When she was 5 years old, Ellen Xu had a life changing event. Now 15, Ellen has been conducting medical research into a rare heart condition. She took her project to a leading science and engineering fair where she became a finalist. Ellen is also the Global Director of Elevate the Future, a student-run organisation bringing business and tech insights to students around the world.
In this episode, Ellen shares how she got started in medical research and her tips for students wanting to do the same. She also describes how she connects with students in her role at Elevate the Future and what she hopes to achieve next.
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Podcast Host 00:17
Hello there. Thank you so much for joining me on the Top of the Class podcast. I'm your host, Alex Cork and today, I'm delighted to be chatting with Ellen Xu. Ellen shares with us how she became so involved in medical research at just 14 years of age. We also talk about how she became a finalist at a world leading science fair, and her role as a global director of a student run organization. Let's chat with Ellen Xu. Hi Ellen, welcome to the Top of the Class podcast, it's fantastic to have you on. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, maybe start off with your name, your age, and where you are calling in from today?
Awesome. Yeah, thank you so much for having me here. It's good to be on Top of the Class and be able to talk about experiences and my life. I'm a 15 year old from San Diego, California. And I'm really passionate about machine learning about cybersecurity and overall trying to make a social impact using technology. So I'm looking forward to be discussing some things to other students around the world today.
Podcast Host 01:25
That's fantastic. It's such an interesting thing to hear that a 15 year old is interested in machine learning cyber security and social impact. Where did it all start? You know, how come you haven't followed, I guess, the normal trajectory of the majority of 15 year olds? And how come you've gone so far beyond that?
Yeah. So I think one of the things that got me started, especially into more technology related aspects of my experiences have really done a lot in shaping my activities and what I enjoy doing. So one example was when I first was getting into AI or not even getting into AI yet. But one thing that propelled me to start on a personal project of mine was actually an experience with my younger sister. Because when she was three years old, she had this rare heart disease called Kawasaki disease. It's a pretty rare heart disease, but it is the number one heart disease in children in the US and Japan. So when my sister got that disease, she was actually the first time I bought at the hospital, she had fear and read I a few of the common symptoms of Kawasaki disease. But because it is quite rare, and it's quite hard to diagnose because of its wide range of symptoms. She was actually miss diagnosed with the flu, the first time I brought her to the hospital, right. And she was successfully diagnosed the second time, which is really great and treated at one of the best Kawasaki disease centers out here in San Diego. So I'm really thankful for that. But you know, these problems that I haven't seen, you know, the misdiagnosis and the lack of awareness for Kawasaki disease that kind of sparked me to go on to this journey where I wanted to try to find ways where I could possibly help and give back to the doctors who helped save my sister's life. And also the other Kawasaki disease community and other families who might be also going through similar things, or later on my encounter this as well. So that's what got me started into kind of thinking about ways. And personally, I believe that ideas and solutions always have to come from a problem. So yeah, I'm really glad that I was presented with this type of problem. Because without it, I wouldn't have really gotten to where I am today. And I wouldn't have started on my project to try and diagnose Kawasaki disease.
Podcast Host 03:32
How old were you when all this happened?
I was five years old when my sister got Kawasaki disease. But I recently started on this project last year. So when I was 14.
Podcast Host 03:43
Okay, and when you're 14, and you're wanting to make a change in Kawasaki disease, how do you go about it? You know, what, where do you start? I mean, there must be some kind of thought process that says, 'Okay, I want to make a difference in Kawasaki disease. It was misdiagnosed. I know, there's a problem that people are facing. And it's not just me. I know, other people in the community who also have this issue as well.' There might be I guess, that voice inside of your head that says, 'but you're 14 years old, what are you doing?' How do you overcome that voice in your head that says you're only 14? This is a cool idea. And yes, it's a problem. But what can you do as a 14 year old?' And how do you I guess overcome that voice and continue doing what you're doing anyway?
