Elementary Enlightment with Teach for India, The Anatomy of Self-funding, TERI, NCL, IISER, and the UN
Acquiring a plane a ticket out of Israel was about as simple as acquiring a plane ticket to enter Israel. Without calling people internationally or wiring money to sketchy accounts, my options online to fly to New Delhi, India involved me either flying through Istanbul or Moscow. I chose Moscow since this required less hours and I felt a bit less like I was flying in the complete opposite direction of my final destination. While at the airport in Moscow, I captured some pictures that provide a quick glimpse into Russian culture including Matryoshka dolls and Vodka!
India is a place so overwhelming in size and experiences that I cannot possibly mention them all in a single blog. This is also my second trip to India, the first of which took place in 2015 during the wedding of Shilpi Kushwaha, a former member of my former lab. Unfortunately, I have not been able to post the blogs regarding my first visit to India, thus you will not yet get the entire back story, yet. When I post the other blogs later, it will be like a prequel and you can get that 'oh yea, that's how that happened' feeling. No Jar Jar Binks, I promise. However, some of my most amusing traveling stories are from my 2015 experience in India and thus I will be covering these stories and many more in an upcoming series titled the India Diaries. The same will happen for my 2015 trip to Pakistan which directly proceeded my trip to India and was my first trip to another nation to give a lecture outside the context of a conference and merely for the love of science and science awareness.
My first trip to India was relatively easy. In 2015, the purpose of my visit was to witness a wedding and enjoy the sights. The moment in my life was perfect- I was in transition from a life of nearly complete emotional dissatisfaction to a life where I once again had hopes and plans for a bright and prosperous future. Upon returning from this trip, I began to comprehend that #ScienceTheEarth was not only a good idea, but an obtainable reality. I had spent much of the past four years conducting research, renting out spare rooms in my house, and establishing and maintaining my online business; therefore I had the money to fund the idea. All I needed at this point was the will, the courage, the faith to trust in myself and follow my instinct. In a sentiment similar to Ms. Ayn Rand, it was not a matter of who was going to ‘let’ me travel, but rather who was going to ‘stop’ me. The answer to that question is now evident: only I can hold me back and thus no one is going to stop me.
How does one build this network for an endeavor like #ScienceTheEarth? How does one fund it? And then how does one make it actually happen? This blog will contain the story of my networking, my business, and also (details about my 2016 journey through India). First, onto the elusive art of networking.
After returning from India and Pakistan in 2015, I talked to a friend, Adam, whom I had met through a mutual friend. I told Adam about my idea to travel the world. He looked at me and said that sounded like a great idea. And with this conversation, he embarked on a several month journey around the world. While at a hostel, Adam met a young Indian entrepreneur, Anuj Kamboj, interested in renewable energy and wastewater treatment. Adam introduced the two of us online and we held a meeting on Skype in late May 2016 to discuss ideas. I mentioned to Anuj that I would be travelling the world after I graduated and would love to visit him in India.
United Nations (UN)
I have been to my fair share of ‘networking’ events that are total failures. The kind of people I generally meet at networking events are not the kind of people that are really interested in networking. They are mainly interns and recent graduates looking for jobs. For those people, I have two suggestions- go to a job fair or find activities where you are likely to find like-minded individuals. At a networking event, you’re gonna find people looking for the same thing you are- a job; at a conference, you are going to find people interested in science. I understand, you may not be a scientist so if you have a shared lunch table at work or are surrounded by people in your class, try talking to them. Talk to them about anything. Seriously. I ended up attending a meeting at the UN building in New Delhi, India with Anuj, B.R. Mishra, and Anil Misra, the latter two which are members of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), talking about how we can invest a very large pool of cash into sustainability research because I talked to a friend that I met through a friend at work about my life goals. That’s it. We didn’t go to a sanctioned event or talk about research- I merely said hello to him walking between classes.
