I applied to the MIT Hacking Medicine competition and the Grand Hack committee accepted me as one of the 40% out of 2,000 international applicants. After being informed about how many people were turned down from this event, I knew I couldn’t miss it or casually opt out. This was my first healthcare hackathon so, I didn’t really know how to prepare (compared to a tech focused hackathon where I can think of ways to use the sponsors software or devices). I planned to enthusiastically join a team and devote my services at the MIT Hacking Medicine competition.
Day 1 of Grand Hack, I arrived early and as I’ve learned at past hackathons, I have to jump right in and just start networking. I was at MIT, (there was no harm to networking with every professional in site.) I sparked up a conversation with one of the sponsors and it was actually her first hackathon so, after hearing that I’m a veteran/ ‘expert’ hackathoner, she asked me for some advice. This was surprisingly a reoccurring conversation. It was many participants first hackathon so, after learning that this was not my first rodeo, people would lay out a set of beginner hackathon questions that I was happy to share my insight on. MIT Hacking Medicine was different so, I’ll tell you why this was many attendees first hackathon (being that you would expect MIT to recruit a plethora of hackathon experts). The Grand Hack team pulled a very diverse pool of talent to make this event medical focused. Only 20% of the attendees were your traditional programming software engineers. The other 80% were clinicians, doctors, medical students, venture capitalist, techies, and more!
To top that diversity, there were 20 countries present. I ended up meeting a young doctor from Ireland! My table alone had 6 countries represented.
After the introduction of the Grand Hack team and the sponsors, it was time for team pitching and forming. For Day 1, there is no time to waste. I had to keep reminding myself that when I would sit down and not introduce myself to the stranger next to me. It took me a little bit to warm up but, I shook hands with my seat strangers and asked about people’s backgrounds. 1) Because I was curious and 2) Because I was scoping out who I’d want on my team. Many of these medical professionals and engineers did not end up on my team but, they ended up being people to talk to the next 48 hours and later LinkedIn contacts to call on for future reference.
The teams were pitched and I narrowed my options down to three teams. I spoke to each presenter of those three teams and decided to join one of the engineers who was an employee of a company that was sponsoring the hackathon, Validic.
Day 2) long story short for Day 2 was that we spent hours brainstorming and walking around our original idea. All the while, we had 4-6 mentors come by and offer their insight. It wasn’t until 10PM did the lightbulbs go off and we decided to run with our idea.
Day 3) The mentors from yesterday checked in with us to see our growth. Our mentors included; an Emergency Medicine doctor from Massachusetts, a representative from the TCMx accelerator, a venture capitalist, another clinician, and a healthcare entrepreneur. Thank you Grand Hack team for offering the services of 100+ professionals and experts in the healthcare industry. I mean, they got doctors to take a whole weekend to help a bunch of college kids with ‘pie in the sky’ ideas. Having time with just 6 of those 100+ mentors was an invaluable opportunity that I hope I took full advantage of. Time with these mentors not only evolved our project for the competition but, it also helped out the mentors. The mentors and participants networked, saw how each other worked in teams (aka future job opportunities here and future program participants, etc.), and overall everyone walked away learning or gaining something new.
This competition exposed me to the innovative side of the healthcare industry as a mechanical engineer and opened me up to a community that could aide in bringing my ideas further. Spending the weekend at MIT for Grand Hacks was definitely a spark in my early engineering career and I know it will help me later down the road.
Resources used during this hackathon:
Grammarly yours, SemirahD
Previous post in my Women Engineer in Training series:
WeCode Harvard 2016: A gathering of really cool women engineers
NSBE42 Convention: Sharing tips to excel academically and professionally
BostonHacks: My intro to using wearable technology (aka Fitbits/Garmins/etc. for non-fitness uses)
NSBE Biz Competition Video: Watch me on Youtube!!