Yeah, definitely. I think that voice I mentioned stuff is something that exists in many of the minds of youth and myself included. I definitely felt that since Kawasaki disease and diagnosis such a big problem. It was hard for me to try to find ways that I could help make a difference given my age and I haven't gone to college yet or haven't really had too much of an extensive education within the medical field. So really was a really big challenge getting started in order to try to find ways where I could actually help as a student and as someone who was younger than other doctors. There are other professionals who are doing a lot more in the field. But I think I was trying to just develop this proof of concept, you know that maybe if I tried it out that if something did end up working, it would be kind of a proof of concept for me to go for it. So I decided to look into different ways to try to solve the problem. And investigating these problems, I was just thinking, maybe I'll just try something new. Especially because if my interests aligned with what I was doing, I just thought that maybe naturally, I'd be able to create something that wasn't there before, and maybe would someday be able to help people. So I think in order to overcome that mindset, it's just the thought of maybe I can try something new. And just, you know, try it out. And if it doesn't work out, that's okay. You can always pivot and go to a new idea. But if you have something that you're interested in pursuing, then just giving it a try, even if it's just for a month or two, just doing literary research, trying to see ways in which you can make a difference. It could lead to something big that you didn't anticipate. So I really believe in the idea of just being able to explore different fields, and being able to try new things, even when it doesn't seem like it's possible to make a difference.
Podcast Host 06:08
Take me to that moment, right, where you're sitting in front of your laptop, and you're saying, Okay, I'm going to start this journey to figure out how I might be able to make a difference. And you've overcome that little voice in your head that says, You're only 14, and you're you they go, Yeah, no, I can make a difference here. And I believe that I've got the experience of the problem to know what to do next. What do you search? What do you I know, it sounds like a basic question. But I you know, I go back to a scene from a movie that you may have seen The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. I don't know if you've seen that. But he's like in class, and he says, I want to be an explorer, and then the teacher because they're trying to keep him contained in that little bubble. The teacher says, oh, but the world's already been explored. And you're like, Oh, okay. Well, you know, like, it must be kind of thinking, I've got this idea. But how do I know that other people aren't already working on it, or other people aren't already, you know, saying that that's a dead end and have gone back and fixed it or or even solved that problem since your sister was diagnosed when you were five, or it had that insult when you were five, and now you're 14 and nine years have gone past? Like, how do you figure out where to start focusing your attention?
Yeah, I think that's something that I definitely explore a lot spent a long time investigating, and because like you mentioned, you know, there's a lot of people that are probably working on this problem. Yeah, it's not just you and your idea might not be actually something that's, maybe it's already been solved or might not solve the problem. So I feel like you meant I was sitting in front my computer for a long time, I did a lot of research into the problem of Kawasaki disease first, and like, how many cases are misdiagnosis year? Why gets misdiagnosed. And when I was researching more into the more technical side, so I guess I was looking into how, since when I was looking to Kawasaki disease and how it's normally diagnosed, I didn't see a lot about how technology and more recent emerging technologies have been used. So it was something that I was both interested in, since I am like interested in the technical aspect. And I realized that most of these diagnoses are just based off of the intuition of the doctor. So the doctor being able to actually recognize these symptoms, which in a lot of cases can be hard, because the symptoms aren't that unique in of themselves. But the combination of them and specific signs that kind of take the doctor off, is what really leads to the early diagnosis. So I think after I was searching up, and I was realizing that there's not a lot of technical aspects, and not a lot of integrations within these two fields. Yeah. Now I've been used health further the diagnosis. And I was, as I was thinking about this, I think, recently, there's been a huge boom in like artificial intelligence, and this sort of technology in helping for image classification, medical imaging, or just diagnosis in general. So I started finding this kind of intersection, or this kind of path where these two separate fields could possibly intersect to find a solution to this problem. And that's where I kind of was like, wait, this is a little bit interesting. And I just started exploring that field a little bit more and trying to develop a project based on these two very distinct and separate ideas.
Podcast Host 09:19
Okay, so you've got that kind of interest and background in AI and you're interested in emerging technologies. You have the problem that, you know, you'd faced as a five year old where your sister is diagnosed or misdiagnosed with Kawasaki disease. And then you're putting these two things together and saying, 'Hey, there might be something here.' Did you look around and see if anybody else was doing that or was working on something similar? Did you try and speak to doctors or people who were, I guess other experts in the Kawasaki disease field?