How did I end up at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)? Remember Shilpi Kushwaha, the person I met by deciding drive her to Las Vegas on a spur of the moment trip where I was then invited to her wedding? She knows the professors I visited (Banwari Lal and Sanjukta Subudhi) at the TERI Institute. I invited Anuj to join me at the lecture, and he brought along John Mitchell from ProTarget Solar Power Systems. (India is investing strongly in solar energy and now houses the world's largest solar array; the $679 million Adani facility in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, with a capacity of 648 MW and that covers an area of 10 sq km.) Even better, the students I talked to at TERI were some of the same students I met at an event completely unrelated to Shilpi; AP-ISMET in South Korea. This was a total coincidence and a stark reminder of just how small the world really is.
Shuchi Shloka and Nanthakumar Kuppanan are working with an upflow anaerobic bioelectrochemical reactor (UABE) which is essentially an electrode mediated anaerobic digester (AD), or an anaerobic digester coupled with a microbial fuel cell. The purpose of this is to combine the metabolism of dissimilatory metal reducing bacteria and anode respiring bacteria (ARB) with that of fermentative microorganisms for the purpose of enhancing removal of organic contaminants (Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) or Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)) from wastewater. In addition, UABE's are capable of producing biogas with higher concentrations and quantities than with more traditional anaerobic digestion reactors, including upflow anaerobic sludge blankets (UASBs). The take home message- the wastewater treatment processes under evaluation at TERI are capable of treating higher concentrations of waste while producing more energy from that waste than conventional methods.
Sure, that's all fine and good you say- but where's the practicality? Well, a company called Cambrian Innovation based out of Boston, Massachusetts has developed a product called Ecovolt. The details of how this product works is what we like to call a 'trade secret.' However, it does not take to much of a stretch of the imagination to see that the container they ship you is likely a UABE. If you look at the image they provide on their website, you can easily put all the pieces together, from the remote controlled potentiostat and control panel for the pumps in the control center, to the scrubber which is used to purify the biogas into methane, and so on. And for a little extra, you can add a membrane bioreactor (MBR) that likely functions from the power captured from the biogas produced by the UABE to pump air into the EcoVolt MBR for aerobic treatment. Like the idea of reducing your carbon footprint while caputring energy from your waste? So does Lagunitas Brewery.
The National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) and Indian Institution of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune are a similar story. Shilpi and her husband Ketan Patel work at these facilities and thus I had the opportunity to visit them and discuss the idea of helping to open a small start-up lab for Indian students at the NCL Innovation Park.
The key to much of the research at NCL in the laboratory of Amitava Das is to focus on finding light in the darkness, so they probe fluorescence (the emission of light from a substance that has absorbed light or electromagnetic radiation) at the interface of chemistry, biology and environment. Here, they synthesize organic molecules with fluorescent on/off designed functions for detection and quantification of various biologically and environmentally important analytes (chemicals whose properties are under investigation).
So, how does the lab acquire the compounds they study? One method for isolating specific compounds from a mixture of compounds it a method called liquid chromatography. Arunava Maity is running a purification by sending a mixed compound through a silica gel (stationary phase), using a solvent to catalyze the movement of the compounds (mobile phase) through the silica. The silica, combined with the solvent, selects for a specific compound within the mixture which is concentrated in the round bottom flask. Liquid chromatography can be a lengthy process, and in this case the reaction had to run overnight.
Then, they further utilize these fluorescent probes for ion or molecular sensing, targeted drug delivery applications, as imaging agent. So far, the lab has developed fluorescence response based reagents for the environmental pollutants, including toxic ions like cyanide, fluoride, sulphite, mercury, copper, chromium, palladium etc.
(This is where Swapnil Sonawane and colleagues from other labs come into the picture. In different but related research, Swapnil uses purified compounds to determine their usefulness in practical settings.)
For example, some fluorescent reagents that have been developed can be used for detection and imaging of important bio-molecules like reactive species (HOCl, HNO, and thiol containing amino acids like cysteine, homocysteine, enzymes etc...) in living cells and tissues have been developed. Some of these target specific reagents developed and successfully studied in the laboratory are under the process of commercialization.
Suman Pal is researching some of the biologically relevant fluorescent markers including aluminum ions which have been shown to act as a neurotoxin in humans. The purpose of this research is enhanced detection of Al3+ for the purpose decreasing human exposure from contaminated aqueous substances.
