGEM is an engineering competition, and I think a good engineer should identify the market need and then provide a product. I like the Slovenia's project this year, which is about curing HIV. It quite matches the market need

Reply to Catherine by Yifan Yang

The starting of the team

My first personal experience with iGEM is in Fall, 2005 when Drew Endy, the organizer of the competition, came to Beijing and introduce iGEM in a seminar about computational and systems biology. I'm always been interested in systems biology and think this engineering approach really cool. But I have not thought about starting a team seriously.

At the end of 2006, when the iGEM ambassadors came to Peking University to evoke a team, I realized that it is a chance for me to participate. So I stand out volunteerly to organize a team. After contacting and obtaining support from Prof. Wang and the Center for Theoretical Biology, everything started. I think the main reason for me to do this, is the academic interest in systems & synthetic biology, and the desire to join this wonderful community.

I'm not sure what you mean by "From a logistical standpoint". There are no official requirement for joining the team. Actually it is more like a community instead of a team, one can join the team as long as he/she is interested and would like to contribute time, work, ideas, anything.

Project decision

In fact, maybe we spent too much time on brain-storming actually. We encouraged every member to bring up a project, and have enough meetings to discuss every of them. In May, we realized that we have to settle on one or two of them and start working. So we make a poll within the team to decide which project are most interesting and appropriate to do considering the limitted time and efforts. We could have more time on experiments if we settle this down earlier.

However, maybe that's one of the reason we're having so much excitement, we are doing projects which we all have thoroughly discussed. Actually, the hop count sub-project is formallized and improved through out the discussion and criticism and finally arrived in a state that most members agreeed with.

Team members and their future

About half of the team members are undergraduates from the College of Life Sciences. There are three undergraduate students including myself are from the interddisciplinary undergraduate program: "Yuanpei College" of our University. There are 2 undergraduates from the chemistry department and 1 from the physics department. The graduates students of the team, totally 4, are all from the Center for Theoretical Biology.

I do not know the future plans of all the team members, but I can tell some. The general trend for the undergraduate is to apply for graduate studies, but the fields is diverse. The main area of interest for our bio team members range from biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology to neuroscience. There are also members who will carry research in nanotechnology and microfluids. There are even one of us who decided to pursue a career in operational research.

For myself, I'm interested in systems biology and some evolutionary questions related to our iGEM projects. After doing iGEM, I have assured that I'm prepared to do research in that area and have enough creativity and team spirit to become a scientist. I have also realized although I'm always care about the real-world applications, I'm more suited for fundamental scientific research.

Interdiscinplinary Research and Communication

To me, it is only intimidating when I realize there is too much and not enough time sometimes. As to excitement, it's exciting when I come up with realistic ideas and when I realize it is totally possible to make it real. Before that, there is not much excitement.

Many of us, including myself and all the graduate students, are doing research at the Center for Theoretical Biology. So more or less, we are exposed to this kind of interdiscinplinary research and all the diverse academic background. There are of course confict between experimentalists and theoreticalists, and sometimes very intense. Fortunately, we find a way to work together and it is through the conflicts that we know each other well and better cooperate with each other after the the conflicts.

The most interesting aspect

The science is interesting of course. But the part that I want to mention most is the cooperation. Our team is really diversed, not only on academic backgrounds, but more importantly on expertise, motivation and personality as well. Through working together, I get to know my teammates very quickly and in a way that talking will never do. I started to appreciate their advantages and complement their weaknesses, and they started to do the same for me. It really felt great to behave like a whole, as a team. This is really the case when we are preparing for the jamboree and while we are there, and it's the most wonderful experience of team working for me.

Next year

Sure, there will be a next time, but in different ways. There will be another Peking Team next year, although most of the members will be new. We'll conclude our experience and lessons this year and make every efforts to pass it to the next team, ensure that they don't make the same mistakes as we do. I hope that they will behave as a more mature team then we do, work more effeciently and smoothly. But we'll also try to not to interfere with them too much, that'll kill all the fun. I'm a senior and will graduate from the University, so I can't be in the new team. But I'll help the new members to set up their own team until June, and try my best to make it to the jamboree next November.