Yeah, so I did do some research. I didn't find anything but I didn't start talking to doctors until a little bit later. Okay, until I already did. I kind of my algorithm and kind of had an idea because in the beginning, I wasn't really sure if it would actually work out. Or if I was ending, I'm going to, I'm going to end up pursuing it. Because like you mentioned, I'm a student, and I wasn't sure if this would actually be something that was feasible or would work out. But later down the line after I already had my algorithm, and, like I mentioned, like the proof of concept that ended up working out pretty well, because I saw that the machine learning algorithm was actually producing results of high accuracy, that I started thinking, maybe this is something that could possibly help doctors or could possibly be implemented into hospitals, or just on an app that parent could use in order to check if their child had Kawasaki disease, or what probability their child with having Kawasaki disease instead of reaching out to doctors, but that was a little bit later.
Podcast Host 10:49
Right. Okay, so one does back a little bit, Ellen, because you kind of casually dropped in there that you've created this algorithm. Now, I'm not the most scientific guy in the world. But yet take us through, I guess, how does a 14 year old at that you were 14 or 15? At the time, you were young ish? Okay, 14 at the time, you know, the concept or that, you know, idea that a 14 year old would go and create an algorithm to help diagnose Kawasaki disease. If you said to most students, roughly how old would be someone who creates an algorithm today? That'd be like, oh, probably someone in their 30s or something. So talk us through, I guess the process and what you needed to know to start an algorithm? And was that knowledge covered by school? Or was that something that you have to self learn?
Yeah, so to start off with the second question, I think, a lot of things that schools teachers are really useful to get a foundation. But ultimately, if you want to start something of your own, or go into a field that isn't taught in school, it's mainly all on your own self accord. Yeah, you have to go out of your way to try to find these resources, learn things on your own, that may or may not be taught in your school. So I think that's the first thing that I did was I tried to find resources online, and other communities that maybe I could look into, in order to try and just get started into machine learning. Since in the beginning, I actually didn't have much knowledge of artificial intelligence or machine learning, it was just something that I was interested in. And that I thought maybe could be a good way to help try and combat this problem. But I initially didn't have too much of a background in it as well. So cool. If other students are listening to this, I definitely feel that you don't have to have a really big background. And you don't have to already know what to do or where to get started. But there's definitely, especially with technology, a lot of available resources online that anyone could just look at, for example, there's a lot of machine learning courses that are free from some of the top universities around the world and anyone regardless of their age, or where they are on their path to life could just watch these videos and watch these courses and be able to learn something new.
Podcast Host 12:54
So which ones did you do? Just out of interest?
Yeah, I started off just reading documentation. So I really like Jason brown Lee's machine learning blogs. I also took a course on Coursera by Andrew, and Andrew mg and not really sure to pronounce his last name, but he's also a really prominent figure in AI. And he developed a free machine learning course on Coursera as well. So I found that was really interesting.
Podcast Host 13:24
Yes, so Okay, so you put in all this time and effort into the machine learning? Is there any kind of resource already people that you're bouncing ideas off at school? Or who are you kind of chatting to during this experience? You know, you said you, you kind of sussed out a community, I think like a group of people who are on the same journey is pretty important to kind of keep going through the challenges, because then you can at least say, hey, look, anybody else had these challenges? And people will be like, yeah, I have in the US. Okay, great. I don't feel so alone through this journey. It Was there anyone like that for you? Whether it was in the physical school or online?
Yeah, I definitely found a lot of communities online that I found helpful when having questions or having problems. There's actually I didn't realize this when I just got started. But there's such a huge like group of people that are online and in these forums, and communities that are working to solve these problems. And if you have any questions, a lot of the times if you find a good thread or forum, there'll be a lot of people that are willing to help answer. So I think there's a I don't have a specific community that I went to, but for different problems, I was able to find separate communities that were able to zone in on that specific problem. I think TensorFlow has a lot of good forums and communities. And there's probably an abundance of others out there that I haven't even touched on yet. But I definitely found the range of people out there in the world who are also working on AI or machine learning. They're all super helpful. And being able to look at those resources and as a student be able to learn from them was a really great resource.