They also explore the non-bonded interactions involved in supra-molecular assembling to achieve desired host-guest structures like plug/socket system, molecular shuttle etc. that are capable of achieving the control in probing the molecular conformations in an assembly simply by looking into the spectral responses of the appropriately substituted host or guest components. The lab hopes that the progress of research in this project not only has significance in basic research, but also is relevant for developing insights for understanding conformational changes in natural molecular assemblies with the help of Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
They also explore the photo-induced redox reactions for the purpose of dye sensitized solar cells. Dynamics of charge separated species and its electron transfer process being studied in the lab and thus provide a molecular basis for the efficient conversion of light into free energy in the form of oxidized-donor and reduced-acceptor equivalents.
Shilpi Kushwaha uses a Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer in her lab to confirm conformational structures of molecules purified or developed in the lab. NMR uses a magnetic field to interact with the molecules within a sample at an atomic level. By applying a magnetic field up to approximately 100,000 x stronger than the Earth's magnetic field the magnetic field created by the spin of a single nuclei can be detected. Determining the spin of the nuclei of the atoms that make up a molecule allows Shilpi to determine the contents of a sample with high resolution.
The breadth and scope of research going on at NCL can seem overwhelming. In a different laboratory across the hall, Sandeep Yanchalwar is testing different conductive materials in miniature fuel cells in order to optimize fuel cell performance and construction. His research is primarily focused on developing materials whose properties change when exposed to light.
Anurag Chahande, Sourik Mondal, Leena George, and Priyanka Jawalkar are looking for materials that can effectively harness the energy of ultra violet (UV) and visible light to split water into hydrogen gas that is driven by photocatalysis- acceleration of a chemical reaction driven by light). They claim that by harnessing light from this broad range of wavelengths, they canimprove the potential for hydrogen production from water and other mixtures by 45% per unit of light over conventional methods lacking their catalyst. In the video shared below, you can imagine that the cost of producing hydrogen applying a direct current (DC) can be greatly diminished if the source of electricity for the DC current comes from a solar cell.
So, what to do with all of that hydrogen gas? Why not put it in a hydrogen fuel cell?!? That's precisely what Dhiraj Nagane is doing in the next building. He is testing hydrogen fuel cells containing proton exchange/ polymer electrolyte membranes (PEMs) at low temperature 60C in order to increase their performance with less energy input.
If you watch the video below, you will see that a hydrogen fuel cell operates by combining hydrogen gas with oxygen to form water. The water is then meant to flow out of the cell with the air flow. Unfortunately, this doesnot always happen in a PEM fuel cells (PEMFCs)- sometimes water gets stuck on the membrane which leads to a phenomenon called flooding . When a membrane is flooded, hydrogen and oxygen ions can longer meet up to make water and the performance of the fuel cell diminishes- in other words, the light turns off. This is particularly an issue at temperatures below 100C because the water remains in its liquid form. The combat this issue, Dhiraj is testing Nafion based catalyst coated membranes, looking for ones that have the highest ionic conductivity and the lowest affinity to water.
For those that are interested, you can get an in-depth cost benefit analysis of low temperature PEMFCs from Berkeley National Laboratory.
IISER Pune was established in 2006 and is one of the largest campuses I've ever visited. It was by far, the largest campus I have seen in India. The campus has houses for the families of students, a school for their children, and its own hospital (see the pics).
Having existed for only a little over ten years, IISER Pune has plenty for which to be proud. One of my favorite aspects of IISER is the Venture Center which functions as an incubator for start-up companies in the Pune Region of India. Here, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs can apply for lab resources, space, and investments to make their vision an economic reality.
From the official website:
"IISER Pune is now located on a 98-acre land, generously made available by CSIR-NCL. The campus has 37,000 sq. mt of academic space and 80,000 sq. mt of residential space. It is modern, with green, energy efficient and environmental friendly buildings, conforming to GRIHA 4 star rating. In addition to a modern lecture hall complex, research laboratories and main academic building, the campus houses a 128-room guesthouse - cum - mini convention centre, students’ hostels, guest rooms, and a central dining place. A modern outdoor and indoor sports complex, and faculty & staff housing are under construction."
From the official website:
"The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune is a premier institute dedicated to research and teaching in the basic sciences. It was Established in 2006 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. In 2012, it was declared as an Institute of National Importance by an Act of Parliament. As a unique initiative in science education in India, IISER aims to be a Science University of the highest caliber devoted to both teaching and research in a totally integrated manner, with state-of-the-art research and high quality education, thus nurturing both curiosity and creativity.
