A senior at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science, and Technology, Simran Modi headed to the 2016 BIO International Convention in San Francisco earlier this month, where she represented Georgia in the International BioGENEius Challenge. In this guest post, she shares her experiences being judged, interviewed, and thrown into the Gene Pool!
Ms. Modi is the winner of the 2016 Georgia BioGENEius Challenge, the premier competition for high school students that recognizes outstanding research and innovation in the biotechnology field. Her project, Novel Machine Learning Algorithms for Early Diagnosis of Melanoma, created a statistical and numerical method to diagnose skin cancer. Modi’s goal is to implement this software in an app and provide it to the public as well as to dermatologists.
~ June 5, 2016 ~
I’ve just landed in sunny San Francisco, California. It’s only 9 am, so I’m going out to explore the city. First stop: Chinatown! Starting at the Chinatown Gate, I walk up the hill and look around at the various cultural items and souvenirs. There are a lot of great deals, so I buy a t-shirt as a keepsake. Then, it’s off to Fisherman’s Wharf! I walk along the seaside and marvel at the beautiful birds. After this, I walk to Ghirardelli Square to sample some of the sweet treats. Then, I hop on a bus and head back to the hotel for the International BioGENEius Challenge Orientation. Here, I meet some of my fellow competitors for the first time. After learning about the competition and the other activities for the week, I head to sleep. Tomorrow is a long day of judging!
~ June 6, 2016 ~
I wake up bright and early and put on my best business suit. I head over to the BIO International Convention at the Moscone Center and set up my poster and display. Today is the day that we will spend talking to the judges about the research that we have done over the course of the year. Each student speaks to 5 pairs of judges that have varying expertise in biotechnology. In the afternoon, we have a short break for lunch and get right back to judging. After judging is complete, we head to rehearsal for tomorrow’s keynote address. Then, we record a few scenes for the International BioGENEius Challenge video. Back at the hotel, we head to a student dinner. The organizers of the event have set up karaoke for us! Throughout the evening, we spend time eating, singing, and getting to know the other competitors. I really enjoyed getting to learn about everyone’s backgrounds and how it led them here.
~ June 7, 2016 ~
Today, I wake up and head to breakfast. Then, it’s time for the keynote address and International BioGENEius Challenge Awards. First, the director of the Biotechnology Institute introduces the participants of the 2016 competition. Then, the awards are presented along with the main sponsor, Johnson & Johnson. After this, the students get VIP seats to hear the keynote address from Will Smith and Dr. Bennet Omalu. The talk focuses on Will Smith’s portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu in the new movie Concussion, which is based on the real life story of Dr. Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of deceased NFL players. It was really motivating and inspiring!
Then, we have some time to discuss our work with professionals in biotechnology who are attending the BIO International Convention as well. This was a great opportunity to network with others and learn about their work too. After lunch, it’s time for the Gene Pool Competition. This is the biotechnology version of the popular TV show, Shark Tank. However, our competition has a twist. Each student must give a one minute pitch on why their idea matters using a random prop. All 14 of us give our pitches, and the judges deliberate to select the top 4. I was really excited to find out that I made it to the top 4 and then I had to give a 2 minute pitch. With the audience’s votes, I made it to the top 2 in the Gene Pool competition. Then, I walked around the floor at BIO and enjoyed looking at exhibitor’s booths. Many of them had exciting giveaways, and most had fun things like froyo or a caricature artist. The last event for the day was the awards reception and banquet. The reception overlooked the beautiful San Francisco skyline. At the banquet, each student was recognized for his or her individual work in biotechnology. The dinner was a great time spent with the other students, and I’m sad to be leaving tomorrow.
~ June 8, 2016 ~
Today’s my last day at the BIO International Convention. I spend the morning exhibiting my poster and looking at many of the other booths from around the world. I spoke to a variety of people including scientists who are creating better pain management systems and business entrepreneurs working on developing new types of drugs. I even saw the presentation of a scientist from the U.K. who developed various games that can aid in diagnosis of mental disorders. After this, all of the BioGENEius students participated in an activity called Imagination Theater, where we role-played addressing the challenges of a biotechnology company in skit style. That concluded the International BioGENEius Challenge for 2016, and I set off to explore more of San Francisco before my flight home. Starting at Fisherman’s Wharf, I took a boat cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. The sunset made this moment perfect. Now, I’m heading to the airport and back home to Atlanta. Goodbye, San Francisco!
The Georgia BioGENEius Challenge is made possible through the sponsorship of King & Spalding and the firm’s Women in IP group. The women IP partners support and have an interest in continuing to identify programs that encourage girls and young women to pursue scientific and technical education.