Why should iGEM tickle your fancy? The story behind the world’s greatest synthetic biology competition which transforms our students into peak performers (Part 2 of 2)

I bet you’ve heard of iGEM by now! Yes? No? Or maybe you’re not aware that our own students have grabbed life by the horns by participating? Alrighty, no worries – we have a quick fix for that. Just last month, we published a dancing overview of this grandiouse competition where we lined out how students and recent graduates from Stockholm have undertaken the effort to outsmart biology and show in which way designing biological systems may change the world’s (and their own) skill sets.

What will it, though, mean to the team members, personally? In this piece, you’ll get a feeling how being an iGEM team member may offer an opportunity to try your hand in entrepreneurship, shape your character, and dedicate in a way that pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone to peak performance.

Let’s start climbing

To dig deeper, we interviewed five ambitious members of the iGEM Stockholm team, who all echoed in confidence when Larsen Vornholz, one of this year’s team leaders from our biomedicine programme, described the competition as a unique opportunity for students – it demands and, at the same time, helps to grow the qualities of endurance and high motivation, and the interest in synthetic biology.

Larsen Vornholz, the co-leader of this year’s team (originally from Switzerland, currently a student in our biomedicine programme) ©

Head of the research team, Shivashree Dhanaraj, a former bioengineer studying bioentrepreneurship at KI, sees the year-long challenge as the best platform to prove you’re capable of real effort in a team that counts on you.

„Here, you either take up the responsibility or the work won’t get done,“ she explains with flaming eyes and evidently revels in the self-driven nature of the whole project. You can bet her evaluation of iGEM’s inherent freedom and participants’ self-drivenness is on the spot, as during free time, Shivashree enjoys riding a 200 kg cruiser bike 😉

Shivashree Dhanaraj, head of this year’s research team (originally from India, currently a student in our bioentrepreneurship programme) ©

Sina Amoor Pour, described as the „glue“, „the biohacker“ and „the chief coder“ (all by the grace of his team mates), enforces Shivashree’s point by portraying his own experience from the last year, as he’s already an iGEM veteran. „It’s a good way to learn, to experience how pushing your comfort zone feels and how to get things done.“ As a fresh KTH alumnus, he emphasizes the sheer importance of gaining multiple perspectives by getting out of your „bubble“ – iGEM Stockholm consists of enthusiasts from various universities, disciplines, nationalities, and you can only imagine how diverse the annual Boston Jamboree will be! This year, nearly 300 teams have registered from all over the world and our own Stockholm team is happy to announce they recently received the official registration approval from the iGEM headquarters. Congratulations!

Sina Amoor Pour, an alleged “chief coder” and “biohacker” of the team (originally from Sweden, a KTH graduate working as the head of a lab for Stockholm Makerspace) ©

Amanda Pellnäs, the second team leader from KTH with a background in biotechnology, underscores the diversity aspect by encouraging everyone to take part of the upcoming iGEMs:

„If you’re willing to put your effort in this, it doesn’t really matter how much previous experience you have.“

Amanda Pellnäs, the co-leader of this year’s team (originally from Sweden, currently a biotechnology engineering student at KTH) ©

Larsen shares his co-leader’s views and adds that while previous field-specific experience is beneficial, motivation to fully commit is the bottom line.

iGEM, organised by an independent non-profit foundation, promotes strong team values which have also been adopted by iGEM Stockholm to ensure the inital motivation and joy of effort can thrive through-out this journey. Students are expected to be honest with their research, cooperate with one another, practice good sportsmanship, be respectful of their peers and celebrate everyone’s efforts. The team the best embodies these values receives an award and the respect of all the iGEM community.

Reaching new heights

The motivation seems to thrive indeed. While all the team members of iGEM Stockholm had to start from scratch, they’ve plenty of news to share. You can check out the media team’s work from Facebook and Instagram (@igemstockholm – be sure to see the boomerangs of their team members, they’re pretty playful!), and soon the official website will be launched. The finance team is in the middle of a general sponsorship campaign and will soon get more specific, as there’s already something magical going on in the heads of the research team members who are heavily involved in defining and finalising the research topic and question, and plan to start the wet lab phase in June. iGEM Stockholm builds their team also out-of-office: the whole bunch decided to do something quite cool and wacky, and went fencing – tell me about chivalry! Can’t wait to see these troopers in action.

iGEM competition empowers teams to manage their own projects, advocate for their research and secure funding. Sonia Acosta Luis, head of the finance team and a current bioentrepreneurship student, takes the „empowering“ aspect to another level and tells us that taking part of the iGEM challenge is similar to having your own start up.

„There’s freedom to meet and collaborate, test and drive, improve and learn, face things that you haven’t faced before. You can put your energy, and yourself, in it, and it’s gonna be a completely different story compared to what you’ve experienced before – like your own start up.“

DSC_0075_view – koopia
Sonia Acosta Luis, the head of this year’s finance team (originally from Spain, currently a student in our bioentrepreneurship programme) ©

That’s it for this time, folks! You’re also welcome to see the shorter version of our live video interview (with the name “iGEM is on the roll!…”) from our Prospective Students’ Facebook page. Be sure to keep an eye on iGEM Stockholm’s social media to be informed of the upcoming opportunities and follow our team on their journey to summit, all the way to the Boston Jamboree! 

MBE Digital Ambassador

(usually in action in our live feed videos on FB)


How to find me:
– email: paula.sandrak@stud.ki.se
– LinkedIn: Paula Salme Sandrak


Great thanks goes to our wonderful Christina Neofytou for this fun interview collab! Be sure to check out her other posts next to the iGEM one, and if you’re not her follower on Instagram, it’s about time to become one (@kistudents, @christie_inabow)! Tons of KI-related student life flowing there.

Photos (incl cover): © Paula Salme Sandrak

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