Some youth get support from home and some get it from school or their community. It’s determination that motivates them to not give up on their passion.
Here is one exceptional 14-year-old girl who’s resume is already packed with achievements in the STEM industry, Maya Burhanpurkar. She is a great inspiration for the generation of girls to come and whom, just like Maya, will dream of becoming innovators. I hope that this story will inspire us to believe that gender and age are small factors to the big achievements that one person can bring to our society.
People have told me that I am one of the luckiest people in the world.
Through the support of my public school teachers, my friends and my family, by the age of 14, I had journeyed to the Arctic Circle to produce a documentary on climate change, I had won the nation’s top student science prize, I had been a student advisor the Minister of Education as part of MSAC and I had received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal, and Canada’s prestigious “Top 20 Under 20” award, to name a few.
In addition, I was serving as the Marketing Director of a national non-profit organization called Science Expo and as an editor at the International Student Editorial board of the Canadian Young Scientist Journal, while maintaining the top over-all average at my school.
It was not always easy. As a girl from an ethnic minority, growing up in an all-white, rural Canadian community, I am keenly aware that so many girls, ethnic minorities and rural Canadian face discriminatory obstacles. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My experience as a 14-year-old has taught me that women, ethnic minorities and rural Canadians can succeed in a world where these are not always seen as “success factors.” Mine is just one small example of many, where young girls have succeeded in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (commonly known as STEM).
Let me tell you my story.
Let’s start when I was 10. I was volunteering at a hospital in India and, in the middle of my stay, the H1N1 virus broke out. I noticed that the drugs being administered to patients had a lot of side effects. “Why would something that is supposed to help us actually harm us at the same time?” I thought.
When I got back to Canada, I decided to research more about antivirals and antibiotics. I found that conventional drugs both harm and help us at the same time by killing all bacteria, regardless of whether they are harmful for the body. This peaked my interest in the field of botanical medicine and potential alternatives to conventional drugs, so I contacted various universities asking them if I could carry out some research in their labs, at the age of 10. The responses I got were that I had great ideas, but I’m too young to work in a lab.
This discouraged me, but not enough to stop me.
I realized that going the university lab route was not going to work for me so I contacted local high schools (which was rather scary because I was only in elementary school at the time!) and borrowed equipment from them in order to build a microbiology lab in my basement. In that lab, I developed a prototype for the first “intelligent” antibiotic that can differentiate between harmful and helpful bacteria and specifically target the harmful bacteria.
I took this research to the regional science fair and became the youngest person selected to represent my region at the national science fair, where I won an award from the S.M. Blair Foundation. I also received the Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year award for my work.
The next summer, I was thinking of further developing my research in bacteriology, but, in the middle of the summer, my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease took a turn for the worse and he passed away. As a result, I became interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s disease.
In my research, I came across two experimental agents that possess the rare ability to breach the Blood Brain Barrier and inhibit Amyloid-Beta plaques in the brain that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. I also found out that the biosafety of these two agents was, at the time, unknown. This surprised me because in order for a drug to be useful to seniors, it would need to be safe for the cardiac and gastrointestinal systems.
So, I set out to conduct the first experiments to determine the biosafety of the two agents in my basement laboratory. After further analysis of my data, I realized that I had discovered a new property of these drugs, which I applied to the development of a cardio-protective drug for seniors and athletes, for which, at the age of 12, I won the top Grand Platinum award at the national science fair and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Winning these awards meant so much more to me than getting my name on a trophy. It meant that the research that I had been doing on my own in my basement laboratory could actually make a difference in the world — real scientists thought it had potential! To a 12-year-old child, this meant the world.
I was planning on continuing my research the next year, but that changed when I decided to take an online calculus course.
While I was taking this course, I learned that the derivative of distance is velocity and the derivative of velocity is acceleration. Conversely, the integral of acceleration is velocity and the integral of velocity is distance. I wondered, “What’s the integral of distance?”
After researching everywhere I could, I realized that no one had measured the integral of distance before. I wondered how such a fundamental question in physics had not been asked.
