When My Personal Finances Almost Ruined My Dream Job By Avery Taylor Phillips


I have always been a spendy person. I love to shop (who doesn’t?), and I love to pretend like I can afford that $800 couch I saw on Apartment Therapy. If you give me a credit card, it doesn’t take long for me to fill it up.

Well, when my side-hustle started to pick up steam, I thought I was well on my way to being a professional artist. Sales were increasing, profits were almost matching the income I was making at my day job, and it seemed like my ideal job working for myself was just over the horizon.

Unfortunately, my habits soon caught up with me. This is the story of how I found out (the hard way) that my personal finances ruined my dream job.

The Call to Adventure

I’ve always wanted to be a comic book artist. Ever since I was a little kid and picked up my first copy of Spider Man, I knew that my calling was in the nerd community. Of course, being an artist is extremely difficult. It’s impossible to “get rich quick,” no matter how good you are.

But that didn’t stop me from doing commissions and slowly building up a small fan base. While I was working my day job in retail — following the typical “adulting” trajectory with a 401(k), insurance, and paid vacation — I was also working on the side, creating a small but steady side-hustle business. My best sales always happened at conventions: where fellow nerds could come across my booth and “ooo” and “ahh” over my fan art. Sometimes I would walk away with a couple hundred dollars, if I was lucky.

However, I was also buying goodies at these conventions. It’s hard to remember that you’re there to make money and not there to stock up on more art, comics, and memorabilia. Sometimes those hundred dollar sales turned into $20 in take-home pay. Yikes.

Luckily my side business was doing well, for a time. I was starting to get commissions on a regular basis, and conventions were turning into fruitful weekends. I got to the point where it felt like my day job was really holding me back from my dream job. If I can make this much money on a regular basis, I sure didn’t need to waste my time working for a big corporation anymore!

Unfortunately for me, that didn’t last very long.

The Road of Trials

So it was that one fateful rainy day in September, when my car slid off the road on the way to a convention in Salt Lake City and hit a pole. Luckily, I only had a few scratches and bruises, but my trusty vehicle (the very thing I relied on to get to-and-from conventions) was totaled.

Once I was able to get back home, I had to consider my options. This car was my first, so it was gifted to me by my parents. It was probably about time I got a new one, anyways, but I had never gone through the process before. A friend drove me to a dealer in the area, and we discussed options.

I didn’t have the cash upfront to buy a car outright (my savings were limited due to my penchant for overspending), so I asked about a car loan. After a very stressful hour, the verdict came back: rejected. Turns out my lack of on-time credit card payments, as well as a couple of delinquent student loan payments, had ultimately tanked my credit score.

My spending and lack of savings had caught up to me. I needed to do a serious re-evaluation of my financial life.

Apotheosis

Things were falling apart, but I didn’t need to let that get the better of me. I just needed to budget better and work on saving money instead of spending it all. Unfortunately, my convention gigs would have to be put on hold, but I still had my day job, a coworker who was willing to carpool, and a decent Etsy shop following.

First, I looked into ways I could repair my credit by myself. I researched my options, found a great secured credit card to help build up my low score, and worked on planning out a more steady budget. My student loans also needed some help, so I researched if refinancing was a viable option. Turns out with my low credit score, refinancing wasn’t a good option at the time, but I knew that I would do it once my score was in a higher bracket.

Next, I needed to calculate my take home pay from my day job, and I needed to put a complete stop to my unnecessary spending. That was certainly the hardest task to tackle, but my entire dream job was at stake. If I wanted a car, I needed to stop buying every cute little thing I came across. I looked into some online apps and settled for Mint to help me budget. I should have started using that app much earlier!

I was able to halt my spending and start saving money. Within a few months, I was surprised and baffled to find that I could easily save up $1,000 a month if I was just smart about my money. Within a few months, I was able to buy an old used car. Within a year, I was able to trade it in for an even newer car, and my credit score had miraculously increased by almost 100 points.

Things were really looking up, but I needed to stay vigilant. Who knew when another emergency would happen?

