FAQ for new iGEM teams

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How do we raise money?

Some basics of fundraising:

  • It starts by crafting a compelling message. Why is iGEM important to your team and why should others support you? There is no shortage of these with iGEM. A few: It promotes collaborative interaction on a near-global scale; the open sharing of biological parts and data; provides a rich, unparalleled educational experience for students; pushes the limits of synthetic biology. Each team is going to bring a slightly different perspective to this.
  • Let your team's excitement and commitment be clearly seen. Don't be afraid to show some enthusiasm for participating. It's hard to refuse giving some support to people that are eager and keen and giving up their summer to do something worthwhile.
  • Underscore why the supervisors are choosing to be involved and what they are putting into the program. People are more likely to support your team if they see that the leaders are heavily invested.
  • More than just participation, project goals that are clearly understandable (even if the technical details are not) will help. This is particulary important for genetic projects. Instead of telling people you're making mutant bacteria, it might be more effective to share an understandable application -- eg. it's towards making a new cancer cure or solving energy shortages. Even if the project is relatively simple, where might it lead in a few years? Today's bacterial thermometer could be tomorrow's natural biosensor for environmental toxins.
  • There should be a sense of urgency, that the funds are needed now. How the funds are to be used is important. People like to know where money is going. Is it to pay stipends, buy equipment or reagents, or support travel? Clearly show where there are sponsorship opportunities and for what amounts.
  • Utilize a broad range of fundraisign methods. Personally approaching and soliciting prospects, be they individuals or organizations, is by far the most successful. This may be a meeting with your team with a person or group, or by inviting sponsors to attend a formal presentation where the team makes a case for their needs. This may require leveraging personal or professional contacts, talking with other fundraising groups at your school (alumni and business development groups have a lot of experience with this sort of thing), telephone calls, or other legwork.
  • Use the media. If your team is being featured in a school newspaper, local newspaper, etc., make a part of the message about how people interested in supporting your team can do so. Do they need to contact a certain person? The department office? Go to a web site?
  • Most universities are old hands at raising money. Tap into this experience by visiting the alumni office, or the office of foundations that may reside on campus. These groups usually already have sophisticated fundraising tools and comprehensive donor lists and could be a great help if they become interested in your team.
  • Be creative! Very simple things can be very effective at raising money. Runs or other forms of sponsored sport are popular. So are lotteries (although a license is usually needed for these, so check with the alumni office). Or just
  • Take the time to thank and recognize people for the suppport they provide to your school or team. Follow up. Send thank you cards that everyone has signed. If donors agree, send them updates on your work.

An excellent example of how to go about fundraising was provided by the Cambridge 2005 team, which produced a brochure, contacted local biotechnology companies, and hosted presentations. They successfully received financial and in-kind support. Also consider speaking with various department heads (iGEM is multidisciplinary) and with companies that might one day benefit from project outputs, eg. energy companies, chemical companies, manufacturing, etc.

How do we find new parts?

This feature has been added to development version of the Parts Registry, which will be released before the start of the 2006 iGEM competition in early June.

How do we go about specifying and designing a system?

Some instructions and how-to's are being prepared on this and should be available soon. The new registry features are still in development. You can find links to previous projects under the 'previous years' menu bar (screen left).

What should we have done by when?

See the iGEM timeline for a general overview.

We need more lab space, how do we find some?

Check with the department office, facilities management, other nearby labs, etc. Most student teaching labs are shut down throughout the summer and have space.

Do teams still work on systems after the summer is over?

Some of the teams keep working to finish up projects and presentations right up to the jamboree, so the simple answer is yes. In practice, this will vary by team.

Navigating the registry is hard, most of the parts have very little information. How can I find good parts?

Registry changes are underway to make this a bit easier. These will be ready for the iGEM launch at the beginning of June. More help information will also be provided to walk people through using the registry. Thoughtful comments about what would make the registry better should be sent to iGEM (at) mit (dot) edu.

How do I make a part?

Step by step instructions for various examples are being prepared to walk users through this process. These should be available when the registry update is released at the beginning of June.

How do we narrow down our list of project ideas?

First, celebrate that you have such a long list! Yay! Some teams struggle to come up with suitable projects. Then expect to use some form of consensus decision making process.

Note: A dictatorial decision making process can also be used, sometimes with good results. If you prefer this, stop reading and go consult your team leader. Just don't complain if you don't like the decisions they make.

Now to work. A good next step might be to determine the number of projects that can be supported with the resources at hand. Is it one, two, three, or more? A small team of 3-5 people might be limited to one or two projects. A larger team might be able to manage three or more.

Consider a scoring or rating system. It could be as simple as raising hands. This will quickly identify projects that the team finds interesting, and this should correlate well with projects people will actually want to work on. Select from the highest ranked projects the number you can afford to develop, plus perhaps a couple more.

Now get the team to perform a comprehensive consideration of each project. This might require a technical review, designing parts, etc. Afterwards, discuss the results. Does the team they think the project is technically feasible? Can all the parts, equipment, or other supplies available to complete it? If not, what elements are missing? Can these barriers be overcome? (Remember that you've only got the summer, so if for the project to work you need to develop a new branch of physics, you're shooting too high.) Who actually wants to work on them? With this more detailed information in hand, another vote may be required to determine whether the projects stay on the list.

Then it's off to the underground lab, orbiting space station, or wherever your team does their benchwork. Nothing will determine whether a project is worthy better than just going out and trying to tackle it. Review projects frequently. It's okay to change course as new data becomes available.

Where can I find information about previous iGEM projects?

One the sidebar to left, there are links to previous iGEM years. Not all the projects have been archived -- for example, Caltech's wiki for 2005 has been blanked. (This is one of the reasons we encourage everyone to use the iGEM wiki: so your experiences can help later teams.) If you need additional information, contact your ambassador or check with Randy.

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