Podcast Host 14:57
And one of the things that I'm interested in as well is I'm sure a lot of students are sitting here listening to this thinking, that sounds like a fair chunk of time out of a regular school week that you're dedicating to this Kawasaki disease research, machine learning doing these courses. Can you give us a little bit of a sense of the timeline that you went through? And, you know, roughly, I guess, how much of your week were you dedicated to these kinds of things whilst also managing your work at school?
Yeah, so that's one of the things I was learning as I was going as well, because time is limited. And as a student, you know, you're at school eight hours every weekday, and that's already a large chunk of your time. Plus your homework plus your extracurriculars and your clubs, it can pile up to a long, long time. And if you want to start a side project, that's another big investment of time that you're looking at. So I think my timeline was I started around in May, I believe. And then I continued that until now, it's been about one and a half years already. And I think it's definitely been a lot of time that I've spent and invested into it. I think I've spent, on average, at least 20 hours a week working on this project. Wow. Yeah, almost like every day, I go after doing homework or extracurriculars I go towards trying to improve the project. And you know, trying to do the best I can, with the time that I have. And time management, one of the most important things I've learned out of that, since it's really important to be able to set goals for yourself and know what things to prioritize and not prioritize. Bardot's ation was a problem that I had at first, because I always had trouble balancing out all my extracurriculars, and still having time to work on this project that I really enjoy. But I found that being able to just know what in a day, how much time you have, and what you're going to spend that time on is something that's really important in print, planning out your schedule, and being able to say, Okay, I'm going to have two hours for today for homework. And that leaves me, let's say, two hours of time for this project. I think just being honest to yourself about the time you have, and being able to plan that out is something that's a really important skill.
Podcast Host 17:13
Yeah, yeah. And I think it's interesting to look at a project that lasts that long, right? You're not trying to achieve this in a term or something like that, or a semester. I think a lot of students when they think of like a long term project, because a lot of like, your medius projects at school will still only go for a couple of weeks, right? They'll be like, Oh, this is the project and it's due, you know, next month, and you're like, Oh, my God, that's a big project, right? But you've kind of set yourself this goal, like there's no necessarily like, there's there's no index, right? You're just kind of saying, I'm going to keep working on this. It's going to continue to evolve and change. And we're gonna learn more a bit more about it as I go. But I'm not necessarily needing to submit it to anyone, you're just kind of like learning as you go, right? And it says that kind of experience of, you know, how does it fit into my week, I've got a busy week, I can do a little bit less on the project this week, or I've got a bit of free time, I can spend a little bit more time on it and kind of bouncing it that way.
Yeah, I think, since side projects and spending a lot longer than projects that many people might be doing at schools. And the thing about them is that they don't have any hard deadlines. So you really have to be motivating yourself. And you have to be able to stay interested and stay learning and stay working on your project. Because there really is no person to tell you, oh, you have to finish this part of your project design, or like a teacher to be like, I want you to get this submitted before the deadline like this many weeks early or something like that. It's really all about you trying to set goals for yourself and trying to motivate yourself to continue working on a project even when no one's like right behind you telling you what's the next step? What time do you need to finish this by? It's really about making sure that you are continually learning and that you have your own management of your long term goals and short term goals and being able to meet that recurrently.
Podcast Host 19:04
So where does your motivation come from? For a year and a half? Now, you've been working on this project without a deadline? Obviously, I'm sure you can see the benefit of this and you know, the experience of your sister, of course. But there must be weeks where you're like, oh, what am I doing? Yeah, I guess like how do you get through those weights? And and what kind of mindset as enabled you to continue working on this for a year and a half? Knowing that it weren't necessarily like, you know, I get a you know, in addition to your grades at the end of school, like it won't necessarily help you get a better si t score or whatever it might be. So yeah, can you take us through against that? motivation and mindset that you have?