The Freedom to Live

Fortunately for me, this sudden emergency situation helped me reorient myself on my goals. I was lucky that I hadn’t left my retail day job yet, because without it I would have gone bankrupt. However, it was through vigilant savings and through saving my credit score that I was finally able to come out of this a better person: more financially conscious, a novice saving guru, and more eager than ever to turn my side-hustle into a real business.

I’m still working on my goals of making a living doing art, but it was through this that I was able to develop healthy saving habits. This tough situation taught me how important it is to build a more financially stable ground for my potential small business. The only thing standing in the way of my dream job was my personal finances. I’m glad I learned my lesson when I did.

If you ever get to the point where you’re thinking of starting your own business, take a step back and evaluate your finances. Are you spending a lot on frivolous things? Are you spending most of your extra money instead of saving it up? Are you struggling to make payments on time and have a low credit score as a result?

Take my story as a cautionary tale and work on building up better habits for yourself so your business can succeed. The sooner you make the switch to savings, the better and more successful you will be in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Avery Taylor Phillips – Avery is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.  Check out her blog on https://www.equities.com/user/AveryTaylorPhillips

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How Female Entrepreneurs Can up Their Game With Tech Skills By Avery Taylor Phillips


If you’re not learning, you’re already falling behind. Being an entrepreneur is no walk in the park, especially if you’re a woman. The need for more entrepreneurs in the U.S. is undisputed, and though the rewards and benefits of entrepreneurship are enough to put in the effort, you need an extra edge if you want to be successful.

That’s where the tech industry comes in. Technology is everywhere; there’s no escaping it. Instead of fighting it or just learning the bare minimum, why not embrace this field and go all out? This male-dominated industry is ripe for the influence and innovation only a woman’s perspective can bring.

Tech jobs cannot be filled fast enough and many companies bemoan not being able to find enough qualified workers. Through technology, your entrepreneurial options become endless. All you have to do is take advantage of them.

Beauty and the Tech

Believe it or not, women were the pioneers of the tech industry. At one time, they even outnumbered men in this field. In the past, many women gravitated towards majoring in math, giving them the knowledge and skills that were necessary for computer science.

Women such as Jean Jennings Bartik and Grace Hopper made great advancements in this field, though they weren’t given much credit. Perhaps the lack of known female role models in technology was what led to the eventual decline of women in computer science occupations.

Many tech firms now only sport a 30 percent female employment rate. It was around the late 1980s when female computer science majors dropped below 20 percent. Before that, 40 percent of computer science majors were women.

What caused this decline? During this time, personal computers were on the rise. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were all over the news, and people took notice. Soon, computers were associated solely with boys and men.

Male students became the top picks of schools with technology programs, and women were left to pursue other degrees. However, things are changing now that the gender gap is becoming a more recognized issue in public discourse.

Tech 101

So now you have an interest in tech, but what exactly do you focus on? There are so many fields in technology to explore, and although you can’t really go wrong with any of them, here are some tech skills entrepreneurs must have to succeed:

  • Coding: learning some coding basics can do wonders for your website. HTML and CSS dictate how your site looks and works. Java and Python are other options to look into as well.
  • Big Data: Being able to analyze large sets of data and derive patterns from that data is an incredibly useful skill to have. Big data analysis can help you narrow down a target audience and inform business decisions, not to mention getting a leg up on the competition.
  • Online Accounting: Every business needs to keep their finances in order, including yours. Find an accounting software that offer billing and receipt tracking features and anything else your specific business requires.
  • The Cloud: As technology advances, more and more signs are pointing towards data storage in the cloud. That being said, you’re gonna need to learn how to use Google Drive and Dropbox (both are great timesavers and lifesavers). It makes sharing and storing content much easier.
  • Graphic Design: The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” definitely does not apply to the website of a new business. How your website looks design-wise can be as important as the business itself. Bad website and logo design can be enough to deter many potential customers. So effective content marketing graphics with Photoshop and Illustrator is a must.
  • Mobile: More likely than not, there’s probably a cellphone on your person right now. That being said, you need to make sure your business is easily accessible on peoples’ phones. Once your website is optimized for mobile users, your business will be accessible to a much wider audience.
  • Email: Email is one of the most important tech skills you can have. It is one of the quickest and easiest ways of communication and can be made even more efficient by learning shortcuts and employing automated emails.
  • Social Media: Social media skills are also a necessity to have when trying to get the word out about your business. The benefits of sharing media (such as video) for your business are numerous. You can gather a multitude of useful information from social media free of charge. Plus, it’s a way to better connect with your customers as well.

