Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One year on from the Google Science Fair - reflecting back on a rollercoaster journey

Today marks exactly one year since myself, Emer and Sophie were crowned winners of the Google Science Fair. I still remember exactly how I felt when our names were called out that night - my stomach was a clenched into a tight ball, my shoulders (I know, my shoulders?) were trembling, and my brain felt like there was fireworks going off inside - I remember a particular tingling sensation at the very top of my skull, just behind my forehead. That's the thing folks, it wasn't the pretty picture of butterflies in my tummy or anything like that. It was a wall of raw and complex emotion smacking me full force in the face. I remember very little about those first few minutes as a Google Science Fair winner except grabbing someone's hand (which I later found out to be Emer's) and squeezing it with all my might to make sure this was real. However, I'm glad to say I can recall the following year - it was certainly one to remember.

Here are a few highlights.

The Travel
Adventure. Who doesn't love it? And I was lucky enough to go on more than my fair share of adventures this year. Soon after we won GSF, the invites started rolling in to conferences all over the world which we (of course) accepted, and before we knew it we were jetting off to a new country almost every second week, sometimes more. The most exciting of these experiences for me included WeDay UK in Wembley Arena, where we graced the stage with Sir Richard Branson addressed 12,000 students from schools all over Britain and encouraged them to follow their dreams and to try to change the world. Getting to chill backstage at Wembley was one of the craziest and wonderful opportunities I have ever had, and sitting in Sir Branson's dressing room with HRH Princess Beatrice and the man himself is a memory I will never forget.

Not to be forgotten here is the Thought For Food conference in Lisbon last February, a working lunch in Brussels for International Women's Day with Commissioner Moedas, and of course, the Do Lectures in Wales last June.

The Do Lectures really stood out to me as I have literally never attended an event of it's kind before. The first indication that this was a conference with a twist is when we were informed our accomodation would be in tents. Ever the optimists, Emer and I looked forward to this as it would make an interesting change from our usual routine. We arrived in Wales fresh from the stress of our summer exams, and honestly, nothing could have kickstarter our summer better. It was incredible - healthy discussions around a campfire in a small farmyard; lectures in a beautiful, airy barn; and workshops from speakers in open fields. The Do Lectures undoubtedly places in the top 3 of my favourite conferences ever.

The Friends
In a world where teenagers are fixated by the amount of likes on their profile pictures, I will never have to worry. Because if there's one physical, indisputable thing this experience has given me, it's friends for life. Through my trips to California, Boston, London, Ecuador and more, I have met some of the most inspirational and wonderful young people that I now have the honour of calling my friends. I still talk to my fellow Google Science Fair 2014 finalists as if we only left Mountain View yesterday, and I even managed to meet up with Eric and Sadhika during my time in Boston. Brian and Simone, our loyal compadre's from our trip to the Galapagos Islands still tease me about a disastrous bike ride (but that's another story). We're also planning a reunion in Antartica whenever one of us makes our first million. My Launchies, as I affectionately call the friends I made in Boston, are only a skype call away as we move forward working on our businesses together. And the phenomenal young ladies I met at the Outbox Incubator in London, well, let's just say I carry their milk-stealing, tea-drinking, fan fiction reading spirit with me wherever I go. It's those people, those friends, that made the last year special. Here's to reunions!

New Skills
What's an experience for unless you learn from it, right? Well I sure did learn from this experience, in more ways than one. I have known deep down since I spoke at the EU Innovation Convention in 2014 that I wanted to expand beyond science. I realised quite quickly that I have a business mindset, and wanted to explore this area further.
Shortly after winning the Google Science Fair, Emer and I launched Germinaid Innovations, a research company under which we are going to continue research in the agricultural area. Making this transition would not have been possible without the help of the Stemettes and Outbox Incubator, so it was fitting that we launched the company at the launch of Outbox last April. By that stage I had already got the good news that I had been accepted to study at MIT Launch that June, and I was really looking forward to acquiring new skills which would help me to succeed in the startup world.
So I packed my bags and it was off to America with me, where I went through the intense business bootcamp which is MIT Launch and founded PurchaseMate with Campbell, Simone and Jacob (aka three of my favourite people in the world). I have had the incredible opportunity to work with this team whilst learning all about entrepreneurship and bringing PurchaseMate into reality.

The Galapagos!
Technically this is travel, but it needs its of section because oh my god. The experience of a lifetime, literally, and it was just placed into our hands by the kind gods of National Geographic. As someone who wanted to be a zoologist for 10 years of my life, obviously I was pretty excited to head off to Equador. But honestly, the experience surpassed all expectations. We swam with sealions, seaturtles, iguanas, and octopi. A tortoise bit my foot. Emer got attacked by mosquitos. And I conquered my fear of sharks (but I'm still not their biggest fan). To be honest though, I think it's the pictures that really do the experience justice (even though I have misplaced the best ones unfortunately):



Yeah, Jeff (our Nissan Juke) definitely has to get his own section. I mean, Nissan gave us a frickin car! That is hands down one of the most random things to happen to me this year. Thanks to Jeff, I have learned to drive and plan on taking my test as soon as I can. I honestly and truly can't wait until I have my full license so I can drive myself to events which will be awesome, and put a lot less pressure on my taxi drivers (aka my parents).

Oh gosh, all these highlights. There has been more, of course, I mean MIT Launch and Outbox Incubator deserve their own sections, but you'll have to refer to other pages of my blog to find more on them. I'd really just like to thank absolutely everyone who made this year amazing (and who made it happen, really): My family; my friends; Google; the BT Young Scientist; EUCYS; Silicon Republic, Excited and Accenture for their continued support and friendship; MIT Launch; Do Lectures; WeDay; the European Commission; Thought For Food; National Geographic; Outbox Incubator; Dots (Brilliant Noise; and Kinsale Community School for letting us take so much time off!

ps: Catch me next week in Belfast at the Festival of Icons. Be there or be a triangle!

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