Reflection

10 Months. 10 Questions. 5 Takeaways.

I attended a human accelerator for 10 months. I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to become a more interesting and knowledgeable person. Here’s my reflection on these past months.

Background image by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

10 Months

Ever since September, I’ve been a part of The Knowledge Society (or TKS for short), a human accelerator that helps students who love STEM explore different topics deeply.

Over these past ten months, I’ve grown a lot both because of the amazing support I got from TKS and our directors as well as a lot of my own hard work. While my time at TKS is over, I wanted to reflect on how I’ve grown.

But to make things interesting, I decided to do adopt an interview style reflection (shoutout to Michael Raspuzzi for the suggestion).

I thought it’d be a good way to change things up and it meant I could avoid having to find good ways to lead from one topic to the next.

A win-win on all accounts.

*P.S. this isn’t sponsored or anything like that. I just wanted to talk about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown both within and outside of TKS :)

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10 Questions

1. Using 3 adjectives/words, describe how you’ve changed since the beginning of your journey.

This is going to be hard since I’ve grown a lot but I’ll try my best!

I’ve become more resilient, more confident, and a better leader.

I’ve found that if you ever want to grow, you need to be confident in yourself and your abilities.

Posting my first YouTube video was terrifying. But I channelled all of the confidence I had towards clicking that “publish” button and it’s led me to countless opportunities.

2. What was your biggest ‘aha’ moment this year?

To me, an ‘aha’ moment is a moment where you can truly feel your ‘why’, your biggest driver. It’s when you understand that all of the work you’ve been doing has culminated into something great.

It gives you that feeling that everyone chases their whole lives: fulfillment.

For me, it has to be when I shared The Stem Cell Game with the world. It’s a pretty great game I made where you get to both learn and test your stem cell knowledge. (In case, you aren’t looped in, researching stem cells is a big passion of mine!)

I received some pretty good feedback, but that wasn’t what gave me my ‘aha’ moment. I felt it as soon as I shared it, not because of the positive feedback. I was getting to share some of the research I’d done over the past few months in a fun, beginner-friendly game for anyone to enjoy and learn.

My ‘slogan’, if you will, over the past few months has been Stem Cells, Simplified. After sharing The Stem Cell Game with the world, I felt I was truly living up to that slogan.

Plus, the avatar in the game is super cute, so there’s that.

This is the avatar!

3. Why do you enjoy studying stem cells?

I’ve been asked this question so many times and have never had a great answer so I took some time to really figure it out. Here it is:

I find cell biology fascinating. The fact that these tiny cells and the factors affecting them are the reason we’re all alive is amazing. Stem cell biology takes it one step further for me. All of us come from totipotent stem cells that can turn into every other cell type we need as humans.

Yet, stem cells are also our downfall. Stem cell exhaustion is one factor of aging and cancer stem cells replenish tumours. But we can change that. I would like to help change that.

4. How do you stop comparing yourself to others?

Ok, I’m keeping it short this time. I’ve found that being surrounded by amazing people means you’re bound to compare yourself to them.

“They were just on 5 different podcasts. Why wasn’t I?” This jealousy, envy, FOMO, whatever you want to call it, isn’t productive. But everyone knows that. How do you stop it?

I’ve accepted that I can’t fully stop it. Instead, I prompt myself to congratulate them. And I make sure I mean it. I’ve been working on being truly happy for them, and recognizing that their success absolutely does not cost me anything.

It’s easier said than done but when you achieve that, there’s no way you’ll feel jealous or inadequate.

5. What was your favourite way to consume new information?

Here’s where you probably expect me to pull out a huge book or recommend a few podcasts. But I’ve fallen in love with long-form journalism.

Sometimes I just don’t feel like picking up a book and instead want to spend 15 minutes reading and finish the piece of content. At the same time, I want to be informed about the things going on around me.