Yeah, so I think, um, to answer that question, I think my underlying motivation is partially due to because of my interest in actually solving this problem. I think many people want to try to come up with ideas. They probably just Draw from their own experiences as well. And I think this specific experience because it was really close to me, and because I know that the reason why my sister is still healthy and active today is because of the doctors were able to diagnose her. And I am also involved in the KD foundation of the Kawasaki disease foundation. So I'm able to see this community of Kawasaki disease families and survivors who also believe in the same cause, you know, who are working every day to find ways to support other Kawasaki disease patients, or support doctors and hospitals as well who are working on this. So I think that is one way I'm motivated as well, just seeing others who are also trying to fight for the same cause. And it's really a cause I care a lot about because it has impacted me so closely. And I know that I have a lot to thank these doctors who actually saved my sister's life. But there are certain weeks I'm like, this project, like how am I actually going to get this to be in use? You know, because the medical field has so many regulations and everything. And there are definitely times where I felt that maybe it's a lot harder to make a difference. And is it even possible? So I think the main thing that I've been focusing on is just trying to break things down into smaller goals or smaller things I can try to accomplish. So a lot of times I'm like, okay, maybe I probably have to get this up to like 99% accuracy, right? Like, it's never gonna get used. But if I'm at, say, like 80%, then I'll say, Okay, this week, let's try to get it up to 85%. And just trying to make things a little bit smaller just for now and building that up and bit by bit. And if I do reach 85%, okay, let's go for 90% maybe in the next two weeks, and just try to keep myself motivated that way. And whenever I meet a small goal, it feels like okay, I've done something I've gotten better, even if it's just a little bit, but it shows that maybe it is possible in the long term. If I keep working on this.
Podcast Host 21:56
Yeah. What are your friends say? When when they like, "Hey, Ellen, like, what are you doing this week?" And you're like, "Hey, I'm just working on like the machine learning algorithm to help my Kawasaki Disease Research app." Are they like, what are you doing? Like, just be a 15 year old? Or are they like, yeah, that's awesome. You go do your thing, like, what's the kind of response you get from your friends around you?
Yeah, so I think a lot of my friends are like, wow, you're doing that, that's really cool. But I do try to find time to spend outside of the project. So I know that this is a really big part of my life and like my extracurriculars, because I do spend a lot of time on this, I do really enjoy working on this. But I do, make sure to also leave time for myself just to you know, via normal routine here, and then go spend time with my friends. And sometimes take those breaks, because I don't think it's possible for anyone to be working, you know, 24 seven, and those types of brakes, just hanging out with my friends or family are really necessary for me to you know, just take a step aside. And when I come back to it, maybe I even have more motivation or a better perspective on some problem that I was working on in the project itself.
Podcast Host 22:59
Yeah, that's super important to take that time away from your project and to get that me time, which I think is awesome. One more question on the Kawasaki disease research before we get into Elevate the Future, which I know you do some great work in as well. Do you see yourself first and foremost as a researcher or a student or a podcast host? Like when people say, hey, Ellenelon, tell us about yourself? Like what do you say first? What's the first thing that comes to mind? Because obviously, like your bet you're spending 20 hours a week or a considerable amount of time on this project. It may even you know, get to that point where you know, most people your age would be like, I'm a student. That's me, I'm a student. Right. And and I think that's sometimes a limiting, not necessarily limiting. But I think that that can kind of box students into just absorbing information, and not necessarily, you know, pursuing information as you have obviously done in your carrier psyche disease research. So I'd love to kind of just tap into that psyche of yours and just be like, when people say Who are you? What do you do? Is it Kawasaki disease research is a student podcast, those Elevate the Future you got a lot going on. But do you just like I'm just me, give us a little bit of an insight.
Yeah, so I definitely think that, like you mentioned, of course, I am a student. Of course many people around the world and probably those who are listening to podcasts are students. Of course, we're always learning things at school, or I guess that's what a student implies that you're always learning something and you're still growing as a person. But for me, when I think about all these things that I do, and all these things that I'm interested in, there's a via ride variety of things. And it's hard to you know, put a word on that but I think I would want to think of myself as more of an innovator you know, rather than more of a student perspective because although I am learning I am growing and I really appreciate all that growth and knowledge that I'm always getting every day. I also appreciate diversity. of creating something new that's maybe outside of school that's not limited by the word of the title of student, you know, and all these activities, I think they all stem from some sort of idea and some sort of sort of innovative mindset. Like I want to try something new. I want to explore this field that I've never gone into where I want to try to solve this problem. That might be way too big for me, but I still want to give it a try or think of new ideas or just overall start something new that wasn't there before.