Answers From Tao Yu

My motivation

I first knew the iGEM competition on our group meeting in my lab. My mentor Qi Ouyang and Professor Chao Tang from UCSF told us the funny stories of iGEM 2006 (Professor Tang is the advisor of the UCSF team in iGEM 2006). Its concept is completely new for me and it offers a great opportunity to challenge myself as well as to communicate and have fun with my peers from all over the world. Therefore I am inspired to participate in the first few group meetings, and then became one member of the team.

Brainstorming

As mentioned by Yifan, we spent quite a lot of time on brainstorming. One of the reason is that all of us were involved in the heavy courses during weekdays, thus we just have time to discuss together about our ideas on weekends (2 to 3 hours per week normally). Besides, at the beginning we needed to get familiar with iGEM, including its concepts, theme and previous projects, which took us a months or more.

As everybody on the team has talked about his/her ideas for weeks (you can find the original record of the primitive ideas from our early wiki), we finally voted for the ideas to determine which one to be carried out.

My teammates

One of the most cherish point in my experience of iGEM is to make friends and cooperate with many new people of various backgrounds. I am a biology student but as mentioned by Yifan, members on our team came from different majors including physics, chemistry and biology etc.

Most of us will apply for the graduate programs in the US and we are all ambitious. I am now interested in the interface of micro-/nano- technology and biology/medicine, and my dream is to be an engineer who can develop new devices and methods for the further development of biology/medicine. Therefore, I am going to apply for the Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering programs in the US.

Communication

I never felt intimidating but very interesting to try to come up with new ideas, because I enjoyed the process where I can obtain much more new knowledge from literature reading and discussions. It is surely exciting for me to discover some new points and figure out some new ideas, and sometimes asking a new question is also stimulating.

Most people on our team own more or less some knowledge in biology, thus our communication (intellectually) were usually smooth. However, as we all from backgrounds of science but not engineering, most of us do not have much experience in running an engineering project, hence there were some times when we argued on the issues about how to run the project and organization,, and also about the progress of the experiments. But I think the debates are valuable for the growth of our team.

The most interesting thing

For me, I think the funniest part in the progress is I learned how a team and a project are organized, what are necessary factors in the organization. Also, our team project itself is interesting, too. The feeling of exploration in our process is very wonderful.

Experience

I will help to set up the new Peking iGEM team and participate in their brainstorming, but because I will graduate next July and have some other projects to handle, I think I can’t participate in the experiment part of the next project.

Even though, I still have a lot of experience I want to share with the new iGEMers, both in experiments and team organization. What is more, as the team financial secretary of the team, I have to teach the new members how to manage the budget of the team, too.

Answers From Mingzhi Qu

Getting Involved In

I heard about the iGEM story in the late December 2006. For some reason, at time I did not join in the group, but I still keep in touch with my friends.
It's about in the middle of the April, when Tao Yu made a conversation with me, we talked a lot about my friends's iGEM idea and the trend of establish the Peking iGEM team. It seemed that they had nearly finished the whole dry design, but faced the problem in formation a team, make the design possible and how to smoothly start with the wet works. I thought it's time for me to "function" in the group according to my previous wet lab experience. What inspired me is we might have a chance to establish own labs, making the idea real, do the most wet job under controls of ourselves. It really sounds fascinating to me. Besides, the peoples reactions and emotions inside the group also makes me feeling great.

Project decision

When I was fully involved in the group, my friends just finish their brainstorming. It's urgent for us to poll and select the project. I started with my opinion: the most urgent things for us is not to select A project, but to think about how idea can be interpreted to wet works properly which means the feasibility and reliability. There are too many of ideas, but less can be expected to be finished in a year.
With this central principle, we start measuring ideas one by one. Costly although, but what I think deserves to do.

