iGEM Team Management

iGEM Team Management


Last year, while I was reading the wikis of past iGEM teams and realized that our team was about to start doing the very same, I felt overwhelmed: there seems to be a lot to do for just a summer!


 Anyways, the team drive was stronger and we got along with some management techniques such as using a printed scheme of the plasmid constructions that had to be done and making quick reports.
But as the project evolved and many things had to be adapted according the many unexpected eventualities, we soon realized that there are many other considerations that had to be taken into account.



Running a succesful iGEM Team by Dr. Wayne Materi

What can be done to improve the performance of a team? What were previously successful teams doing to get results in so difficult-looking tasks in so few time?



Those are questions for which I believe I have found a better perspective in two sources: Dr. Wayne Materi’s  very useful guideline on the matter: “Running a successful iGEM Team” -which should be a must-read for any iGEM team- and a short questionnaire that my team (UANL) got answered by some previous iGEMers.



Here I present some highlights of both sources.



Improving the team’s performance


Start working on the next year’s project right after the jamboree is over is a good strategy to follow. Continuing with your past year’s project can be attractive not only because you do not have to start from scratch, but also because your results can lead to a publication.



Also, the search for new team members has to be carried out. Dr. Materi gives some nice recommendations for this task (like when is it good to implement a selection scheme) and also introduces something very important to avoid any conflict: get the students and instructors to sign a formal agreement with clauses about team goals, learning, ethics and, of course, working time.



Some important qualities that previous iGEMers think that an iGEMer should have (and which you may be looking for in new team members) are:



Self-motivation, drive for success and enthusiasm.– things may get stressful and discouraging, as happens in every challenging and worth taking project; these qualities are of great importance.



Creativity.- thinking outside the box and the ability to find solutions, and a nice project are essential skills.


Honesty.- as Dr. Materi says: “admitting an error is much less costly than trying to hide it”. Also, when approaching media and sponsors, honesty is part of any scientist’s ethics.



Team work skills.- it is impossible to make an iGEM project alone! The openness to accept the fact that there are team members that might be better at doing something is of great importance, as well as the responsibility for them to teach the ones who might need assistance. Also, interacting with other people for a relatively prolonged time to achieve a common goal inevitably leads to differences about what’s the best way to do it. Tolerance is also very important here.



Dedication.- some of my teammates consider that the will to invest the summer and some weekends should be implicit to an iGEMer. I agree with them. But even if the work scheme is different for other teams, dedication and persistence sure make a difference. A valuable team member won’t be afraid of running the extra mile in the lab, while making the wiki, the math model or with human practices activities.



Make connections with the local media, with different departments and schools in the university and, of course, with sponsors! One tip that Dr. Materi gives is to raise awareness say, in a newspaper, about your past year’s project and along the way, introduce the new one without any exaggeration of facts and expectations. This may help to attract new team members with different backgrounds and may also give future sponsors an idea of the audience reach that their publicity could have if they support your project. Also, some government offices may be helpful also to support your university with your project.


Build an efficient work environment. Holding regular meetings with the team helps to keep track of what is going on, to set important deadlines and see how the project is evolving and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Also, having a place were to hold these meetings and the proper materials (like, whiteboards, note papers, and so on) makes communication easier.


A practice that seems to be common, is to have some kind of a “supervisor”, i.e. someone who knows who is doing what, what is needed, someone who keeps track of deadlines and can mediate communication through the different team members, sub-teams, the faculty advisers and reagent suppliers .


The essential points here are: communication and leadership.


Learn from yourselves and others. You can get ideas for your project and also on how to present your information in your jamboree talk, poster and wiki by looking at the work of past teams. Our database might be helpful there.


 Also, Dr. Materi recommends the team to share their impressions immediately after the jamboree.


 Something worth commenting is the most time-consuming activity that teams encounter: cloning! This is constitutes the whole of some projects devoted to the construction of novel BioBricks and, in that context, it may sound normal; but this can happen even for the cloning with already existing BioBricks.


 It is interesting to note that all of the six teams surveyed agree on this point and that many wikis we read during the elaboration of the database stated that their wet lab work was compromised because they couldn’t get their constructions on time.


 Both Dr. Materi and our fellow iGEMers recommend to start with the assembly steps early in the summer and if you still have some BioBricks from last year, well, maybe start right away after the jamboree. Also, you may like to try with alternative assembly strategies like the Gibson assembly.


Get ready! Working in an iGEM project has been, personally, one of the best and most productive experiences I’ve had and I think my team mates and fellow iGEMers would also agree. You will get in contact with many interesting people with great ideas and maybe you’ll find a career opportunity along the way.


But one has to be able to handle with stress and failure. It is practically inevitable that something won’t go according to plan and will demand a creative solution. Don’t step back so easily. Remember that all iGEMers are young, active minds like you, willing to share their ideas and hear yours. By talking openly with your team mates, your advisers,   and, of course, iGEMers from other teams, you might be able to gain perspective, identify quickly problems and opportunities and adapt your team’s workforce accordingly.



Special thanks to…


-C. Schoene and team Imperial College


-N. Dawson and team Lethbridge


-D. Mehta and team VIT Vellore


-E. Walters and team UW Madison


-S. Gould and team Camdridge (thanks also for the guest post!)




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