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The very first iGEM survey

Why Human Practices should be also about what's inside the iGEM society

Human Practices were always considered as a very out-going part of projects. It seems to us though that there are very important information hidden somewhere underneath a very thin layer of ‘iGEM’s every day’-ness. This is why we decided to stop practicing on other humans and made some practices on the iGEM humanoids. This is why we looked deeper into the structures created by teams and people, as well as their academic and social environment. In order to gather information we asked all teams to fill the very first survey about iGEM, putting the questions about, inter alia, social structures of every team, academic and financial background and their countries’ attitude to iGEM and synthetic biology. We received over 350 responses, and after having analyzed them in various ways, we proudly publish the final results. We divided them into 3 parts: Team & Personals, Social & Academic Background, and Supporting & Finances. You can find general information about the results below, and more detailed analyzes are in the pdf files attached to each section.

Team & Personals

In this section we asked interviewees about their sex, age, nationality, scientific degree and laboratory experience. And, of course, which time they take part in the iGEM competition.

Some results were obvious, some were not. As we might have expected the majority of iGEMers are young people between 19-30 years old, with BSc (39,89%) or without any scientific degree (43,83%).

We got more surprising results too. We assumed that participants with the longest ‘practice’ in the iGEM will be over 30 years old, but they proved us wrong. 73,34% of people participating for the sixth time are between 19-30! Even if older people didn’t answer that often as young ones, which affected the results, we still are able to say that there is a strong group of young, motivated scientists, for whom the iGEM and everything connected with the competition has become a part of academic development.

There are more men than women in the iGEM competition. Those men are nearly three times more likely to have MSc or higher degree than women. They are also two times more often the instructors. It seems though that this is an international trend, as the percentage of each scientific degree representatives are very similar among men and women from all continents.
More men decided to take part in the next editions of iGEM, but so far we have more women participating for the second time in the competition. Interestingly only a 25% of iGEMers are definitely sure they want to take part in iGEM 2011, and a half still hesitates. Taking under consideration the fact that out of all this year's participants not even 15% take part for the second time, probably not even this quarter will last to the next edition.

The good news is that for nearly a half of participants this iGEM project was their first long-time laboratory experience, which means that iGEM is as popular among students who had already worked in lab before as among those, who have only theoretical knowledge about life sciences. As one of the iGEM's main aims is to encourage young people to gain their lab experience, this part is pure success.
Team & Personals deeper analysis

Social & Academic Background

It is important to know how popular and how known is iGEM at universities and in countries of its participants. One of the main aims of iGEM is popularization of synthetic biology by the participants, and it is nearly impossible to talk about this branch of science without mentioning the iGEM itself.

The results we obtained were not very optimistic. Of course to obtain more complete results people not related to life sciences should be asked similar questions. Nevertheless, we might draw some conclusions from the data obtained. According to what the interviewees think, iGEM is not popular neither at universities or in countries of respondents. This correlates with how many people chose as the first source of information about iGEM things connected with academic life – announce at university or lecture. It seems that news and information about iGEM are still spreading by colleagues – like a grapevine! As for the countries we calculated that iGEM is the most popular in the USA, UK, China, Canada, Germany and France.

Greater success achieved popularization of synthetic biology (SB). Over 70% of interviewees say that it is possible to read or hear about this discipline in popular media of their country and over a half admits that there are some researches concerning synthetic biology being led at their universities. People, when asked where they first heard about SB, mostly answered – iGEM, lecture at university or scientific article.

We also asked about projects – are they related somehow to the previous ones, or maybe some teams want to continue their work on one project for more than one year? It seems that iGEM projects are mostly just one year undertakings. People are more willing to take some ideas from recent projects, than to work on big one for a longer time.

And last but not least – the actual contribution of media. Nearly all Germans and Danes claim that they heard about SB in popular media, but only 8,49% of respondents admitted that this was their first source of information about SB and only 2,81% - about iGEM. This result shows that for people not related with academic or scientific circles and for some students terms like synthetic biology or international Genetically Engineered Machine are perfectly new.
Social & Academic Background deeper analysis

Finances & Supporting

This section was created to establish main trends in financial background of every team. We analyzed funds by looking into the men/women ratio in teams, by the universities', companies', private sponsors' and media contribution, we asked interviewees how they were helped - not only financially, and by whom.

The majority of teams have a fund of over 5 000 USD. 36,5% of interviewees say their team have between 5 000 – 15 000 USD for a project. Having less than 5 000 USD makes a team under-financed in most cases, which is shown by the declaration of how many team members will be sent to the finals – only 9,1%.

The fund is not affected by sex, age, scientific degree or lab experience of team members. Teams from Europe have the highest funds, or so they claim, and Asia has the largest group of teams with less than 5 000 USD fund. Teams are mainly sponsored by universities, biotechnology or pharmacology related companies and other companies, private sponsors and very poorly by media (see also - Social & Academic Background). Biology-related companies give mainly laboratory supplies, while other companies support teams the most often with money.

Universities support teams mainly financially, by laboratory supplies and place to work. Some percentage of respondents chose also help in a project realization and university’s media support. It’s easier to get a bigger fund if the iGEM competition is popular at your university. In the fund groups from 15 000 USD and more nearly 40% of interviewees found out about iGEM from an announce at university. The higher is the fund, the more money university gives to teams for stipends or even a salary.

We also observed that the higher is the fund, the more money in per cent come from private sponsors.
Another interesting thing to see would be if there are more golden awards among the teams with highest funds, but this task is to be left for next year's participants.
Finances & Supporting deeper analysis


As you can see, there is a lot of importnat data hidden in minds of the iGEM participants. As it is the very first survey about iGEM, this time we have kind of actual report with a lot of questions remaining without answers. Possibly every next edition could give us a powerful tool to observe changes and effects of improving – best practises and experience, which are priceless.


iGEM 2010 survey data