Team:Queens Canada/SynthetiQ/how


Revision as of 23:22, 26 October 2012 by A.Pham (Talk | contribs)



This is our methods section. This page is a journal written by Kevin Chen, who lead this project, that details how we started, some of the challenges, and how we solved them. I've highlighted the sections that are key for people interested in doing this themselves, that way you can skip through my other blabber if you want.


The initial inspiration for this project came from two main things:
  1. John Bohnanon's talk TEDxBrussels:
    • I had only heard a little bit about the Dance Your PhD Contest before watching this video. I thought that this video was incredible and right after watching it, this was already added to the "list of things that I'd like to do something in my life". Of course, at the same time I had to add "Get a PhD" to that list.
  2. Emma Ware winning the social sciences category of DYPhD 2011:
    • I knew Emma through dancing with the KinetiQ Crew. I found out about this shortly after watching John Bohannon's talk and I was thrilled to hear that this was something that actually happened here at Queen's. So the whole thing just felt a lot closer. This confirmed it. I had to do something like this when I'm doing my PhD.

At this time, I was a volunteer with Queen's iGEM 2011 and we had just returned from the World Finals. Next came a dry period where I didn't really think much about the whole dance thing, and I was focused more on leading the QGEM executive.

It wasn't until I became the team manager for the summer research team that this had actually clicked in as something I might not have to wait till I get my PhD to do. I wrote to a number of our team members asking what their thoughts on this might have been and I expected there to be a few concerns, at least money and logistics wise, but they were all pretty supportive.

There are few key reasons why this suddenly sounded appealing to me, and maybe sounded appealing to a dancer:
  • It's a unique opportunity and experience
  • International exposure
  • Funding and logistical basis through the QGEM team
  • iGEM and synbio seem like they might be generally open to weird awesome stuff like this
  • This is the perfect research setting (Would any professional level conference really find this appropriate and/or worth the effort?)
  • Synbio research is awesome.
  • Why not now?

The Summer

Now, the real work began. I started by contacting a number of different dancers, or others involved with dance about this idea. And, for the most part, I got very little response. This could have been for a number of reasons:

  • No one actually thought this was a good idea
  • Everyone was out of town for the summer or busy
  • We weren't promoting this properly

Had we started contacting people before the summer started, we might have had better results. But, we pushed onwards.

The next two people I contacted both provided lots of help and inspiration.

  1. John Bohannon:
    There were few things that Dr. Bohannon suggested.
    • Find a dancer that knows people in the dance community and will be able to lead the project. Maybe even hire this person as an artist in residence.
    • Make it fun, hilarious and incorporate other dance styles.
    • University campuses are crawling with dancers.
  2. Melissa Wilton:
    Melissa is somebody I originally met through an outreach program that she was organizing that connected the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston with the KinetiQ Crew and BBOYIZM, a professional dance company with a focus in BBoying. I spoke with Melissa about recruiting dancers and getting the Kingston Dance Community involved. She helped us spread the word about our group throughout Kingston and the area. Most importantly, she played a key role in helping us with problem solving our situation when we weren't finding dancers. Her support lead us to our article in the Kingston EMC. And, even when things weren't working in our favor, she really kept us going.

Over the rest of the summer, the research team and I worked on just doing some general bodystorm, which lead to our DNA model. And, we gathered everyone together to make our video about PCR. Even though we filmed this around the end of July, and intended to release it shortly after. We ended up spending pretty much all of our time trying to get our lab work to actually work. But, we were hoping to get more content in the video and talk specifically about amplifying DNA out of a genome. I only got around to finishing the editing the week of the wiki-freeze. That was probably a mistake, but I was happy with how it turned out in the end.