Tech Savvy Education

As mentioned before, a career in tech entails a lifetime of learning. Fortunately, there are many routes one can take to gain a better understanding of computer science. There are plenty of free resources, such as tutorials, blogs, ebooks and workshops, that are available to gain a basic understanding of a particular subject.

To get a more in-depth education, it’s best to go to school and major in a degree such as computer science. Whichever path you decide to take, it’s best to set some goals for yourself. It’s important to reach the goals you set to not only boost your confidence, but also to grow personally.

The opportunities for entrepreneurial growth are at its peak, especially if you are a woman. A female perspective is much needed and desired in this industry. Instead of waiting and letting this opportunity pass you by, take the initiative and become the newest pioneer in tech.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Avery Taylor Phillips – Avery is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.  Check out her blog on https://www.equities.com/user/AveryTaylorPhillips

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Time Management Quiz: Do You Have Time for This? Rate Yourself by Kathryn McKinnon

Time Management Quiz: Do You Have Time for This?
Rate yourself on your ability to accomplish the following:

I have time for creative or strategic thinking.
I stay focused on one thing at a time.
I have time to do what I enjoy most.
There is meaning and significance to my work and my life.

I feel connected to my company’s mission and purpose.
I am connected to my own life’s purpose.
I have opportunities for learning and growth.
I have time to do my best work.
I minimize interruptions and distractions.
I schedule time for my highest priorities.
I have systems in place to manage my time successfully.
I stay positive throughout the day.
I maintain a sense of energy throughout the day.
I understand what it takes to be successful at my job.
I balance my work and personal life.
I disengage from work.
I build healthy boundaries with my time.
I manage perfectionism and minimize procrastination.

If you don’t have the ability to accomplish the items from this Quiz, then what do you have time for and how do you spend your time?

Demand for our time is exceeding our capacity, draining us of the energy we need to bring our skills, talents and sense of purpose to our lives. Increased competitiveness, a leaner work force and a requirement to do more with less are adding to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests we feel compelled to respond to 24/7.

The truth is that we always have time for what’s most important to us. How do you  prioritize your day?

If you can’t accomplish as much as you want, especially when time and quality are of the essence, begin by tracking your time to notice how you’re prioritizing your work and tasks. You’ll start to notice patterns and unproductive habits, what distracts you, what interrupts you, the choices you’re making with your time and what gets you off track. Once you know this, you can begin to make better choices with your time. If you don’t track your time, you’ll never know what’s getting in the way of your productivity.

Or if you’re Stressed, Frustrated and Overwhelmed…

…You’re not sure how to get started, and you’re ready for executive coaching, I’d love to be the one you reach out to for help solving your time management issues and challenges.

Contact me at support@Kathryn-McKinnon.com for a complimentary Discovery Session to identify your biggest time management issue and uncover steps you can take to solve your issue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathryn McKinnon, a Harvard Business School and Fortune 500 Executive Coach, Time Management Expert, Bestselling Author of Triple Your Time Today on Amazon, Speaker, Seminar Leader and CEO of McKinnon & Company dedicated to helping executives, professionals and business owners reduce the chaos and stress, add order and structure to the day, boost energy and explode productivity to achieve the best results with your time. https://www.Kathryn-McKinnon.com

 

 

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Body Intelligence – A New Competitive Advantage for Leaders and Decision Making

Written by: Marie-Jeanne Juilland

 

I remember this scenario all too vividly: After a year of intense effort and anticipation, our company painfully pulled the plug on its IPO bid in 2001. The “bubble” had burst.  We had missed the window.