With the guidance and mentorship from several talented researchers, I developed the first apparatus to detect the time-integral of distance in a physical system and, for the first time, confirmed the physical existence of the time-integral of distance.
For my work, at the age of 13, I had the opportunity to represent Canada at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, I was selected as one of 90 finalists out of over 50,000 applicants for the Google International Science Fair and I was presented with Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 award.
So much more than I could have ever imagined came out of these experiences. For example, I was invited to be a part of a team of international students and researchers traveling to the Arctic Circle to observe firsthand the effects of climate change in the summer of 2013.
I realized that what I was going to see would change my perspectives on climate change and the North (and it sure did). I decided that my experience was something that I should share with the rest of the youth community, who I find have become rather disengaged from the issue of climate change and find it to be more of a “buzz word” than a pressing issue.
So, while I was up north, I filmed a documentary about the human side of climate change that we so rarely hear about — how climate change is impacting the lives and culture of those who live in the Arctic.
I am working on sharing the stories I was told by Arctic residents with young people across the world by building partnerships with organizations like Ontario Ministry of Education and with the help and mentorship of people like Nobel Laureate, Dr. Brad Bass.
Today, I’m 14-years-old and entering the 10th grade of high school. I’m combining my interests in biotech, health sciences and technology to launch my next venture.
A few years ago, I was talking to my family doctor and I asked him why he doesn’t volunteer with an organization like Doctors Without Borders. He said that he wanted to but it was too difficult for him to be able to pack up and travel to another country for a few months when he had a family and job to attend to.
I realized that there are millions of health professionals around the world who would gladly contribute, if they only could. As a solution, I have launched a technology called LIFE, short for Live Interactive Field Evaluation, that is a low-cost, fully mobile, and simple to operate videoconferencing system that is very different than the typical Skype or Google hangout social videoconferencing systems.
It is accessible on smartphones, tablets and laptops and runs over both wireless and 3G cellular networks and provides an incredibly fast, high quality, and secure conference environment, while requiring no learning curve or user-sign-ups that are challenging to people who are not tech-savvy.
The aim is to allow health care professionals in the developed world to volunteer whenever they have time, from whatever location they want, rather than having to physically travel to another country for a fixed period of time. I am currently working with global organizations like the African Medial and Research Foundation, to allow more medical, educational and training aid to be delivered to African countries.
People have told me that I am one of the luckiest people in the world, and I’ll agree that I have amazing support from my teachers, my friends and my parents, but I don’t think it was all luck that did it for me.
Along my journey, there were so many points at which I wanted to give up because people told me I was too young to start a company or that I didn’t know enough to do science research or that I couldn’t raise the money to travel to the Arctic and film a documentary to engage youth in the issue of climate change…I had to remember that nothing is impossible and persevere through those challenges.
The reason for sharing my story is to show that anyone who is passionate and dedicated and will stop at nothing to achieve his or her dreams can do so much more than what I have done. All you need is that spark — that dream to do something big — and it will happen.
My challenge to young girls is to stand up to whatever is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young to do amazing things. Sometimes, it’s the fresh and creative ideas of kids that change the world.
The latest addition to that conversation, Jeremy Seifert’s documentary “GMO OMG,” hopes to break down some of the debate that has led to massive protests, fierce labeling initiatives and a blanket ban in most of the European Union.
GMO labeling bills passed in both Maine and Connecticut earlier this year, but California’s highly contentious <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/prop-37-defeated-californ_n_2088402.htmlbr /
” target=”_hplink”>Prop 37 was rejected by voters last November. Washington has a similar initiative on the ballot this year, I-522, and Monsanto recently pumped $4.6 million into the fight against it.
Several reviews have criticized the film as a “plain-folks primer” that lacks hard scientific analysis. But Seifert said the film “is more about awakening and discovery” in a time where we really don’t know what the long-term effects of GMO consumption are.
Seifert spoke to The Huffington Post about the inspiration behind the film.
(The following is an edited transcript of the chat.)