IISER Pune has initiated a 5 years Integrated Masters programme and a post-Masters PhD programme in Integrated Sciences in an intellectually vibrant atmosphere of research. Apart from classroom instruction, IISER builds student skills in areas such as scientific inquiry, problem solving, communication skills, computational sciences, electronics and instrumentation and workshop practices. IISER plans to develop advanced teaching and research labs where students will have the opportunity to pursue experiments as well as advanced research under the mentorship of world-class faculty. Eventually, this should make education and careers in basic sciences more exciting and rewarding.
We dedicate ourselves to learn, teach and serve society through excellence, in education research and public service, create learning and a working environment based on integrity, fairness, dignity and professionalism to provide equal opportunities for all and to develop and encourage a sense of environmental responsibility."
Debayan Sarkar does something a little different from the rest. Rather than synthesizing chemicals or polymers or looking at fuel cells- he is growing frogs. His data is yet to be published, but the gist of the research he is conducting is that the oocytes (eggs) of the frogs are made to express an ion channel from rats. The purpose of this ion channel is to allow the frog oocytes to detoxify if they are subjected to spider toxin. In other words, if the cells express the inserted ion channel, then an electrochemical signal should occur with the introduction of spider toxin since the the molecules from the toxin are moved outside of the cell via a symport protein. In other words, as the toxin leaves, so does a positive ion, and this ionic flow can be measured electrochemically.
The trip to the Malwani Township English Primary school in Mumbai also resulted from building a dense network. At Shilpi’s wedding I met Vriti- a student formerly working with Teach for India. Teach for India (TFI) is a branch of the larger company called Teach for All. Many people in the United States are likely familiar with Teach for America (TFA); TFI is the Indian branch of Teach for All and TFA is the American branch. Same concept, same company, different country.
The discussion with the students at the elementary school was the most anticipated presentation of my entire journey. I’m being totally serious. I was so looking forward to talking with these students in this extremely impoverished area of Mumbai that it was the first place on my ‘to-do’ list for #ScienceTheEarth. I was delighted to see that the student centered teaching tactics and methods used by their teacher, Mr. Yug were the same methods taught in American classrooms by TFA.
They ask the students open questions, encourage them to think critically to develop answers, and try to develop concept driven dialogues that encourage students to learn by understanding rather than regurgitating facts. My discussion was joined by Shilpi, whose presence was of vital importance because it is necessary for the Indian students to see positive (female) India role models in the sciences. When I asked the children why they thought TFI was at their school, one responded, “so that we can learn stuff.” I asked, “Why do you need to learn stuff.” “Because we are the future of India.”
These students understand the importance of acquiring knowledge to develop the skills necessary to clean up their contaminated water sources and to develop more sustainable waste management methods. When I started talking about waste management, Mr. Yug asked the class if they remembered anything from their earlier discussions about waste management. “The way waste management works in Mumbai, India is that all of the garbage goes into one place. This includes chemicals, trash, everything. This is why when the waste area in the neighborhood caught on fire so many people got sick.”
Waste and water quality and management is a major concern in India. The current infrastructure in New Delhi is to use ground water for drinking water with little recharge of groundwater for a sustained supply; sometimes the river Yamuna, the source of water supplied by the municipal authorities, is so polluted that the water treatment plants shut down because they can no longer deal with the pollution. Proposals are now underway to increase the amount of rainwater capture in the city and much of India to help augment the drinking water supply. There is a concerted effort for water recharge; however, New Delhi is in an increasingly compromised situation. New Delhi, in its current state, operates on a drinking water deficit of 112 million gallons per day. Water riots are already occurring in many parts of India and water scarcity is becoming increasingly more concerning with each passing year. Many cities in India, including Delhi and Mumbai, are far below the capability of treating all of the waste produced by the city. What this means is that raw sewage is often dumped into the rivers, oceans, and streams around India at a rate of up to 37,000 million liters per day with the World Bank Making a $167 million investment to try and curtail this issue.