As a member of the executive team, I sat in an offsite turning things upside down, mapping out our stay-alive strategy. All the data had pointed to an IPO win. Was it just a case of bad market timing? Or was there something we could have done differently – some information we had missed along the way?

Along with most leaders who’ve experienced anything on the magnitude of an IPO “miss,” I’d have to say the answer was a bit of both. However, in the years since that IPO experience – as a leader and then as an executive coach – I’ve discovered an additional factor that I feel was sorely missing in our team’s decision making.  I call it “body intelligence,” aka “BQ.”

Common belief says focus on the facts and data.  That’s leveraging “IQ.”  Common belief also says “trust your gut,” or “it’s gut check time.”  That’s BQ.  Continue reading

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10 Powerful Tips to Write and Sell Your First eBook (SBO) by Scott D.

There are a lot of writers who have succeeded in publishing an e-book. This was not an easy feat though. They had to go through a lot just to come up with something interesting that people would want to read. There were others who have tried publishing an e-book but ended up with failure.

If you are planning to write an e-book for the first time, you need to make sure that you gather your ideas first. People don’t want to read disorganized thoughts or just simple rambling words that don’t make sense. Just because you are an expert in a specific area does not mean you can easily convey your thoughts. You have to tie those words together and arrange them first before people will appreciate what you have written. This will make your e-book more appealing.

Once you are done brainstorming and identifying what to put on the e-book, it is time to start writing. Make sure that you don’t just give information that people already know. Use your unique personal experiences to share with them something that they don’t know yet. This makes it easier for them to like the e-book.

Eventually, if you have succeeded in writing an e-book, you can come up with more e-books in the future and people will still buy what you offer. We have gathered the best tips for you through the image below so that you won’t have a hard time writing an e-book now.

10 Powerful Tips to Write and Sell Your First eBook (SBO)

           

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My Scrappy and Resilient – Driving Strong Results Discovery by Mariellie Rodriguez Mundy

 

A few months back I received an invitation to explore an opportunity (I call it my “shiny object”) to join a Private Equity firm’s platform company as their Chief Financial Officer. The role seemed to meet many of my criteria for great jobs in my career, but most importantly it also had a very high degree of challenge and learning opportunities. I felt that my entire career had led me to this opportunity, and I was confident enough to give it my all.

The first step was an interview with the CEO and several key stakeholders. This was a lengthy process that included several phone interviews, in-person meetings and traveling to meet several board of director members at the firm’s headquarters.

As part of the process I completed various assessments. I’ve done many of these in the past, and have embraced the opportunities for self-awareness that they offer.  But something was different this time. This was the first time that I was scheduled to meet with a consultant as part of the assessment, “the guy from Boston” hired to form an opinion about my ability to meet the requirements of the CFO role.

It makes sense that an investment firm would want to do this kind of research before they make a substantial investment in such a key position. Naturally they’d want to know what kind of professional they are getting.

Fast forward a couple of months . . . on a Friday afternoon I was advised that the investment firm decided to pass on both of the two final candidates, including myself.  Ouch! The “shiny object” was gone. Gone, gone, gone. It was a moment where rejection and self-doubt overwhelmed me.

I was alone in my car driving around aimlessly when I decided to just park. As I sat there I decided to challenge my thinking and acknowledge my emotions. The great thing about embracing the fact that I felt rejected and incompetent was the deeper connection to the many “Why’s?”. I felt an irresistable need to find wisdom in this experience.

Days later, after I had time to process and understand how this experience was going to add value to my journey, I decided to reach out to “the guy from Boston” for feedback. He had met with me in Florida a month prior, and after four and a half hours of intense questioning about my life journey, he had drafted a report for the investment firm. He agreed to a call to debrief with me his assessment.

