Miranda Wang is a synthetic biologist, environmental advocate, and student entrepreneur. As the Co-founder and CEO of BioCellection Inc., a seed stage synthetic biology startup that is using bioengineered bacteria to epicycle polystyrene waste into valuable products, she is leading a team of innovators to solve the plastic pollution problem. Miranda is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying molecular biology, engineering entrepreneurship, and philosophy. She will be presenting alongside her co-founder, Jeanny Yao, at the Women In STEM Summit, taking place in San Francisco this June 8 and 9.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I think the three things I associate myself with are entrepreneur, environmental advocate, and biohacker. I will graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in May with a major in cell and molecular biology and double minors in engineering entrepreneurship and philosophy. In my spare time, I like staying active outdoors and I also enjoy film and gardening. It’s been hard to find spare time while juggling a startup as a full time undergrad. I look forward to getting more seriously into yoga after school.
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My high school teachers definitely shared their love for science with me by giving me everything I needed to explore on my own. My Grade 11 biology teacher adopted a teaching style like Professor Louis Aggassiz’s. Since the early days of my science education, I found the experience to be always enjoyable and full of wonder. Professor Lindsay Eltis from UBC and his grad students James Round and Adam Crowe further encouraged my passion for science by showing me what real scientists do and that I belong. Although my journey in STEM later in college was less fun, despite definitely learning more academic knowledge, this love I feel for science from a very early age keeps coming back.
Women are hugely under represented in STEM industries, which many say this is down to early education. Can you give us a summary of your experience of education and what more do you think can be done at this stage to break down stereotypes?
It may be helpful for me to describe the type of high school science education I had obtained. Biology has always been my favorite subject because it was always more fun than it was work. In Biology 11, my teacher Mr. Hogaboam would lecture for 15 minutes each day and then give us the rest of the class time to study his collection of preserved specimens. We often had to do 'labs reports' that included 50 drawings of different types of marine animals. I always took longer than my peers to finish my work because I liked to take a very close look at everything. So I made a habit out of coming to his classroom after school to spend alone time with the specimens. This was a very enjoyable process for me and I would end up noticing structures that my classmates did not see. My other teachers would take us to natural habitats and teach us about the salmon life cycle or the differences in plant species in the area. These experiences inspired feelings of wonder, curiosity, and appreciation within me, and it was under these influences that I came up with the idea of breaking down plastic pollution with bacteria.
What insight would you give to current executives looking to hire young STEM men and women for their team?
This question is hard to answer because I would give different advice depending on what type of STEM position they’re trying to fill. At the end of the day, people study STEM because they are curious and they enjoy discovering, exploring, and building. Rewarding experiences are usually those that give people autonomy and community validation. It would make sense to suggest that any employer should be mindful of the very basic seeks of their employees.
What will you be discussing in your panel session?
My co-founder Jeanny and I will talk about our current work to break down plastic pollution using synthetic biology. We will also share our personal experiences along the journey as first generation Chinese Canadian female STEM entrepreneurs, and discuss how that’s led to our confidence.
You can hear more from Miranda, along with other leading women in STEM industries, at the Women In STEM Summit. To register your interest, click here.