That’s how I discovered the absolute gem that is long-form journalism 💎 When done well, it takes you on an amazing journey that ends with you being more knowledgeable. It can also be very academic or fairly casual. Either way, it’s amazing.

Want to discover some of these articles I’m talking about? Check out my notion page with tons of them here!

6. What’s your biggest content creation tip?

Not to brag or anything but I’ve made quite a lot of content over the past year or so. Whether it’s in the form of writing articles on Medium, making videos on YouTube, or even writing newsletters, I’ve got some experience up my sleeve. (Btw, did you like how smoothly I just plugged all of my links 😁)

My biggest tip is to always question yourself:

Am I adding value to the viewer?

If you’re writing about a common topic and you’re not adding any new information to the sphere, try adding a unique twist. Maybe use a new content type or add some of your own personal experience as advice.

Don’t just retell the same story.

I’m certainly guilty of making this mistake but trying to avoid it will elevate your content in every way!

Here’s an example of adding value vs. not adding value with the topic being productivity.

Keep in mind that this value doesn’t have to be knowledge-based. Your value can be through making them laugh or taking their mind off of something too!

7. What are some of your favourite resources that you’ve found?

Have I mentioned that I love learning about stem cells? Well, my resource finds are related to that too! If you’re still not as big of a fan as I am, these might help.

First up is a stem cell card game called Differentiate made by the American Museum of Natural History which you can play right now by downloading and printing some cards 🤯 It teaches you so many new things but is lots of fun!

If you’re looking for something more information-dense, check out an awesome stem cell course on Coursera called The Science of Stem Cells!

8. What’s your favourite question to ask during a one-on-one meeting with an expert?

This one’s easy: What’s been the biggest failure in your career?

It’s great for so many reasons…

  • It’s universally applicable, meaning you can use it when talking to a researcher or a tech startup CEO.
  • It leaves a lot of room for follow-up questions.
  • It helps you connect with the person on a much deeper, personal level.

9. What are you most looking forward to in the summer?

Self-directed learning and having control over my own time!

I love being able to follow my curiosity to who-knows-where and learning so much along the way. Having time in the summer to do that for as long as I want is going to be amazing.

Also, I have some very exciting projects that I’m working on, like one involving zebrafish regeneration 🤫 Stay tuned for that!

10. What’s your biggest goal for the next year?

To keep growing.

I know that’s super abstract and I do have small, tangible goals to help me get there. But they all lead to this bigger goal of always moving forward, no matter how incrementally.

Bonus Question! What are the top 3 projects you’ve worked on this year?

This is a pretty tough choice but my number one spot would have to go to my video all about organoids–models of our organs outside the body that can be used for disease modelling and drug screening.

This video was actually done in collaboration with the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR)🧫 Saying that still gives me goose bumps!

Check out the video!

Can you guess what topic my #2 project was? Yep, stem cells, you got it. More specifically, induced pluripotent stem cells.

In case you’re not all caught up, as humans adults don’t have stem cells–cells that can both continue multiplying forever and turn into more specialized cell types like skin or liver cells.

But adult cells can be reprogrammed back into stem cells, opening up lots of opportunities for treatments and studies! Unfortunately, these so called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs for short) come with some of their own problems.

That’s exactly what I focused on in this article alongside some basic stem cell biology.

Last, but certainly not least, is an amazing project that I did with Jolie, Klara, and Sora focusing on how clothing has made very few significant advances in the past few centuries.

With our project, Twillica, we proposed an idea to change that.

Say hello to the all-in-one jacket that can change its breathability, temperature, and water resistance with the click of a button.

We did this using carbon nanotubes, shape memory polymers, and piezoelectricity–pretty awesome, I know.

Check out our pitch!

5 Takeaways

Now onto the last part. These are some essential tips that I wanted to remind both you and myself of to finish up.

