Resources/Tips for Teams

Tips for Teams

We often say “iGEM is hard, but it’s worth it”. We spoke with 2020 iGEM teams in February and March of this year to hear about their experiences last year. From those conversations, we’ve collected some useful tips for teams and have shared them below!

Deliverables and Medal Criteria

  • Start work on the deliverables earlier - things take longer than you expect
    • Arrange the work in advance so you won’t go crazy before the deadlines
    • Determine who will work on the various deliverables and requirements at the start of your iGEM project
    • Wiki writing and designing should be done throughout the iGEM season, starting in May or June
    • Focus on the Registry part pages earlier and ask questions early if you’re unclear on how to create and/or document new part pages

    "Do things in advance, do not cram for deadlines!"
    "[Our] team was told to work on deliverables in advance but had to learn from experience to do so."

  • Pay attention to requirements and deliverables
    • Review medal criteria to understand exactly what your team needs to do, and check for changes from the previous year
    • Look at winning iGEM teams from past years for inspiration
    • For videos, recruit team members experienced with video editing or animation

    "We realized quite late that we didn’t have some of the medal criteria"
    "Focus on the medal criteria and what the objectives are… Not just the science, but how it will be presented"

  • Have an internal calendar based on deliverables and deadlines
    • Set internal deadlines instead of everyone waiting until the real deadline with chaos the night before
    • Read the iGEM newsletters; they will help you keep track of deadlines

    "Time management is crucial -- don't wait until the last minute!"

Team Structure

  • Define the role of Team Leader for your team
    • Determine how many team leaders you will need
    • Team leaders should ensure that team members are doing well
    • Some aspects teams mentioned of a good team leader: must really love the project and be responsible, they need to keep on top of deliverables and deadlines

    "A new team needs at least two team leaders, it’s hard to handle all the things. I was the only team leader… very tiring"

  • Create time for social connections and team building
    • Try to keep it fun at the same time, try to keep the atmosphere light
    • In the end it’s a competition, it’s okay to take a break: iGEM can be overwhelming and stressful - taking days off of iGEM is important
    • Do team building and evaluate who works well with whom
    • Team building and having a good rapport with team leaders is really important

  • Consider splitting into subgroups with different focuses
    • There are different ways to split into subgroups. Some examples of subgroups might include: wiki, wet lab, modeling, fundraising, human practices, software, and/or communications.
    • Team members should be in multiple subgroups or rotate between them

    "I do not recommend having subgroups and making only a few people participate in experiments because you need a profound understanding of your experiments regardless of your "specialized" area."
    "We rotated around the subgroups, which created a mentality of being available to help each other out"

  • Decide on a style / strategy of team management
    • Look at different methods of organizing a project group (agile, sprint) outside of the field for inspiration
    • Have a clear distribution of tasks so everyone knows what they are responsible for and check in to see if anyone would like to change tasks during the season
    • Be flexible! Some people may realize they are better suited and/or more interested in other tasks as the project progresses

    "We worked together to determine how to organize ourselves, what roles do we need to fill, how do we find people to fill those roles"

Connecting and Communicating

  • Nurture connections with each other
    • Keeping open channels of communications across the entire team is really important

    "The most important thing was to talk to each other. If something doesn’t work: ask for help or different ideas"
    "Team management was the biggest internal challenge; cooperation and communication is key"

  • Reach out for support
    • If you’re a newer team, join the Mentorship Program

    "Never be afraid to cold email or reach out to people you don’t know--the worst you can get is a “no” or a lack of response!"
    "Our Ambassador was really helpful and open for questions. She was always ready to meet with us, held regular meetings and opened the iGEM Zoom room to us for collaborations with other teams."

  • Connect with Other iGEM Teams
    • Use the Collaborations page to connect with other teams
    • Join the Global Slack channel

    "Use the iGEM Slack to engage with other iGEM teams - we found it very helpful!"

Meeting Organization

  • Have regular whole-team and sub-team meetings
    • Whole team meetings, once every week or two weeks, keep everyone well-informed
    • Some platforms teams used were: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, WeChat, Discord, Jitsi, QQ
    • Regardless of platform, it’s important to keep notes from your meetings

    "We often used whole-team meetings to brainstorm our next steps as a team, to evaluate performances and keep track of deadlines and special events."
    "Each subteam (for example Human Practice, Software development etc.) scheduled its own meetings when necessary according to progress."

  • Track action items, objectives and shared to-dos
    • Use organisation apps so you have an overview of time and tasks
    • Weekly learning objectives were initially set by team leaders and then set by ourselves as the season went on
    • Create action item lists at the end of every meeting and note who is responsible for those action items

    "Regular team meetings were very helpful to who needs help and who has already finished their work. Also a weekly to-do list was very helpful to stay organized."

Project Development

  • For engineering, it’s better to research the problem and determine if synbio is a good solution
    • Spend more time on the “Design” phase of your project than you would expect to need
    • One team recommended taking 3 weeks for project design:
      • Week 1: Brainstorm
      • Week 2: Research the specific problem
      • Week 3: Determine if synbio is a good solution for the problem
  • Planning ahead is the most important thing - if you don’t do things ahead, it’s hard to carry out all of the plans
    • Write up notes and summaries for each paper → get the citations ready as you work on the project
    • Modeling perspective: working on modeling earlier is very important
    • Be prepared to spend some time finding the relevant information online
  • Don’t be afraid to change your project design
    • You may realize you’ve missed important considerations and need to redesign part of or your entire project, even late in the season; this is a part of doing synthetic biology to address real-world problems!

    "When narrowing down the topics for projects stay innovative and passionate but also rational and well-concerned"

Other Tips

  • Resources
    • Read the Judging Handbook, which includes helpful examples from past years
    • Review resources provided by iGEM: tutorials from the Engineering Committee were useful
    • Sponsor Offers are very useful - make use of them!
    • Attend iGEM events, “a seminar early in the season on surveys and human practices was very useful”
  • Starting early: not just for deliverables
    • "Define the limitations of your project earlier in the season and use your Human Practices interactions to address them."
    • "Start fundraising efforts early (this should be an on-going effort throughout the season). Email and call local companies, talk to the head of the department or college, investigate other on-campus funding sources"
  • Learning from iGEM
    • "The thing I learned most is teamwork and teamwork again"
    • "The iGEM Competition is a unique experience with many difficulties but also so much satisfaction. What we would advise to future teams is to relax and enjoy every day of their iGEM life. Through these challenges, they will manage to understand themselves better and culture many skills. The only thing they need is to choose a project that will make them wake up every morning happy to be working on it."