SBC Alumni: Q&A with Miranda Wang

Miranda Wang is a Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada 2012 alumna, whose project with her research partner, Jeanny Yao, looked at the plastic degradative potentials of soil bacteria from the Fraser River area in BC. They collected 14 strains of soil bacteria from contaminated sites along the river, and identified three strains that could efficiently degrade phthalates – a plasticizer found in common items ranging from pharmaceutical pills to toys. The bacteria that were discovered by Miranda and Jeanny could be used to treat a lot of environmental contamination.

Miranda took time out her busy schedule at the University of Pennsylvania to talk to me via email about her experience and successes with the SBCC and what she’s doing now. She provides a lot of encouragement and motivating insights for students who are interested in participating in the SBCC and pursuing a career in science.

Tell us about your history with the SBCC.

In high school senior year, I participated in SBCC 2012 with a research project on the plastic degradative potentials of soil bacteria from the Fraser River. This research was generously sponsored and directed by Professor Lindsay Eltis and PhD students Adam Crowe and James Round at the University of British Columbia. My partner, Jeanny Yao, and I received first place at provincials and then the top commercialization award at the National Competition.

What are you doing now?

After the national SBCC competition, Jeanny and I were invited to speak about our research at TED2013: The Young, the Wise, the Undiscovered (the global TED conference). My experience in research and then in TED earned me the opportunity to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania. The experience in research and the media attention brought by SBCC and TED also provided me the opportunity to work at the National Research Council Canada and now at the Smilow Center for Translational Research at the UPenn Perelman School of Medicine. I currently work on understanding the epigenetic effects that BPA and phthalates have on imprinting genes and placental development of transgenic mice. I plan to sub-matriculate and receive a MS in Biochemistry at the end of my 4-year college career.

What motivated you to participate in the SBCC?

Curiosity for science and the urge to explore my future career possibilities were the main reasons for my involvement.

Describe what the competition process was like for you.

The competition process was exciting and rewarding. Although I wish I didn’t have to miss so many classes in third semester of senior year, I had a great experience with SBCC.

How has your participation helped you beyond high school?

As mentioned above, SBCC was the first step in my research and academic journey. Being invited to speak at TED as one of the world’s youngest speakers is an honor that would not have been given had I not participated in SBCC.

Describe your favorite aspect of participating in the SBCC.

My favorite aspect about SBCC is that the skills I learned in the competition really stayed with me. Skills such as knowing how to conduct laboratory research, thinking like a commercializer as opposed to a pure academic, or presenting like a leader in science, will play an ever so important role in my future career and pursuits.

What advice do you have for this year’s participants?

Treat your research seriously, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Work with people and be humble. Know that although what you find now is only the tip of the iceberg, it is nevertheless the best start to making a change in the world through biotechnology.

When I feel that science is too hard and I consider switching to an easier major, I think about what I did with SBCC and the impact that my TED talk has created, I think about all the people who trust and believe in me. Then I carry on and study harder because by overcoming every obstacle, I get that much closer to becoming a scientist.