LifeStory - iGEMathon
iGEM gives a rather broad definition to what “Human Practices” are in the scope of the competition. The term refers to the team's awareness of the project potential and actual impact on the global and local society, whether positive or negative. Human practices encompass the actions and behaviors of the team members that ensure the smooth conduction of their project, as well as the outreach strategies employed by the teams to spread a powerful message to the public regarding their projects, iGEM values and the science entrepreneurship. Our team dedicated part of its human practices brainpower to better understand the notions and ideals incorporated into the iGEM Human Practices. Therefore, we launched a program - iGEMathon - to collaborate with other teams and create an issue of a new research journal called LifeStory, where we attempt to define and explore the definitions and components of human practices and integrated human practices.
iGEMathon - LifeStory is an international collaboration between iGEM teams, organised and proudly presented by our team. Its main objective is to reimagine the meaning of human practices and to reflect on the actions that the participating teams carried out throughout their project. To kick-start the collaboration, we have contacted other teams via the common iGEM 2021 Slack to organise a meeting and discuss our project vision with any interested teams. The meeting was scheduled in August 2021 between Istanbul_Tech (Turkey), Stony_Brook (United States), ECUST_China (China) and our team. Following this, Stony_Brook and ECUST_China decided to complete the entire program.
iGEMathon has evolved into a 3-phase program, conducted within one month. Each phase is briefly described below, and details can be found in the program template offered to the participating teams as guidance. You should also check out our “final product”, the LifeStory journal by clicking here!
Phase I: Human Practices
The first phase of the iGEMathon offered participants to explore their definition and application of human practices values when the collaboration began. The teams were expected to write a brief text to address the questions and guidelines provided by the template. We asked teams to begin with sharing and elaborating on their definition of the “human practices”. Then, we asked about the envisioned impact and stakeholders of their respective topics, their motivations for conducting their project, how it was connected with society etc. Interestingly, Stony_Brook highlighted the importance of the community spirit in their human practices, and how the project derives from “working together and harmonizing with the community” (LifeStory, 2021).
Phase II: LifeStory
The objective of the second phase was to push further the thinking process initiated in phase I, but also leaving some space for creativity. This part is the main body of the LifeStory research journal. We designed two axes - iGEMicit and iGEMissh - each of them featuring two subjects (called options). Each team could choose their favorite axis and pick one of its proposed subjects.
- iGEM in Creativity, Innovation & Teamwork! (iGEMicit)
- Option 1 - “The Stories Where We Belong”: write a short story that describes the team members, their motivations. Tell us how the members have converged into one group, have created and have been conducting a project. Here, the goal is to provide space to individuals within the iGEM sphere, to emphasize on each members' unique mindset, skills and wishes.
- Option 2 -”The Story of Stories”: write a brief fictional story that introduces a new application to the iGEM community (iGEMers, judges, mentors). A list of proposed topics is provided in the template. These include a range of themes, such as value of life, adventure and dreams, environmental impact, and bioethics. The themes were inspired by the main components of the students’ iGEM experience. ECUST_China selected this option and wrote a story “Search the ocean” that parallels their iGEM journey with young adventurers exploring a mirage/ legendary ocean (see p.10-11).
- iGEM in Social Sciences & Humanities (iGEMissh)
- Option 1 - “This is iGEM!”: write a short research statement from the team’s perspective, discussing how iGEM and LifeStory align/ diverge with values linked to the iGEM human practices (e.g. integrity, respect, honesty, cooperation, effort, etc.). The complete list is included in the template. This option was picked by the Stony_Brook team, see p. 5-8.
- Option 2 - “History, Heritage, iGEM!”: create a museum-like collection of artifacts from former iGEMers’ projects, their accomplishments and memories. The objective here is to bring together cultures, customs and memories from the past and present iGEM communities, as human practices can be interpreted as a collective endeavor across time and space.
Phase III: Integrated Human Practices
The third and final phase had a similar format to the first phase (text based on questionnaire-like guidelines), but it was focused on the integrated human practices. Here, we interpret this term from a literal perspective. The teams were asked to reflect on their human practices journey after having completed LifeStory - iGEMathon, as well as other related human practice actions. In short, the aim of this phase was to help teams see how their thoughts, feelings and experience have evolved throughout their human practices journey. We thought this was an important step to include within the program, because it allows teams to “go beyond” their work by analyzing it. The participants put human practices in the context of the iGEM competition, their project, and society once more - while giving participating members a positive feeling/ satisfaction with their progress (which is in a sense, one of the most “human” behaviors).