And this is where my scrappy discovery took place. The headline of his report to the investment firm described me as: “Scrappy and Resilient – driving strong results, will deliver against all odds”

Scrappy, what did he just called me? I’m scrappy? I was referred to as “scrappy” by a perfect stranger, and this was his professional opinion that he shared with a group of investment professionals! Is that even professional?!!

This man just met me, and after four and a half hours he concluded that I was scrappy. “Scrappy” was not what I had in mind as I put on my business jacket, my best watch, and arrived with confidence to meet the consultant from Boston sent to assess my ability to deliver results.

Many experiences have had a great impact in my life and the day I was called a “scrappy one” is one of those. The more I thought about it the more wisdom I found in this scrappy word. A quick google search for the definition of scrappy yielded synonyms such as feisty, tenacious, determined, persistent, dogged, aggressive, and forceful. Dictionary’s provided the following definitions:

“Having a strong, determined character, and willing to argue or fight for what you want” – Cambridge English Dictionary

“A person who is little, but can really kick some ass” – Urban Dictionary (Yikes!)

I thought I would be clever and write about how impactful this word was to me, but then I discovered an entire website with the intention of connecting scrappy women to each other. Led by Kimberly Wiefling, the founder of scrappywomen.biz, here I found a bunch of women who were unapologetic about being scrappy! I couldn’t stop smiling when I found an entire community of other remarkable, inspirational businesswomen who are not afraid to share their scrappy wisdom with others.

During the past few years I have spent a significant amount of time learning about my role as a servant leader and my effectiveness as a conscious leader. I’ve deeply considered my ability to understand the world around me and my ability to make an impact. Here’s what I am absolutely sure of . . . that there is so much more I still have to learn! And nothing excites me more than looking forward to spending the rest of my life learning – learning from others, learning from past struggles, from success, and most importantly from failures. There is so much wisdom in each moment, and every experience we are given is an opportunity for growth.

I am a businesswoman, and an entrepreneur at heart. I’m sure I was born with a shovel in my hand so that I would be ready to assist my father in mixing concrete when necessary. Ever since I can remember I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. It was simple to me, “I love construction and playing with the cash register.” I wanted to be a top financial executive of a construction firm! I lived my dream for many years, and my heart still wears a hard hat. That heart with a hard hat is eager to explore the next steps and bigger challenges.

After 20 years of a successful progressive career as a finance executive in the construction industry, and most recently CFO of a large national electrical contractor, I have decided to pause for a moment. I am determined to take the time I need to search deep within myself in order to align the second half of my career with my personal values and purpose. As someone in a field and a role where certainty and risks are constantly being evaluated, defined, measured and accounted for, I have decided to embrace uncertainty and take a risk in order to build a legacy of which my children will be proud. This journey is not shaped by a new job or even a well-defined business plan at the moment. It is a fluid process filled with wisdom and inspiration from many sources.

Today I have chosen to challenge my lifelong thinking of what I had previously assumed success looks like. I’m not sure what the future holds, but one thing is certain in a world full of uncertainty – when you are scrappy, you work very hard and will deliver against all odds! I am committed to continue to be a scrappy woman in business with a big servant heart. And I’m thankful to “the guy from Boston” for sharing his feedback.

For many years now I set my intentions for the year around three words to live by.

In 2017 I’m committed to these 2 words: Create, Connect and be Inspired.

I look forward to continuing to serve the industry I love while creating a legacy for my children, intentionally connecting with the community around me, and finding the wisdom and inspiration in each moment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marielle Rodriguez Mundy was the former CFO of Miller Electric Company.  She is a business professional, who is scrappy and resilient – driving strong results, will deliver against all odds!!  Currently, she started her new venture, she consults for a family own business assisting with strategy oversight, exit and ownership transition from the CFO perspective.