As you visit city to city, signs of the poor water quality in India are present everywhere. The culture of India is very different from the westernized world. Often times bodies of water and drainage ditches are used as trashcans. The locals have a bit of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality when it comes to trash. If someone has a bag of garbage they no longer want in their house, they take it outside and either burn it (which is a major part of the air quality issues in New Delhi and also why many cities smell like burning garbage), throw it in a ditch (which leads to major clogging of city sewers), or throw it on the other side of a fence or on train tracks (which leads to large piles of trash everywhere).
At no time in your life will you be more aware of the amount of plastic we consume by using bottled water and soft drinks than you will be in India. Since waste disposal is so inefficient, or often not present, all the plastic used by everyone accumulates in piles on the streets until it is burnt. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that much of the water from the tap in India is undrinkable; encouraging everyone to purchase bottles of water. Nancy, a friend of mine whom I visited in Bangalore, had just returned from a visit to Europe and was quite surprised to discover that in Austria for example, people could drink straight from the tap!
The Anatomy of a Self Funded Tour of the Earth (since the Art of the Deal was already taken)
To fund #ScienceTheEarth was merely a matter of using a logical and business oriented mind to make calculated and well timed risks and investments. Let me lay it down for you.
1. Do what you want and the money will follow.
Some people tell me this sentiment is naive, unrealistic, or impossible. I tell them that this is my story, that I am the proof that this philosophy is none of the three. Rather, I would argue just the contrary. To do something you hate for the purpose of acquiring material wealth is naive, unrealistic, or impossible. Sure, enough, likely most, people do just this. But is it satisfactory or emotionally sustainable? How many people hate their jobs, want to quit their jobs, or find no purpose in their daily tasks? This is why people most often quit their jobs due to dissatisfaction and or desire to accomplish more, not because of their level of pay. When you do what you want, work does not feel like work- you get paid for your hobby.
I met a guy from Baltimore while traveling that said anyone claiming that we should all enjoy our jobs is full of shit. He was a day laborer that dug out roads in Australia. He spent most nights drinking himself to sleep so he could get up the next day to dig out more roads; rinse repeat. Two things: the first is that there is nothing wrong with working construction- I know people that do this job and absolutely love it because it allows them to feel accomplished and work-out while performing a public service. The second: I am not some self-help guru chasing unicorns. I’m talking to real people, at major research institutions that are genuinely interested in having me work with them because I am out there doing what it is I love. If you believe that work is a hopeless pursuit to dredge through shit you hate for the sole purpose of acquiring wealth, then that is precisely the position where you will end up in life. And it is going to suck and you are going to feel dissatisfied. But why allow yourself to settle for that existence? Fight for the existence you want and look for positive social actors that will assist you in acquiring that existence.
2. Think simple.
Really, this seems like a simple truth, but some many people miss this one. The business I ran was an online business selling used vintage audio/ video equipment and collectible figures and cards online. My house was paid for by selling laserdiscs, Ninja Turtles, vinyl records, Transformers, comic books, old concert t-shirts, you name it. I sold these items through major online retailers like Ebay, Amazon, Half, Discogs, and the Laserdisc database. I did not even have to build my own website. Two interesting experiences I had relating to this:
The first: one time a group of my friends met up to discuss ideas for starting a business. I was not invited to this discussion. Several days after the meeting, I overheard them talking about the discussion. Being the business oriented person I am- I inquired as to why I was not asked to take part in the meeting. “We didn’t think you were interested in starting a business,” one stated. “I own a business,” I proclaimed. “We mean, like a real business,” was the rebuff.
I used my business to pay off my house (1700 square feet and four miles from my work place) when I was 26. Every year I conducted my business I gained in gross income and I had zero years with negative income. My business was instantly profitable and never had a month of losses. My business was simple, easy, and got the job done. With my house paid off and money saved, I am now able to travel for years at a time with relatively little stress. I started traveling to #ScienceTheEarth arguably in 2015, and officially in 2016 when I was 28 and 29 respectively. How many people have accomplished something like this in their twenties? This is a simple, serious business.
The second: I met an Indian guy living in Australia when I was at a hostel in Lyon, France. He was one of these people that got it all figured out with no place to go. “No one will ever make money on Ebay anymore. The time for that is passed.” Once again, I paid off my house selling laserdiscs on an international scale from 2012-2016. Laserdiscs! Stop thinking so hard, stop knowing it all- keep it simple.
