Creating a Conference: Alex Tummon Simmons

Our university experiences are our own. Even so, we can stand to benefit from learning about those of our peers. We may be part of a large university with a variety of unique programs, but we can all relate to, be inspired by, and appreciate what other students are doing. With that in mind, I interviewed second-year student Alex Tummon Simmons, an internal transfer student who, in his spare time, decided to co-found an entirely new conference in his area of interest.

Q: What year and program are you in?

Alex Tummon Simmons.Alex: I am currently in my 2B term in Biomedical Engineering, class of 2021. 

Q: You started out in the Kinesiology program at Waterloo. What made you want to transfer into Biomedical Engineering? What was that process like?

Alex: After my 1A term in Kinesiology, I knew that I wanted to transfer programs to Biomedical Engineering. This change to engineering was due to me really wanting to get more of a hands-on approach to science. This interest stemmed from my exposure to neuroscience, and the human-computer interface research going on right now, which I find exciting. As a result, for my 1B term, based on advice from my department’s academic advisor, I rejigged some of my courses; I chose to focus more on math and physics to strengthen my application. In retrospect, I am grateful that I knew I wanted to transfer so early in my first year, as it really made the whole process easier.

Q: Any advice to those considering transferring?

Alex: I think for anyone considering a transfer, you should definitely start by reaching out to your academic advisor, as their help can be invaluable. Additionally, I would consider taking the time to reach out to some current students in the program you are considering, to gain a better understanding of what the program is like.

Q: Getting involved seems really important to you. Can you tell us about your extracurriculars and how you’ve juggled them with academics?

Alex: During my 2A term in fall 2017, I chose to devote a large portion of my time outside of class to participating in a variety of extracurriculars. This included working part-time as a Research Assistant in Dr. Thomas Willett's lab, acting as a team lead for the NanoRobotics Design Team, working as an executive for BioTEC (an undergraduate conference), and continuing weekly piano and cello lessons. After finishing such a heavy term, I feel like I learned a lot about what kind of work/life balance I want; I have found it more rewarding (and more manageable) to limit the number of extracurriculars I participate in. I believe this approach allows me to commit more time to each individual task, helping me learn more and feel more in control.

Q: You’ve continuously spent a lot of your time outside of the classroom working on the conference you just mentioned, BioTEC. Tell us a little bit about that. What inspired you to organize this event?

BioTEC logo.

Alex: BioTEC is a one-day biotechnology- and bioengineering-focused conference hosted here at UWaterloo, and which was founded by myself and two of my classmates. We decided to create the conference after attending the Waterloo Nanotechnology Conference (WNC) here on campus in fall 2016. After leaving the event, we asked ourselves why there wasn't a similar conference for biotechnology, and when we didn't find one existing already, we made our own. BioTEC 2017 was a success, as we hosted over 100 delegates for a full-day conference in the QNC.

Along the way to organizing BioTEC 2017, we were fortunate enough to receive a lot of support from many different people here on campus. I'd like to highlight the support of two key advisors. First, our program director, Dr. Maud Gorbet, was consistently enthusiastic about meeting with us and discussing new ideas for the conference, in addition to helping us connect with key faculty members. Second, Jatin Patil, the director of the WNC, offered tons of support. By taking the time to answer our questions, he helped guide us through the steps we would need to take to make BioTEC a success.

Q: What really stands out to you about your experience organizing this conference?

Alex: I think the thing that still amazes me most about BioTEC is the power students have to affect change in their own academic environment when they work together.

Q: Any advice for other students regarding working with others? 

Alex: Since a full-day conference doesn't run for free, we relied heavily on academic funding. This was mostly through faculty support within the university. My advice for someone looking to garner support from any potential sponsor is to carefully consider what you can offer them in return for their sponsorship. 

Q: Where do you hope to go from here? What are your future aspirations?

Alex: Right now, I am really looking forward to continuing my education in bioengineering, and I am very excited to see neuroscience from an engineering perspective in upper-year courses. Looking to the future, I hope that I am fortunate enough to continue my education past the undergraduate level so that I can deepen my understanding of engineering.

At a high level, I hope that the work I end up pursuing helps change the world for the better. 

For more stories featuring Engineering students like Alex, check out the Engineering tag on the UWaterloo Life blog!

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