August 17th, 2020

Dear future finalists: Looking back on Genes in Space 2020

Guest post from the 2020 finalists: Deepti Aggarwal, Tamara Gruslova, Ava Hanadel, Kristoff Misquitta, and Alex Popescu

Genes in Space in 2020 was a year unlike any other. While a global pandemic was raging on in our metaphorical backyard, we had the opportunity to think about something much, much larger. As the finalists of GiS 2020, we had the opportunity to launch ourselves into the great unknown, and we can attest that the road to the Finalist Launchpad was a long one.

As we look back on the Launchpad, we wanted to answer some questions that we would’ve had as participants applying to the program. We want to share what all aspects of this program felt like in this topsy-turvy year, even though we know our experience was one-of-a-kind. We hope what we have learned will help all of you as you prepare your submissions.

2020 finalist Alexander Popescu 2020 finalist Alex Popescu

How did you get help from your mentor? 

(Answered by Alex Popescu)

My mentor, Aleks, was such a valuable resource for me. We mainly communicated through email and Zoom, and made an agenda for each meeting to help us stay organized and on task. Despite working long hours in the lab, Aleks was always available to answer any questions I had. The relationships I built through Genes in Space, and the fact that I always knew that I had someone I could talk to if I had questions, were a highlight of my Genes in Space experience. The relationship that you develop with your mentor is something that you’ll have long after the Finalist Launchpad – I know I will.

2020 finalist Ava Hanadel 2020 finalist Ava Hanadel

How did you balance Genes in Space with all the other things you had going on? 

(Answered by Ava Hanadel)

These last few months were an intense experience at times. Here are some tips I have to keep motivated. First, give yourself time to do things outside of science! It is so easy to get wrapped up in science, but keeping perspective on other things that you love is so important. Second, make sure you're not over-scheduling yourself. Reach out to your mentor and find times to meet that work well with both of your schedules. Finally, have fun! At the end of the day, the most important thing is that YOU get something valuable out of this and create amazing memories. Good luck!

Kristoff Misquitta 2020 winner Kristoff Misquitta

How did you condense all the information into a ten minute presentation? 

(Answered by Kristoff Misquitta)

Lots of practice and feedback! When you’ve devoted so many weeks of work to your topic, it’s hard to let go of that statistic you really love or that diagram you think explains your topic perfectly. Having an extra pair of eyes (or two) is really useful for snipping out the redundancies that find their way into the talk.

It may seem contradictory, but doing more research is helpful as well. It’s only when you have the strongest grasp of your topic that you understand what’s inessential to your message. Even better, you may find a figure that’s more effective than the one you thought was perfect.

2020 finalist Tamara Gruslova 2020 finalist Tamara Gruslova

What does the Q&A from the judges feel like?

(Answered by Tamara Gruslova)

It was definitely stressful since you don’t really know what you will get asked! Overall though, it helped me learn how to work through stress and still answer the questions. Also, it was good to be able to give the judges additional information about the project that I wasn’t able to fit in the 10 minute presentation. At the end of the day, as long as you know your topic well the Q&A should not be that bad as the questions will be variations of information you already know.

2020 finalist Deepti Aggarwal 2020 finalist Deepti Aggarwal

What was the most memorable part of this year’s finals?

(Answered by Deepti Aggarwal)

The most memorable part of this year’s finals was definitely the presentations. I almost thought I  wouldn’t be able to survive a five hour Zoom call, but here I am! It was fascinating to watch all the other finalists present and learn from them. It was intimidating when it was my turn to present, but I’ll never forget the feeling of “all eyes on me”. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a rock star, so I’ll take it.

While most people will remember 2020 as a year that was confusing, lonely and uncertain, we will be lucky enough to look back on this time as educational, exciting, electrifyingly-terrifyingly-intoxicatingly exhilarating, and utterly unforgettable. In the end, we’re not going to remember the author of the research article that we cited on the last slide of the presentation. But we’ll be able to think back to the people, the places, and the papers we read that sparked something inside of us. Whether through casual discussions about papers or filming videos for social media, we built lasting relationships with our mentors and the entire Genes in Space team, and these relationships are a highlight of our Genes in Space experiences.

- The Genes in Space 2020 finalists

2020 finalists screenshot