3. Know your customer; know your supplier.
This goes back to #1: do what you love and the money will follow. Guess what? If you do what you love and you make money doing it, then you already know more about your customer than you realize. For example, I have a love for vinyl records and I know exactly what it is I am looking for when I am shopping for the latest or greatest hot tracks on wax. And so do all of my customers. People that collect vinyl want a sleeve or outer case that is not creased, they want a record that is not scratched, they want a release from the UK since it came from the first factory that pressed the record. So, when you are selling a record, highlight all of those things. When people know you have what they want, and you make that obvious for them to see, then they are willing to pay more purchasing that thing from you than they would someone else because you have taken all of the guesswork out of the equation. This applies to anything: shirts, spoons, haircuts, landscaping, you name it! When you know your customer, you know how to appeal to what it is they want which turns into a better purchasing experience for them and a better selling experience for you
As important as knowing your customer, you must know your supplier. In my instance, many of my products were acquired from individuals getting rid of old clutter. Many of these people were either in a hurry to get rid of things, were tired of looking at them, or had no means to dispose of them without someone coming to their house to take it away. These people see far less value in the items you are acquiring than are the individuals that are going to purchase them from you. This allows you to purchase things for a lot less than you sell them for. And purchasing something for less is the same as selling it for more: it increases your bottom line.
4. Realize the value of your service.
Many people take offense to the idea that you are purchasing something of theirs to turn around and sell it for more. First of all, this sentiment is wholly preposterous- that’s how business works. Imagine if Ford complained that the dealerships were selling cars for more than what they paid the factory to deliver them. The added cost is in the value of the service provided by the dealership. For me, if the people from which you are acquiring your items were going to put the effort required into selling their items for what they were worth, then they would not be bargaining with you over prices at a yard sell. The real value in my business was not so much the items themselves, but the digitization of the physical items so that people could purchase them on an international scale. Who cares about your CAV Elite Laserdisc Edition of A Nightmare on Elm’s Street if it’s sitting in a storage unit under a pile of boxes in Vermont? In that condition, those discs are worth exactly $0 since no one has access to them.
Purchasing the materials, assessing their value, knowing your customer enough to market to them effectively, providing remarkable customer service and a refund policy that holds you accountable for the content of your items (imagine trying to take something back to a yard sale 30 days later because it did not work), packaging the item well, and purchasing proper shipping so that it arrives safely at their door. And DEALING WITH AT LEAST FIVE DIFFERENT SHIPPING COMPANIES so your customer does not have to- that is where all the value is. At the end of the day, the item almost becomes an afterthought.
5. Know yourself and learn what you don’t know.
Figure out what you don’t know and discover how to do those things. It will give you a better perspective on how businesses work and also allow you to save some money by performing some tasks by yourself.
6. Provide good customer service.
So, you buy a record for $1 and sell it to a woman in New York for $29.99 who claims it was damaged in shipping. She sends you a picture of a broken disc. Do you really want to make her put a label on it and ship it back so you can just throw it away? Give her the refund and call it a day. You lose $1 and gain a good reputation. The next guy waiting to pay $29.99 for a different record- he’s paying attention to the service your offering and likes to see someone that cares about guaranteeing the quality of their product. Stop worrying about counting your pennies while the dollar bills are falling through the cracks. I’ve had to do this with items valued all the way up to $300. Refund given. No questions asked. House paid off at 26. Catch my drift?
7. Reuse to increase your income- sustainability is good business.
Look for ways to utilize resources in ecological and economical ways to increase your bottom line and decrease your carbon footprint. Seems simple from an ethical and moral perspective, but let me lay down some financial reasons for you as well. Every item I sold, spare local pick-ups, had to be shipped somewhere in a box. I worked in a research facility that had lab and computer equipment shipped in boxes every single day. For my business, I never had to purchase a single packing material other than tape. Even the paper for the shipping labels was often recycled from left over scraps. The result, a reused cardboard box has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than a trashed one; even a recycled one. And reused cardboard boxes are virtually like new unless something was dropped in the original shipment (in which case, you don’t use that box). What was the result of not paying for boxes? Less cost to the customer and more sales for me.