1. Being a good leader means being specific both in terms of deadlines and tasks. Don’t think of this as being bossy; it’ll propel your team as a whole forward.
🔑 Ambiguity = the enemy of being a good leader

2. Never self-reject. Want to reach out to someone you look up to? Just do it! But you may just avoid it. So to force it, create a reward system. You’ll only get to do a certain thing once you’ve overcome your fear and done whatever you set out to do.
🔑 If you’re afraid of asking for that huge opportunity or reaching out to someone, tap into the instant gratification part of your brain and psychology your way out of it.

3. Being the best version of yourself requires taking breaks. Trust me when I tell you that you can only perform at your best if you let your brain rest once in a while. And that means spending time with friends and family, watching your favourite show on Netflix, and relaxing.
🔑 Use the tools around you to ensure you take breaks. Schedule break time into your Google Calendar. Leave buffers throughout the day.

4. Meeting with an expert for the first time means you’re likely very prepared with tons of questions (and if you aren’t, get those questions ready!). But you shouldn’t be asking questions 90% of the time and barely contributing to the conversation. Everyone should gain value from the meeting.
🔑 Don’t turn one-on-one meetings into interrogations.

5. Never underestimate yourself. Taking breaks is absolutely essential but it’s not the same thing as staying inside of your comfort zone!
🔑 It always seems impossible until it’s done — Nelson Mandela

Thank You’s

This might seem a bit sappy but all of these amazing experiences wouldn’t have been possible without these awesome people so thank you (in alphabetical order 😉)…

Amna Hyder: Thank you for your amazing coaching all throughout TKS. Without you, so many of our ideas would have never been realized and others that weren’t quite as good would have been pursued.

Esteban Mazzoni: Getting to meet with you and get your guidance was a genuine dream-come-true. And your support after tha,t even if it was a simple gesture like sending me a paper I didn’t have access too, means a lot.

Julie Perlin: Thank you for giving a 15-year-old the chance to see world-class research live from the very experts that have helped shape the stem cell landscape. Attending ISSCR 2021 was truly an experience I never thought I would get. Your advice when creating content has also been invaluable!

Morgan Stykel & Scott Ryan: I never thought I would be doing hands-on research at home during a pandemic but here we are. Even though we haven’t quite gotten to the hands-on part yet, I’ve enjoyed this experience so so much and getting your guidance along the way has been super helpful.

Michael Raspuzzi: Your amazing support as I’ve been going on this crazy journey of growing is something I’ll never forget. That could mean anything from helping me generate ideas or telling me that a piece of my content was straight up not good.

Michela Borghesan: I don’t think I’ve ever told you this but you were the very first researcher I met with. I was so incredibly scared but I like to think that I hid it pretty well. From that point on, I knew I could always come to you for any support I needed.

Noel Hurst: Even though I didn’t quite get to learn all of your amazing wisdom, your absolute bluntness when it came to feedback saved my teammates and I countless hours of pointless work. Thank you!

My amazing teammates: Huge shoutout to Aliya, Allison, Divya, Fatimah, Guido, Jolie, Klara, Rania, Sakeenah, Sofi, Soliana, Sora, and so many others who made every single project we did even more amazing than the last.

Every other person who’s taken the time to meet with me: Every minute you spent helping make me a more knowledgeable and interesting person means a lot to me. Without your support, I would’ve never learned nearly as much.

And a final thank you. To you, for reading this! If you’ve made it this far, you likely (or at least hopefully) enjoy my writing so check out a few other articles too…

The 4 Things Every Team Manager Should Know
You Will Never Be Satisfied. Here’s Why.
2 Hackathons in 2 Weeks: Top 5 Takeaways

Hey, I’m Parmin, a 15 y/o student researcher studying stem cells 🧪 Everyday, I aspire to uncover the secrets of biology and learn something new! Make sure to follow me on Medium to hear about every new article I post, connect with me on LinkedIn, or contact me at parminsedigh@gmail.com! Also subscribe to my monthly newsletter to learn about every cool, new thing I’m working on ✍️

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