September rolled around way faster than we had hoped, and our lab stuff wasn't going very well at all either. So I was just pulling my hair out. Then, our article in the Kingston EMC came about, and we made another push for recruitment. This time, people were starting to prepare to starting school again.
The first group we heard back from was the Queen's Salsa Club. This was very interesting because I had a few members from their group message me about their interest, and we had a few meetings to talk about planning and what we can do. There were three people who were interested, one of which was a retired bookseller with a PhD in German. Although the group was small, their interest told me that people actually thought this was a good idea and that played a key role in keeping us going.

At this point we also got our first responses from the Queen's Dance Club, who passed my information on to the teachers and dancers in their mailing list. We got a few people that were interested, some of which were in town and some that were still on their summer vacation. In the first week of September, I met with a couple of these people, Devon Ryan, who became our choreographer and Sam Demetrious, who became a dancer on our team. So I quickly put together a draft of our script, which only really talked about some of the foundation of our project (because we didn't have any results yet), and we worked together on how we could actually make this into a dance. Now that all the students have returned to Queen's, Devon and Sam were able to do recruitment in no time at all.

Next, we started practicing as a group. That first practice was also the first moment that I actually realized that this whole thing might actually happen. At this point, the iGEMers were all becoming too busy with school to contribute much of their time to the unfinished project, let alone the presentation. So, sadly, the presentation became entirely my own responsibility.

Logistics and the Regional Jamboree

Naturally, research conferences in general are not designed to accommodate dance routines, and some lecture halls, particularly in the sciences, have large, fixed tables at the front of the rooms for running demos. There is also travel and accommodations to look after. Let's break it down.

  1. Travel
    • Because we were bringing so many people to the iGEM Jamboree, transportation was a bit challenging and this was probably the largest additional cost. We had considered paying to rent a bus, that would travel with all of the iGEM teams from Ontario, and split the cost. This started out as a really great idea, and an awesome way to meet our neighboring teams, but this didn't end up working out. Possibly because it was a little too close to the competition when we started planning this. In the end, we decided to opt for rental cars but, we were short on drivers. So we asked a few friends, rented 3 vans and made it to the jamboree. And, we only got a little bit lost.
  2. Accommodations
    • Accommodations was the second additional cost. We ended up renting one extra room to accommodate our entire team and dancers, which was only one more than what we would have done normally. We probably could have saved money by renting at a cheaper hotel nearby but we stuck with the iGEM rate at the Pittsburgh Marriott and kept our entire group together.
  3. Presentation Space
    • And this was probably the biggest challenge. Leading up to the competition, it was really important that we get as much information as we could about what sort of presentation space we would be using for the actual presentation. Initially we had a lot of help from the Americas East Regional Jamboree organizer, Sarah Clements from IBE. However, simply because of the way that the schedule is made, and the timing of things leading up to it, we ended up being scheduled in a room that had large, unmovable, demo table in the front of it, our worst nightmare. After finding out our placement, we went there first thing in the morning to look at it. Immediately, the dancers started preparing for the worst, and brainstormed new changes to try and make it work. In the meantime, I was running around campus talking to Meagan Lizarazo, the iGEM vice-president and iGEM judges trying to fix our situation. After, some last minute switches, and a few heart attacks, we ended up being shifted to a space which had a movable table, and we were able to perform. So special thanks goes out to Sarah and Meagan for helping us arrange this.

After the Jamboree

We won the Best Model award! This was an amazing achievement for our team, and the first time that we have won an individual award. Originally, this project was more aimed at human practices. However, the explanation for why this was an excellent modelling project made perfect sense. And, after checking out the winner of the human practices project this year, I agree with the judges decision. This project, and its website, initially had very little documentation attached to it, with virtually no feedback, or detailed content. Ideally, I would have liked to really get this going, and possibly even do some testing to see whether or not people retained information better from the dance compared to a pure powerpoint presentation. There is so much potential to do some really creative outreach and get more people involved. But, we'll have to leave this for the future. For now, we are working on perfecting our routine and making a few additions based on some feedback after the regionals and a little bit of content we wanted to add here and there.

See you at the finals!