8. Take the time to make informed and calculated risks to minimize losses.
My last bit of advice is that timing is important and helps with taking calculated risks. Let me run through the logic of my business mind. I purchased my house in 2009 during one of the greatest financial crises in the history of the United States. A house that sold for nearly a quarter of a million USD in 2006 was on the market for $85,000. Through working full time during my undergraduate studies, I had saved up enough money to make a 20% down payment and take out a conventional loan at about 4.5%. In addition, I was offered a first time home owner credit of $8,000 or 10%, whichever was less, as part of the economic stimulus package. This means that I took out a loan for ~$68,000 that I was to pay off over the next 30 years and that I had $8000 to immediately invest in principle. It also meant that, at my interest rate, the house would end up costing me about double of my loan amount if I sent minimum payments over 30 years. Also, I had recently joined graduate school and the house I purchased was a mere ten minute walk to a newly installed train station that virtually drops me off at the front door of my lab after a ten minute ride. In addition, I knew that I would be in the area for 4-5 more years and needed a place of residence during that time anyway. Rather than rent a house from a landlord I did not know and throw my money into a bottomless pit, I put a down payment on a house. To me, my options looked a little like this:
If I rented for about $10,000 a year, I would lose $50,000 over five years. If I purchased a house and decided to move, it would have to depreciate in value to roughly $35,000 to acquire the same losses as renting. This I determined was plausible but highly unlikely. If my house did not change in value, then I would merely break even and lose the interest to which I had paid- saving around $35,000 over renting. However, with a four bedroom house I could rent out some of the rooms to help make the house payments which may make my cost of living close to $0 regardless of the changing value of the house.
In addition, with my interest rate, the cost of the house to me was double. However, if I pay it off today, it will only cost half of the projection on the 30 year loan. What this means is that every dollar I earn to pay off the house early is actually two dollars towards my investment. It also means that the day I pay off my house, the savings will essentially translate into accruing the interest of a 30 year fixed CD overnight. In other words, when I wrote that check when I was 26, I made twice as much money than the amount of the check since I was saving half the cost of a 30 year loan.
In other words:
Due to the loan, every dollar earned became two dollars. If I took my stipend and invested it in materials that I could sell for three times what I paid for them, then every dollar becomes six dollars. Since my roommates were paying most of the rent, I was saving $50,000 over the course of five years. Once the loan was paid off, all the money earned from my graduate stipend would also be worth twice as much since it would not be used to pay off the principle on my house. And, over this five year period, my house doubled in value. This is how you turn ~$30,000 into ~$250,000; although I never actually held close to this much cash. This is how you eventually finance an audacious world tour to pursue your dreams and influence others in a positive way!
How on Earth does #ScienceTheEarth happen? I plan and book almost everything. I use helpful apps like Currency Exchange, Hostelworld, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Messenger, Skype, City Mapper, an online banking app, Paypal, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Trip Advisor. But really, my most valuable asset is my network. Which is really ‘my’ anything- rather, it’s all of you! The people I know end up taking me to the places I go. Often I show up at a conference and then end up in a country based on a short conversation including- Toulouse, France, Barcelona, Spain, Singapore, Singapore, Brisbane, Australia, Zurich, Switzerland, Gotherburg, Sweden, Vienna, Austria the list goes on. As a matter of fact, every country visited on this trip is through a large global network of scientists that are working on common issues every day! Thanks to all of you, this journey and this narrative are possible!
(Some supermarkets in India rival American supermarkets.)
(I had the opportunity to try all kinds of street foods. Here are some of my favorites.)
(I was fascinated by the news articles in India. The major headline was the cancellation of the rupee and the deaths that occurred as a result. As a result of this cancellation, I was allowed to exchange about $40 in currency at the airport. The rest of the time, I had to rely on my India friends to lend me currency. Above, I have included a few light-hearted news articles.)
One of the best parts of networking though is that networking is really just another term for talking to random people about common interests and building lasting relationships. Those relationships can then lead to fun adventures like visiting the temples and palaces featured in this blog and also the occasional big drop on a major roller coaster at places like Imagica theme park.