28 Jan Anthony Neil Tan
Story By Anthony Neil Tan, 2018 CIRM SPARK Student.
Attended undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Majoring in Bioengineering
It’s More than Just Stem Cells!
In freshman year of high school, I was flipping through my favorite biology textbook when a page titled “Stem Cells” caught my eye. Captivated by the potential of stem cells to revolutionize medicine, I read and read. All the while, my simple fascination turned into a research aspiration. By summer before senior year I found myself in CIRM SPARK, an 8-week stem cell research program run by Pathways to Stem Cell Science (Pathways) and Caltech.
After one week of learning stem cell culture techniques at Pathways, I was assigned to the Khoshnan Lab at Caltech to conduct my research project which investigated the presence of amyloid-producing bacteria in soil and the effect of bacterial amyloid proteins on induced human pluripotent stem cells. Every day at the lab was a journey to the microscopic world. I would stay in the microscope room for hours, mesmerized by the geometric arrangement of human stem cells and the long filamentous strands of bacteria.
Eight weeks felt like eight exhilarating days and by the end of the program I had an amazing story to tell. I shared my experience with middle school students, encouraging them to seek research opportunities themselves. I also shared my story with scholarship committees and admission officers, winning scholarships and gaining early acceptance into UC Berkeley’s bioengineering program.
Most of all, CIRM SPARK empowered me to achieve more. In senior year of high school, I excelled in extracurriculars and academics. I founded a non-profit project to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities and became the top winner of the 2019 HonorsGradU “Design A Better Future national challenge“. At the same time, I graduated as Valedictorian of Rowland High School Class of 2019.
Now I am a second-year Bioengineering undergraduate at UC Berkeley and I am pursuing a career in the alternative protein industry where I can apply my stem cell culture skills towards creating more sustainable food systems. Starting February, I will be a Bioengineering Intern at New Age Meats, a cellular agriculture startup committed to producing intensely flavorful meat that’s better for people, animals, and the planet.
Looking back, I feel extremely fortunate because all of this could not have been possible without the extra mile Pathways staff take.
Pathways staff fostered a nurturing learning environment helping me to develop a resilience to failure. They welcomed every question and guided my past mistakes. Above all, Pathways training had equipped me with the mentality that every failure was an opportunity to troubleshoot. When my experiment at Caltech failed and failed while other CIRM SPARK fellows wrapped up theirs, I kept moving forward. Program mentors, Caltech graduate students, and former fellows extended their support. In the end, I not only completed my research but also became comfortable with failure as an opportunity to learn.
Pathways’ forums introduced me to diverse biotech careers. I had the opportunity to talk to several guest speakers: a biotech entrepreneur, a patient advocate, a professor, a bioinformatician, an intellectual property manager, and a rare diseases researcher. Pathways founder Dr. Victoria Fox took these forums one notch further: she gave detailed presentations on tuition, length of study, and difficulty level associated with various biotech careers, helping us avoid uninformed (and costly) decision making. Collectively, these forums led me to carefully examine my educational options before choosing my college major and my intended career path.