In January 2017, a multidisciplinary team consisting of 15 students with different cultural backgrounds and at different stages of their education started the 9 months iGEM adventure. Here in a guest blog they reflect upon what they have learned.
iGEM stands for “international genetically engineered machines” and is the world’s biggest competition in synthetic biology initiated at MIT in 2003. By now, this student-driven project fascinates over 5000 students to work towards a common goal – to design and realize a research project which aims to solve a real-world issue with global impact.
Looking back, iGEM started as a mysterious journey, with both technical and team synergistic challenges. During the project, we encountered a start-up like environment without knowing one another or what to expect. But, the common ground that united us was our joint curiosity and interest in rising to the upcoming challenges. Over months, we created a project idea and set the basics of giving every single team member a voice.
Building a team
Within the team, we all had distinct responsibilities that needed to be fulfilled, but still we benefitted from exploring new challenging tasks and roles that we probably would not have encountered otherwise. The chance of finding our role within the team unrelated to our studies and former professions, gave us the unique opportunity to broaden our horizons and to improve the versatility of the project’s outcome. We are grateful for having worked and being surrounded with amazing people as well as having learned from their virtues. Taking the effort to understand each other’s way of communication enabled us to advise and appreciate professions different from one’s own, to work inter-professionally and to value skillful team mates, the knowledge of experts and the not less relevant inputs from non-experts. This open-mindedness uncovered new facets and competencies making us more confident but also more humble with our knowledge. The gained patience and interdisciplinary awareness facilitated the smoothly running gear comprising design, medicine, media communication and engineer students.
Communication is key
As a team, we had to learn that unambiguous communication is the key to success. iGEM taught us that the best way to solve an issue is to help each other and that there is always someone who knows something you do not know. Together, we created the best outcome by looking at a problem from different perspectives. This diversity let us grow together to the team we are now by equally valuing different cultures ranging from Swiss time management to the Spanish spontaneity. People who kept cool as much as the people who liked to provoke were important for the team harmony. We are all individuals and this means no one works in the same way. By becoming more familiar with each other, we became more confident to speak up, but we also learned that we are not always right. Furthermore, instead of being afraid of trying something new although expertise was missing, we dared to make mistakes which strengthened the learning-by-doing process. It was a pleasure to see designers pipetting in the lab and to observe scientists designing presentations in a non-academic fashion. Also, on the one hand if a sponsoring interview was unsuccessful, you started to acknowledge a well-prepared elevator pitch. On the other hand, if you did not order the lab material and consumables in time, the lab work was standing still and you had to creatively find alternatives to avoid wasting the scarce lab time.
Our very own project made us struggle to obtain the answers needed at any cost and at any time. A solid solution was only achievable when we reached out by communicating and cooperating internationally. On the one hand, we were collaborating with other iGEM teams around the world who were dealing with similar issues and on the other hand we were in contact with scientist highly respected in their field to benefit from their expertise. Furthermore, we had agreements with pharmaceutical companies relevant to our research area and we reach out to experts in the business world to spread the word about our project to the public.
Boston in November
Fortunately, the journey is not over yet. We are eagerly awaiting to showcase our results at the Giant Jamboree in Boston; the conference where all the iGEM teams present their performed work. Thereby, we will meet other brilliant and ambitious young scientist and professionals from a wide range of disciplines. Notwithstanding, if we are going to win the competition in November or not, we have already gained much more than any education could have taught us. We developed more confidence in how we want to shape our future career, giving us a heads-up when entering the job market.
The end – and a new start…
With it all soon coming to an end, we realize that iGEM provided us with a well-rounded multitude of experiences full of hard work and the rewards that came with our effort. The iGEM journey enabled us to grow both on an academic and on a personal level. We learned to work better in a team, to listen, to take responsibility, and to believe in ourselves. Furthermore, it taught us to take charge of your own work and to stand for your actions.
“iGEM builds character – but more importantly, it brings people together.”
Stay tuned for the upcoming final in Boston. Follow us!
Guestblog by the team of iGEM Stockholm 2017