What iGEM affect my future

iGEM not only provide me a chance to understand synthetic biology, but also inspired my confidence, especially when facing complex problems. Although my current research interest is in the Ecology & Evolution Biology area, seems a bit differ from synthetic biology. But I think what I've done this summer as a undergraduate student: To manage/running a new lab, to organize the team wet works and use engineering way to think about science, these experience gave me a wide viewer into the scientific research and biology new hotspot. After doing iGEM, I'm more assurance that I will pursuit scientific research in the future. Maybe someday I will return to this area again, with the beautiful dream that iGEM hold for me :-)

Cool thing list

  • The Cool  : Ideas, Our ideas of Self-differentiated Bacterial Assembly Line.
  • The Cooler  : The creative Team, we have much fun during this summer. see Yifan's comment.
  • The coolest : Jamboree! I would never forget it. Jamboree provides a great opportunity to meet the student throughout the world. Before the jamboree, I am not sure if anyone likes my ideas, but it really does! during the Jamboree, I met some student who have the same research interest with me, we share the ideas, enjoys food together. Can't be any better, right?

Future team

Next year? definitely! We cannot help the new iGEMers throughout the next whole year(cause we will graduate from the university). But still much experience that I'd like to tell, and many guidelines might useful to them. We've done a passing grade this year, and I think in the following year we should overcome the problems that facing us this year, such as: OWW wikipeida(some link still cannot access to the content"),communication with other teams. The Imperial team sets a good example in inheriting their team tradition.
Trust me, next year will be a new team, a better team!


Answers From Anting Xu

  • noticed that this was your first year in the competition. What inspired you to join in, and what was it like getting involved in the program from a logistical standpoint?

I’m a Yuanpei student major in chemistry. Since the first day I began to study biology in 2005, I have been interested in the task of de novo synthesizing minimal cells and put my eyes on synthetic biology. So when I heard the news that iGEM ambassadors would come to PKU, I couldn’t help inviting others to join the meeting, and later founded iGEM PKU Team with Yifan.

  • I read on your website that you all spent several months brainstorming ideas. How did you decide on the final projects?

After brainstorming of several months we actually raised tens of candidate ideas. Before the selection process, we sorted those ideas into several groups. First, a boring group or two of ideas were kicked out. The final projects were selected from the remaining groups mainly based on their feasibility, as we did raise cooler ideas but harder for undergraduates to handle. Everyone in the team had the right to vote for his/her favorite, and later when we decided to handle two sub-projects at the same time, members were separated based on their selection.

  • What are the various backgrounds of the students on the team? How many were planning to become scientists/engineers before the competition, and has that changed since?

Yifan has described most of the situation. I have a little change during the iGEM though. Before iGEM I regarded my aim of minimal cell a scientific problem, and would like to become a fundamental science researcher. Now I tend to take it as a goal of engineering and plan to replenish myself some knowledge of engineering. In my case, iGEM helps me to review my interests more clearly.

  • Did you find it intimidating or exciting (or both) to try to come up with ideas for scientific projects and make them work? Did you find any problems in communicating (intellectually) between people from different scientific backgrounds?

I would like to define my role playing in iGEM PKU Team as a “coordinator”, keeping all things running smoothly. I do not have a specialized skill in one field, but can communicate with all other members and even take their place for a short time. The problems of communication happened among team members, not because of the different scientific backgrounds, but of the separation into two groups for two sub-projects, respectively. Things were indeed trivial and annoying sometimes when I complained that it was none of my business if everyone would have stuck to their work. While I like talking to others, I do not feel funny when organizing a team. I feel obliged.

  • What was the most interesting aspect of the whole process?

The fun in cooperation. Despite my complaint above, in most of the time we cooperated well, and fun arose in this atmosphere. Fun is the chemistry among young people, especially those who have the same destination. We even have iGEM pets: two turtles “Count” and “Switch” named after our two sub-projects ^_^

  • Will you participate again next year, and if so, what have you learned from your experience this year that will help you next year?