Mariellie R. Mundy, CPA, MBA
The Mariellie Mundy Company
Mmundy@marielliemundy.com
904-608-0080 

 

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WHY PUT ON A SHOW IN THESE TURBULENT TIMES? by Pamela Rose


As if spending two years researching, writing, collaborating and rehearsing with extraordinary artists wasn’t challenging enough, lately I’ve been dogged with the question  – why bother, in these turbulent times, to ‘put on a show’?

BLUES IS A WOMAN is a story I can honestly say that I’ve been driven to tell.  The fierce, audacious voices of women in the blues have always inspired me – and of course, carries on the mission of the Wild Women of Song project to honor key women in music.
I began my career as a blues singer: a teenager belting out Bessie Smith and Koko Taylor songs. The fierce, independent messages written and sung by powerful women, helped shape my own identity as a feminist — especially in the mostly-male world of live music in the early 1980’s.

What I did not imagine was just how RELEVANT it all has turned out to be. In Act 2 of BLUES IS A WOMAN, the ensemble turns an eye to post WW2 music and culture.  Everything was changing so fast – as soldiers returned home from the war, there was an uneasy feeling that somehow things should, but wouldn’t, go back to the way they used to be.  Lots of women didn’t want to give up that factory job.  Proud black soldiers couldn’t stomach being called ‘boy’ again.

It was a tectonic shift in American culture – as Aretha sang “Respect” and “Freedom”, protestors took to the streets for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights.  Nina Simone’s “Backlash Blues” is an extraordinary cry against political hypocrisy.

Why put on a show about women and the blues?  Well, as it turns out, there couldn’t be a more important time to remember and celebrate our cultural inter-connectedness.  It turns out this is exactly the right time to celebrate black culture, it’s importance to all popular music, and to hear the voices of powerful women.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Pamela Rose is a professional musician: vocalist, bandleader, songwriter and educator. While performing weekly in the Bay Area, Rose has also been touring nationally with the Wild Women of Song project, a concert series devoted to giving voice to remarkable women in American music.

Upcoming shows:
Thurs Feb 2 – Angelica’s Redwood City, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Thurs Feb 16 – BLUES IS A WOMAN show debut – Kuumbwa Jazz Club, Santa Cruz, 7:00 pm
Thurs March 2 – Angelica’s Redwood City, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Thurs March 30 – BLUES IS A WOMAN CD Release and concert – Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, 8:00 pm
www.bluesisawoman.com
www.pamelarose.com
prosesong@gmail.com

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How to Extract Prejudicial Data from a Political Survey by Yael Ben-Shachar?

How can you extract prejudicial data from a political survey? That was the challenge I faced when I began my summer internship with Tobias Konitzer of the Stanford Communications Department. At first, I was unsure about how a mathematician like myself could contribute to a study about politics. But I was both surprised and delighted to find out that math was the secret ingredient in solving the problem.

Before digging into the work itself, I first had to master a challenging statistical program called “R”, which would play a major role in helping us squeeze bias out of existing poll results.  I also had to learn the ins-and-outs of a proprietary algorithm that Tobi had developed for collecting and organizing large-scale data quickly and accurately.

Still, I had my questions about what we were attempting to do. I asked the project head: “How can polls be biased when the data is a reflection of the people being polled? And, if there is bias, how are we supposed to ferret it out?”

“Most people view polls or surveys as sources of scientifically-developed data,” Tobi explained. However, the history of political polling tells us otherwise because results frequently underperform our expectations. For example, pollsters were far off-base in the recent Brexit vote by British citizens. Furthermore, while the average national results of the Obama vs. Romney presidential election were largely accurate, many individual polls were consistently wrong.”

“If polling is a science, how could so many polls provide contradictory results, and how could polls such as those in the United Kingdom be so far off the mark?” I asked.

Tobi had the answer: “Bias of one form or another is often built into the polling instruments themselves,” he told me. “Such bias can result from the choice of questions posed by pollsters, how those questions are phrased, the groups that are selected for the sample, the size of the sample, and whether polls are self-selected or randomly selected in a scientific manner by a third party.”

Now, this project was getting interesting, and Tobi had my full attention.