Podcast Host 25:32
Yeah, no, that's awesome. I think that innovator tag is is such a cool thing. And it can go in any direction, right? It's super flexible. But it basically says like I'm going to create, I'm not just going to absorb, I'm going to make a difference and be able to contribute to whatever field I want to, you know, contribute to, which is really cool. Well, yeah, I mean, that I'm sure we could talk about the Kawasaki disease research, and you work on this for a lot longer. But I'm really interested in your work and Elevate the Future. Can you talk to us a little bit about what Elevate the Future is? And what does it do?
Yeah, so Elevate The Future an educational nonprofit. And the main goal of Elevate the Future is to try to provide quality education, mainly in computer science and business, to students around the world are students of any background, or really anyone who has a drive and willingness to learn about these fields, I think the main root of how Elevate the Future was founded. I'm not one of the founders, but I have taken a pretty main role and Elevate the Future. And the founding basis, because a lot of students, like myself included, have realized that there's a lot of things that you don't learn in schools, like you're into with some disease, we might not learn machine learning or computer science or business. And I think we realized there's kind of a gap in the educational system where as the world is growing, and as technology is growing, schools might not be teaching some things that are becoming increasingly more important. So like technology, and business are two important fields or skills that a student might want to learn about. But they might not have the opportunities to go learn this in school. And not a lot of high schools have computer science curriculum. So it's not until maybe college students might learn about this despite their interest. So I think just providing students with opportunities and saying that, yeah, you can learn about these things outside of school, you can still pursue these and try to discover your passions early on, is something that we're always trying to promote within students themselves.
Podcast Host 27:31
And so what's your role there at Elevate The Future?
Yeah, so I recently became global director for Elevate The Future. Previously, I was a global ambassador. And I was working with other chapters around the world and getting set up with their own events being able to impact their local communities. And as a global director, I help try to come up with these events, these global ways that we can help impact people from all around the world, from all across our 43 chapters. And coming up with these events, such as maybe hackathons or entrepreneurship pitch fest are these kind of big things and organizing organization wide events that aren't just limited to one chapter one country, we're really looking for things that can help people from all ages all around the world and making these types of opportunities free and accessible.
Podcast Host 28:22
That's so good. And I'm hoping there's a couple of chapters here in Australia, where I'm from, I know they're probably elsewhere around the world. But in terms of why you joined and why you ended up getting so involved, you know, from a global ambassador to global director, when you've got a lot of other things going on, what was your decision process in in that way? Because I'm always fascinated by you know, high achieving students who have the ability to do a whole lot of different things, you know, extracurriculars, or their own research projects, or this opportunity, that opportunity, this competition, that competition, but yet choose to invest a considerable amount of time into one or two particular things. So what was your decision process to make, you know, Elevate the Future, such a big part of your waken in be part of your life?
One quick thing, we actually do have a chapter and Elevate The Future Australia. So that's really amazing. But yeah, my, I guess, in the beginning, when I was reached out to vote by one of the co founders, and he was like, Hey, I have I just started an organization. And we're trying to teach students Business and Computer Science and provide them with these opportunities through initiatives that promote their passions, and maybe allow them to discover their interest within these two fields, because they might not get exposure to this until very later in their lives. And I think my initial thought was Business and Computer Science. And this just happens to be two fields that I'm also really interested in. Yeah, so computer science. I've always loved coding and, you know, with my AI project, as well, a computer science company A really big part of my extracurriculars. But I also love to explore the world of business and entrepreneurship. And you know, the idea of being an innovator and creating your own ideas is something that resonates a lot with me, that's part of the entrepreneurship mindset, and really something that's part of business. So I think, at first, when he presented me with this idea, and this brief overview of Elevate the Future was all about, I was interested in the fact that they were trying to find the connection or intersection between these two fields that I was also really interested in. And not only that, but try to spread that interest to other students who might not have other opportunities. And I remember one time when I was in elementary school, I went to Inner Mongolia, and I stayed there for I think, a week or two weeks. But I was able to stay with this girl who was in high school, and she really wanted to go to college, and no one in her village had ever gone to college before. And she didn't have the resources or opportunities to do that. When I was in elementary school, I've experienced that, you know, these students have so much to learn, and they really want to learn, but they might not have these opportunities that I might have growing up or other people might have growing up. But that's something that really reminded me of that experience when I was younger. And something that a problem that I've witnessed where students could have so much passion, so much potential, might not have a way to explore those fields or get exposed really early so that they can possibly go into it later on if they want to. And at that point, I joined Elevate the Future just in the beginning as a chapter president. So I started my own chapter in San Diego. And I tried to just impact as many people as possible. So whether it was division, Title One schools who might not have a lot of funding for these types of curriculum, or areas where students might not have the may not be enough financial standing to actually pay for expensive courses. I wanted to try to reach out to these students and provide them with a way to learn through our classes and learn things that they wouldn't learn in school.