What compelled you to make this film? You tell the story of GMOs through your role as a father — was there a specific meal you were having with your kids that served as a catalyst?
Yeah, I think that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t just a meal, it was many meals and it was the ice cream trucks that would park outside of our house every evening and watching my children lap up this stuff … and feeling that weight on my shoulders that we don’t really know what they’re eating.
That is the most important, intimate, beautiful relationship that I have in my life, with my children. On the other hand, food is really the most intimate relationship we have with the world around us. We literally take nature into us, into our bodies.
I also realized the more people I talked to, they were coming from the same place I was coming from, which was a place of ignorance: not knowing what it is, and not understanding it.
What do you hope to accomplish with this?
I think the primary or basic goal is wakefulness and awareness, to raise the consciousness so that people know there’s a debate.
In the last decade, we never really had the conversation in this country about GMOs — what they were, if we were okay with them. We just never had the conversation and they were released on the market and people were eating them blindly because they weren’t labeled.
I’ve found that most people don’t even know there’s a debate going on, most people don’t know what a GMO is. I’m hoping that the film helps people engage with the debate and engage with the issue and engage with the fact that the chemical companies are feeding us, and are you okay with that?
One of the main dilemmas presented in the film is resistance from these GMO manufacturers to talk with you, and the public in general. Were you ever able to get ahold of anyone?
No. I never talked to anybody in big ag, even off camera to just have candid conversations.
Your family is a big part of this documentary. What are your eating habits now?
I mean, we by-and-large try to avoid not just GMOs, but anything that’s been sprayed in pesticides and herbicides. So we really try to eat mainly organic, and that is hard.
But when you learn to feed yourself and cook you can do it affordably. We do eat at home most of the time, we do buy whole foods and bulk foods and it is more affordable.
But it’s frustrating as hell going to the grocery story and picking up for, you know, Cinco de Mayo. I’m going to buy organic blue corn tortilla chips and organic cheese and organic this and that and suddenly, a tiny grocery bag is $85.
What kind of reactions have you heard so far?
A lot of “Oh my god I never knew about this.”
Even though people have said this is really hard to deal with and think about, at the end of the film they felt hopeful rather than just completely pissed off and overwhelmed.
There’s been a sense that people feel more empowered to make a change.
“GMO OMG” is now screening in theaters around the country. For a listing of upcoming events and showings, head on over to the film’s website.
As a medical student and junior doctor in my hospital training years, I was often asked this question by friends, senior doctors and well-meaning patients. It really grated on me, that one little word: “just.”
I always thought I’d become a general practitioner. As a teenager, I was inspired to study medicine by my own GP, who had always looked after my family with such care and compassion. As I went through my training I dabbled with the idea of other specialties. I was fascinated by the life stories of my geriatric patients; I loved the cute-factor of pediatrics; I was hooked on the emotional highs and lows of obstetrics; I enjoyed the team atmosphere of the emergency department. But I think deep down, that I always knew I liked ALL of medicine too much and that above all I wanted to make a meaningful difference in my patients’ lives. For me, GP was the obvious choice.
Nowadays, when I tell people that I’m a GP, they ask instead, “So are you going to specialize in anything?” They don’t seem to understand that I have already specialized. I’ve specialized in general practice (and GP obstetrics) by doing an additional four years of training on top of my medical degree and internship. I am officially registered with the Australian Medical Board as a “specialist general practitioner.” This has been a conscious decision. I haven’t just become a GP by default.
So to be asked these sorts of questions always seems so unfair. It implies that “GP” and “specialist” are two diametrically opposed alternatives, and that GP is the lessor of the two. If you’re smart, ambitious, passionate and successful you become a specialist. If you can’t get into anything else, or if you want the easy option, you become a GP. It’s seen as a back-up option, not as a worthwhile career in itself.
The specialist vs. “just a GP” dichotomy also perpetuates the idea that GP’s are not “experts” in their own right, or that GP’s are the amateur doctors that do the easy bits of all the other specialties and then refer on when it gets too complicated.
