Pre-College Programs

Scientist Conglomerate: Experimental and Theoretical Biology Club

From the Leadership Institute Symposium on Social Change

Author: Sotirios Karathanasis

In my school, there appears to be an understanding that the only two sciences are Chemistry and Physics – any biological science is immediately disregarded as “fake” and therefore a complete waste of time. The formation of the Scientist Conglomerate: Experimental and Theoretical Biology Club is to bring Biology back into the picture for the school. Being the only person in the entire program taking all three sciences (in the IB Diploma program, students will usually only focus on one), I realized that no science is inherently “better” than another; they all work together to give a better understanding of our universe.

I host regular meetings (every first and last Friday of the month) to educate and discuss issues concerning biological science. The topics can range anywhere from theory to actual biological laboratory work. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, the crenation of erythrocytes, water transport in the xylem, and life on other planets are some of the topics considered in the club.

Well, I formed the club almost immediately after my senior year started. It was not well known, and I spent many meetings completely alone in my nearly abandoned school. During that time I did some work with diabetes in a nearby university lab for the Extended Essay, a two yearlong project assigned in the IB Diploma program. Presenting this experiment was the plan for my first meeting, whenever it occurred. After going to a local Parliament debate on stem cell ethics, I was chosen to represent the city in an EU-wide youth debate on scientific ethics. I did not turn the offer down, and agreed to the scholarship. I was the defense for my committee, as well as the representative. I also was chosen, along with another debater, to attend a press conference concerning the event. I managed to slip out some information about my club to the EU officials in the room (and half of the world – televised recordings). When I came back to school for winter semester, the club began picking up steam after I found some underclassmen I knew well (I skipped grades from middle school to high school, so I know some people in lower grades). We have had a strong play throughout the semester, but now we will hold an election for the next leader of the club. I will be leaving the country and will not be able to commute across the globe to attend meetings.

I have 5 members who come regularly to meetings, and 6 more members on our online Facebook group. Since the club is set up forum-style with lead-in discussions, there are no specific roles. I am the President, so I have to come up with lecture-style lead-in discussions. This was not the original plan of the club (it was intended as an open floor where anyone and everyone could exchange ideas), but I shifted to this new style after a suggestion voiced by one member (that was quickly supported by all the others). Since I am going back to the United States for college, my next club meeting will be my last. We will have a vote for the next President.

I have developed as a leader, and I know how to recruit people to a group as well as manage the group itself. The club has helped me study for exams, as well as review material that I had studied a long time ago. It refreshed all the critical biological science facts for me, as well as helping me find new interpersonal skills to communicate.

I have noticed a marked increase in interest for biology in the freshman to junior years. Those who attend my club have developed a sudden interest in biology. Although my group does not get as much coverage as the more “flashy” groups (Economics club, Debate team), we have a solid core that carries directly into school life. Members have had questions where the resolution plan has “ask Sotirios in Bio Club” marked as an option. A student once came into the club and made remarks that were distasteful. After a brief heart-to-heart with the intruder, I was not the least bit surprised when they came back to the group as a member. Although the group has not had an effect on my family life, I often make references to my brother, who has moderate to severe Kanner’s autism, when discussing neurophysiology or cognitive dysfunction. The recognition in biology has not reached the senior year, and I doubt it ever will. In the upperclassman years, Biology is still pushed aside so that Chemistry and Physics, as well as Economics and Business Management, may take the spotlight. It was never the priority in this area, anways.

Simply being in a room talking with people who will not declare biology a pseudoscience and begin to mark biologists as incompetent is motivation enough to keep the club running. My hopeful major in college is Biological Sciences with a focus on Biochemistry, so I am in the element right there at those meetings. I find relaxation in letting the terms and procedures roll off my tongue. Also, the people in my club are closer to my age than my classmates (although they are still slightly older), so I treat it also as a peer meeting. I enjoy hearing the opinions of others, and I also like listening to, and presenting my own, laboratory work pitches.

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