Just Do It

Graduation season is always an exciting time on campus at UoA. Seeing the flocks of black robed figures, hoods glistening in a fantastic display of colour, and mortarboards perched high never fails to give life to the student body; giving hope to those with just a year to go (but for whom one year might as well be eternal) and inspiring those new to the books who long to know as much as these mysterious cloaks and achieve the things that they have already achieved.

For the rest of the yet-to-graduate-and-dress-up-like-Harry-Potter students out there, you can achieve everything that the bright hooded death eaters have, that and more. And I don’t mean this in a cheesy ‘grandma believes in you’ kind of way. What I mean is that there is opportunity out there to get involved in great things, and to accomplish goals you didn’t know you had.

Just over two years ago, over coffee with a couple of friends who also specialise in Biotechnology, we decided to start a team and enter the iGEM competition. iGEM is the ‘International Genetically Engineered Machinery’ competition held in Boston every year, recognised as a cornerstone of the international synthetic biology industry. As second year students, we had all the energy and passion required to succeed, just no knowledge of how to. And it sure was tough trying to start something new. Luckily, we reached into our networks to find knowledgeable, driven, and connected people to work with and mentor us.

It took a long time to get the ball rolling. But once we had our team goals decided, and our project set in concrete, we could make progress. Our project involved engineering bacteria to be able to break down PET plastic (milk bottles etc.). And once it achieved some support from academic staff, and then the wider faculty, we were able to reach out to the local waste management, and biotechnology industries for support also. We managed to raise tens of thousands of dollars to fund the research and travel to Boston.

But as I said, we had no idea how to do it. Yet we did it. And grandma still believes you can too.

It was through the support of the post-grads who mentored us, the professorship that guided us, financial and academic support from the industry, and the organisational support we received from Chiasma that our little group of 3 people became a team of 12, which successfully undertook a project, raised enough money to conduct the research, and presented to our international colleagues at the iGEM competition in Boston, in October 2016.

I haven’t written this to blow my own trumpet. I think this narrative illustrates how much potential there is out there for students to achieve the amazing (#UoA #Tagline). Your time at university is the time to learn as much as possible. So learn the academics, but also learn to do things! Try starting a company, or a team, or a social movement. Get involved and see if you can do something that hasn’t been done before.

Links to follow:

iGEM Website: http://igem.org/Main_Page

iGEM UoA NZ Team Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/iGEMUoA/

iGEM UoA NZ Website: http://2016.igem.org/Team:UoA_NewZealand

N.B.: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of Chiasma's as an organisation.