"Every project is an opportunity to learn, to figure out problems and challenges, to invent and reinvent." - David Rockwell
So you’ve heard about this competition called iGEM and you are raring to go! But before you hit the labs, you need an idea for a project, so how do you actually get an idea? Through interviewing some of the teams we found that there was a few methods you can use to come up with an idea to pursue for the competition.
Let’s take a look at some of these Teams:
The University of KU Leuven is a long time participant in the iGEM competition, having competed for the last five years. Every year, however, there is a new group of students, and this year their team chose not to build on the previous year’s work, but to create their own.
So how did they design their project?
Team KU Leuven’s approach was, starting from the month of January to do weekly meetings to discuss potential project ideas in small groups and then narrow the ideas down so that the team collectively decide on one topic for the focus of their research. Once the project was decided on, when the summer started they were able to focus on their lab work to bring their vision to life.
We believe that this was a successful method to approach the project design, because of their time management. By starting in January, they gave themselves the freedom to really explore what problem they can address using synthetic biology and to properly plan what resources they would need for the summer.
However it is important to note that this was done during their winter semester and while participating in the iGEM competition is an extremely good learning opportunity and experience, we must remember that we should not let it distract us while in the classroom. Interestingly enough, some universities actually have courses that can prepare you for the competition! For example at the University of Alberta, through the department of biochemistry in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry they offer BIOCH 482: Design and Construction of Synthetic Biological Systems. This course is designed to prepare students for participation in the iGEM Competition through team-based problem solving.
So if you choose to use Team KU Leuven’s approach to project design, be sure to check your course listings at your institution to see if you can make the make the experience work doubly for you!
We’ve taken a look at a team that designed before the summer now let’s take a look at a team that designed at the beginning of summer…
The Eindhoven Institute of Technology is no stranger to iGEM. Their institution has competed multiple times, and they have a new team each year with a unique project. So how did they choose to design their project for this year’s competition circuit?
In the first month they began searching for problems and possible solutions as using the previous Eindhoven teams’ work as a guide as well. Through a series of presentations and small group discussions they realized that some of their proposed solutions to those problems were not possible due to lack of information, given the “new-ness” of the problems.
So what did they do?
They used the 2014 Eindhoven project for inspiration; inspired by Eindhoven 2014’s “Click Coli” project they used the previous year’s work as the foundation for a new type of Modular Biosensor! By making this decision early in the summer, they are able to not only come up with a feasible project idea, but also not cut into the bulk of summer time by overly focusing on a project idea.
Some can argue that designing a project at the start of the summer is not a practical idea, however we have seen that it is possible to still come up with a good project design by analysing and building on previous years’ work. At the jamboree we see many new and exciting projects, and while it is important to constantly explore new ideas, we must not forget that we can always improve upon previous years’ work. Whether it is improving the characteristic of a previous bio-brick or using a previous team’s project for inspiration, any improvement is a step forward.
We’ve seen two different approaches to project design from different teams, so how did we ,Team NAIT_Edmonton, design our project?
This year will our first time competing in the iGEM competition and despite looking at previous teams’ work we were having difficulty choosing a project. We started this planning in late spring and with summer quickly approaching, what would we do?
We decided to rely on our mentor Dr. Marcelo Marcet for inspiration for a project. He provided us with a few ideas, and after reviewing them we decided on one that was both practical and had potential for future applications.
In an interview we had with Dr. Marcet, he had this advice to give; “For a good project design, you need two things, knowledge and experience. Knowledge comes from our education and experience comes from actually experiencing the challenges. By combining these two together we can not only come up with a solution to the problem but also appreciate it.”
As first time iGEM’s this advice resonated with us. By learning from him and gaining experience by practicing synthetic biology, we can apply this thinking to not only the iGEM competition but also to any organisation we are a part of.