I’d like to dispel that myth. GP’s ARE experts. We are the expert in each and every one of our patients.
We are also the experts in:
Complex multiple comorbidity
Judicious use of finite medical resources
Coordination of the health care team
We do these things better than anyone else. In fact, studies (see here, and here) have repeatedly demonstrated that an increasing number of primary care doctors results in better health outcomes overall — a higher quality of health service at a decreased cost. An increasing number of specialists is associated with higher costs and poorer quality of care, including higher overall mortality. So as a group, GP’s do a far better job at improving health outcomes and for a lower cost compared to specialists.
So where do all these negative attitudes come from? Unfortunately some hospital doctors perpetuate these views. They refer to general practice dismissively as “coughs, colds and sore holes” or (particularly for female GP’s), “tears and smears.” I have heard some specialists loudly criticize GP’s for not knowing everything that they know about their chosen field, apparently unable to appreciate the enormous breadth of knowledge the GP has in other areas.
Once I even heard my university professor talk to our class about a high-achieving doctor that he had gone through medical school with, saying “She had so much potential, she could have been a professor of medicine. It was such a waste that she chose a career in general practice.”
Even though the overwhelming majority of health care happens in the primary health-care sector, the lion’s share of university and junior doctor teaching is done in hospitals by specialists, so it’s hardly surprising that many of our hospital counterparts have such inaccurate views of general practice.
Admittedly not all GP’s are great teachers, and a GP rotation spent sitting in a corner of a consulting room is not likely to leave a good impression on the student. The subtleties and intricacies of a GP consult are not well appreciated by watching (or snoozing) in the background. Perhaps as teachers, we need to do better.
Here’s the thing. Any doctor who thinks that general practice is easy has clearly never tried it themselves.
The reality is that general practice is an enormously rewarding, challenging and varied career and that no two days are ever the same. We have no idea what is going to walk through our door next and it could be anything from an infant with a fever; a pregnant lady with pre-eclampsia; an elderly patient with new-onset AF; a young man suffering from crippling anxiety; a parent grieving the death of a child; or a full-blown heart attack. And all of these medical conditions come with added layers of complexity from the patient’s personality factors, social circumstances, family situation, expectations, medical comorbidities, values and beliefs.
So not only do we have to be able to initially manage every single symptom and medical condition imaginable, we have to be able to do it without a full suite of investigation tools, without easy access to allied health and other specialists and all within an allocated time slot of 10 to 15 minutes. What’s more, we are not managing that patient just for that episode of illness — rather we are caring for their overall health and well-being in the short, medium and long term.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a huge appreciation for my specialist (partialist?) colleagues. In particular I am grateful for the depth of knowledge and skills that they each have in their niche area, that I could never hope to achieve. I know that they, too, want the best outcomes for our patients and that the system works best when we all work together.
However, I’d really like for people to stop asking, “Are you going to be a specialist, or just a GP?” and instead to enquire, “What type of doctor are you going to be?” It’s up to all of us to change the conversation and give general practice the respect and prestige it deserves, so that all medical career choices can be seen to be of equal value.
The growing online presence of passionate GP’s on social media can only help to spread the word about what we believe is the best job in the world. Check out blog posts from “Not Just a GP,” “KI Doc” and “Green GP” on what they love about general practice.
For those of us who supervise medical students, we have the perfect opportunity to share our passion with the next generation by getting them involved in not just watching, but doing. I encourage you to let them sit in the big chair and seat yourself in the corner, so you can learn something from them, too.
To my patients: I know you may never understand the intricacies of medical training, but I want you to know that out of all the career paths on offer, I chose to be your GP — to be the person that you turn to in your time of need, who sees you as a whole person and not just a diseased organ, and to be the one who helps guide you to health and wellness. I hope you know that I feel truly privileged to be your doctor.
In answer to the original question, no, I’m not “just” a GP. I’m a broadly-skilled, sub-specialized, expert GP, providing a damn fine health service to my patients and my community. And I absolutely love it.
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