The goal of my summer internship at Stanford was to use “R” to mathematically strip all possible bias out of a poll for the upcoming presidential election, and thus produce a more accurate result. The data we used was biased towards one side of the political spectrum because the poll was published on a website viewed almost exclusively by voters who shared that point of view. I used the algorithm to manipulate big data sets containing demographic data for both Republicans and Democrats. Then, I put my math skills to work, using the “R” program to squeeze out biases. After a substantial amount of work, we began to see different results, and my concerns about our ability to actually find and remove bias faded.

Several weeks into the project, I was thrilled to find that the polling data began to shed its built-in favoritism and actually lean towards the opposite side of the political spectrum, as was reflected in more well-regarded polls. With additional work, the data would eventually contain almost no bias, making the polling much more objective and reliable.

Although the results we were seeking seemed anti-intuitive at first, it turned out that the meticulous process we used, helped along by my love of and expertise in math, could achieve what had seemed impossible when we began. Additionally, I realized that I had developed a new skill set using the “R” program and Tobi’s algorithm for data collection and analysis. These skills could have applications in many other areas, including data gathering for school assignments, or analyzing future polling results.

I now realize that our work could have a genuine impact on the accuracy of critical information and that math could be even more powerful than I thought. Meanwhile, I’ve personally learned to take most polling data with a grain of salt.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Yael Ben-Shachar is a senior at a Silicon Valley High School. Volunteers for Boys and Girls Club teaching students math and reading skills and training other volunteers. Works with special needs children, specifically a boy with autism all year.
Learned how to squeeze prejudicial data out of large polls using sophisticated statistical programs at Stanford.
She is a Journalist for her school newspaper.

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Analyzing Gene Expression in Cartilage Cells for the Treatment of Osteoarthritis by Isita Tripathi

 (Image – Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 9th edition.)

As a high school student, my preconceptions were that lab work only involved the wet-lab responsibilities of pipetting, centrifuging, and cell culture. But with hands-on lab experience, I soon realized that there is so much more that goes into a biological research project in order to make it both effective and applicable. With the intersection of biology, statistics, and computer science, the possibilities have expanded to include precise processing of information, changing the way in which we look at the human body and revolutionizing the field. Realizing that we are on the precipice of the new era of “big data,” I immersed myself in gene expression analysis as part of the biomedical research I undertook in the Lab of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stanford; I am eager to share my findings.

Almost 10% of the American population is plagued by osteoarthritis, the most common chronic degenerative condition affecting the joints.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that normally surrounds the ends of bones breaks down, creating increased friction between the bones in a joint, and resulting in swelling and extreme pain during movement. The problem remains that once osteoarthritis commences, the cartilage continues degenerating and inflammatory processes further damage the existing cartilage.

Unlike our skin, cartilage does not naturally regenerate and repair itself, making osteoarthritis a downward spiral of pain if left untreated. That is why an increasingly popular target of research is stem cell cartilage repair. While one option is to take neonatal chondrocytes (cartilage cells) and place them into the adult body, this form of stem cell cultivation is often considered unethical. However, if researchers can create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and provide them with the proper transcriptional factors, cell culture, etc. to differentiate into chondrocytes in vitro, then these cells should be able to replenish the supply of damaged cartilage cells in vivo, acting as neonatal cartilage cells. Although many labs have established this procedure, nobody has perfected it to the point where the iPSCs would have sustained success in the body. The only way to do so is to gain more knowledge on exactly what makes each type of chondrocyte different from one another, and then study these variances to discover methods for improving existing forms of treatment.

With my project at Stanford, I was able to take a step towards answering this fundamental question. During the 10 weeks of my internship, I conducted a data analysis project on the microarray data from an ongoing project on chondrocyte differentiation at the lab. The goal was to denote significant differences and patterns in gene expression across neonatal, normal adult, iPSC, and osteoarthritic chondrocytes.

My first challenge was learning to use advanced gene expression softwares that I had never encountered before, such as dChip and MetaCore. And through this process, I realized there was so much more about the project that I had yet to learn, so I read as many articles as possible, scrounging for information that could help me tackle this process further.