I would like to participate but it depends on where I will be at that time :-P Definitely I will do my best to pass our experience to the next PKU team. For example, sticking to one project is better than separating into two. The period of brainstorming needs to be short, with higher intensity. Think thoroughly of everyone who can potentially support you (we got support from the Foundation of Friends of Beida through my personal connection, and from Continental Airlines through another member’s). Think different (the four Chinese teams have similar ideas this year). And ENJOY all that is ENJOYABLE (the Jamboree!).

Chen Daizhuo's Answer

  • noticed that this was your first year in the competition. What inspired you to join in, and what was it like getting involved in the program from a logistical standpoint?

I was attracted to iGEM because it sounds so fun. I was a physics major with little formal training in biology when I first heard about iGEM, but I was so excited about the idea of designing and actually assembling life forms. And it is also unusual to have a research team composed of, and directed by, mainly undergraduate students here in Peking. I’ve always enjoyed the academic discussions with my peers.

Peking University has many young, clever and energetic students. And I’m pretty sure, even were it not us, someone else in PKU will find this competition very interesting and decide to set up a team. We made it because we were so lucky to get ourselves to the iGEM promotion at the first place.

I might be a right person to talk about the logistics issues. We started by Journal Clubs, but we soon found out that we need money to run labs, to buy equipments, and to go to the States. We struggled a lot for the funding. We tried almost every possible source we had, departments, university, companies, National Science Fundation, even Chinese Academy of Science.. Almost every party showed more or less some interest but it was not until our dear President Xu’s promise that we had our first clue of real money coming into our account. I believe my other teammates will talk about this so I prefer to go further. Our team is constantly losing and gaining members before May, and our discussions seemed intolerably low-efficient sometime. Yet that was OK as long as we were progressing. There was always someone in the team – not a same person, but a number of persons taking turns - to push us forward.

We couldn’t find ourselves an existing lab for a period long enough to realize our ideas, and thus it became a serious issue to set up a lab of our own. We actually set up two labs, from tables to equipments to protocols. Again there was some members taking the lead, sacrificing their own jobs and arranging the new labs and doing pre-experiments. All these efforts made it possible to bring the two labs to their working states on schedule.

Yes we had a schedule. We also had a very well-designed and well-drawn road map. We even complained that there were no software engineering students in our team who might be able to improve our schedule using their professional knowledge. But some also doubted that a road map was useless - we were far away from standardizing and streamlining our experiments to make the process predictable - and they were right.

Experiments were a key part of our entire work. We were not having enough hands. We asked our friends to invite them in. The team soon grew up, yet there were many many problems. How do we manage different tasks? How do we make notes on OWW (Open Wet Ware)? How do we teach new comers? How to deal with our respective bosses who might or might not be supportive to our competition? Though basically harmonious, people were having more-or-less some complaints over each other in public and private circumstances.. I was happy that we worked out well, yet definitely there were much to be improved.

As originally we were having insufficient fund to support everyone in the team to go to the Jamboree, we designed a scheme of distributing the limited traveling fund to the members in our team. It was based on anonymous voting among ourselves. Most of us thought it was a good idea before we actually voted, but almost everyone felt sad, or at least uncomfortable when the results came out. The voting mechanism was simply too simple to fairly recognize everyone’s contribution.

We were fortunate to receive sponsorship for the Continental Airlines, which made it possible to send everyone to the States. But soon we met new problems of getting the visa. Synthetic Biology is just such a sensitive topic that the visa officer won’t let you go easily. We had heard of worrying visa interview results from other Chinese teams, and had an emergency meeting before the visa interview. We discussed different strategies for the interview and basically could not do much except for hoping for the best.

Anyway, we made it finally, though at each step it was not that likely that we were going to make it.

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