After mastering the programs, I began making excel sheets that compared the data from different chondrocytes based off of fold change (a comparative measure) and probe set values (microarray data indicating levels of gene expression in a cell). Then, I created lists that denoted which genes were most heavily expressed in one chondrocyte, but under expressed in the other. Entering this information into a pathway analysis, I was able to visualize which kinds of genes made two chondrocytes different. To my surprise, I found that the difference between osteoarthritic and normal adult chondrocytes was that the cartilage cells plagued with osteoarthritis were actually expressing many of the genes that neonatal chondrocytes expressed. And through digging into this information, I landed on the very core problem of osteoarthritis: the remodeling of the extracellular matrix.

Essentially, each chondrocyte is in its own microenvironment that facilitates cell signaling and proper nourishment of the cells. As the cartilage begins to degenerate, inflammatory processes are a signal to the cell that something is wrong. In order to combat this issue, the chondrocyte begins changing the components of its extracellular matrix, the barrier that separates the cell from the outside environment. However, this changes the microenvironment within the cell, exacerbating the condition instead of helping. Perhaps suppressing the expression of some of the key genes involved in ECM remodeling, such as MMP2, would allow the cell to revert back to its original microenvironment, and even “reverse” osteoarthritis.

Although I thought I had found something original, my mentor informed me that this has been a target of research for quite some time–but nobody has been able to control or change ECM remodeling effectively. Still, I refused to be discouraged. With some more digging, I found that one of the genes highly expressed in osteoarthritic chondrocytes was a gene that was supposed to be suppressed completely 6 weeks after birth. And the only information about this gene is that it codes for opioid receptors, which manage pain perception in the brain.

Many studies had published this up-regulation of the “PENK” gene, yet none had actually explored its potential. But maybe the key was not reversing ECM remodeling or even trying to replenish damaged cartilage. I figured that the first step was to control pain and the progression of remodeling. After compiling all of the information I could find on PENK, I suggested that its high expression levels could be utilized as an internal mechanism for pain relief in osteoarthritic patients if the gene was expressed in the iPSC chondrocytes. Or maybe removing this gene would help cease ECM remodeling, prohibiting further cartilage degeneration.

While I had initially set out to make a revolutionary discovery in the field of osteoarthritis, I instead generated new ideas on how to tackle the problem, becoming proficient in terms and ideas that had never existed until the beginning of my summer. As I approach the next four years, I hope to continue my work on osteoarthritis and develop projects that can morph my the research proposals I made using microarray data into positive action.

But one of the most important things I learned throughout last summer was that past the contentment associated with making concrete discoveries, research provides the opportunity to expand the creative capacity of our minds, pushing us to think and plan in novel ways. Even after finding information there is always more to uncover, because regardless of your level of education or social status, research thrives on one leveling commonality. Everyone must keep exploring; there is always more to find.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Isita Tripathi is a senior at a Bay Area High School. She worked as a student intern in the Lab of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stanford, where she has cultivated her passion for medical research. In addition to pursuing a career as a surgeon, Isita aspires to continue performing her flute and learning Spanish during her college years.

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An Inspiring Story of a Woman Who Founded Fund-A-Need

semaMy name is Sema Tosun and I’m the president & founder of Fund-A-Need, a non-profit that focuses on helping low income seniors in San Mateo County. Fund-A-Need provides resources, education, money, goods, and items to low income seniors. I founded Fund-A-Need in February of 2014. I am also the owner of Trapeze restaurant in Burlingame, California, for over 12 years. Recently I gave up my banking & finance career of over 22 years to devote 100% of my time to  the growth of Fund-A-Need.

I was born in Turkey and came to the United States with my family at the age of seven. As a child, adjusting to America was very difficult. I was often bullied by my peers, and it was challenging, but I was fortunate to have such supportive family and friends. I am proud to be both a US Citizen as well as a Turkish Citizen. Continue reading

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