Podcast Host 32:09
When you're looking at an organization to join, was it an important thing that it was a student run organization? Because what does that say to you as a student, when you're looking at an organization, you could join? I think, you know, there's heaps of existing organizations that might achieve or have similar goals, maybe not exactly that intersection of business and, and computer science, but similar ish goals, but they might be an existing foundation and be run by an association or you know, all those kinds of things. So when you look at a student run organization, what does that do to your, you know, decision making process and deciding, yeah, this is this is where I want to spend a fair bit of my time.
Yeah, I think the idea of student run is something that I really liked when I was looking at his organization as well. Because I think as high schoolers, there's some things that we've experienced that maybe other generations have it. Like we've really grown up in this stage of where technology and everything's constantly changing in the world around us. And I think that's something that really, I was looking at, I was like, Oh, these people have experienced the same things as I have, they've noticed this problem as well, in our generation and in our educational system, and they're trying to address this and this group and community of like minded high school students, well, something I found a lot of value in as well. And I was taking a look at this organization, because they are high scores, and they are experiencing the same things. And they're also trying to find a way to make a difference despite their age or other factors. So I really found that idea interesting. And I really wanted to work with them and try to promote this cause as well. So it's like high schoolers trying to inspire the next generation because I know that drawing from experiences in our lives, we can try to make a difference as an organization as a whole.
Podcast Host 33:57
What do you think is the best way for a student to outreach to other students because I know social media is useful, but a lot of accounts these days that sit on private and emails are can go amiss pretty quickly. But yeah, I'd love to hear from your experience. You know, when you say that you've been trying to outreach and and global director now. You've got all these people around the world, I'm sure who you liaise with regularly? What is the best way for students to outreach to other students in your experience?
Yeah, I think two things come to mind when I think about reaching out to other students. The first one is just joining communities. I know communities can be hard to find sometimes, but personally, I'm part of a lot of international communities of high school students so on slack or on Discord. There are groups of high schoolers that you can find and who you can join. For example, I can think of one there's called girl genius and they're one of the communities that I'm in But overall, if you just, I think you can find these sorts of communities if you try to look online. And another thing that will be not as common to find other students, but I think more students are starting to get on this platform now is LinkedIn, you know, because yeah, LinkedIn is such a great way to reach out to people, and just find other people in your same field or other students as well. And I know that for Elevate the Future, the co founder actually reached out to me from LinkedIn. So that's something that I've had opportunities come to me from, and I've also spread opportunities to LinkedIn as well. And I know that LinkedIn is not usually a student platform, really, it's more for professional use. And usually people think of LinkedIn as more of like a business and business professional platform that's not really for students. But I think students can definitely go on LinkedIn. And there's increasingly more students have started to use LinkedIn. So I definitely think that's a good way to reach out to other high achieving students, or students who are interested in the same fields as you are
Podcast Host 35:59
One hundred percent. I'm personally a big fan of LinkedIn as we connected on LinkedIn. I think it used to be a business kind of our, you know, like, people go on there to promote their businesses and and to make network connections. But now I find it to be probably the the most supportive social media community and that everyone's like, yeah, like, I love your work, look at you go to everything, it's really supportive that way. And like, I've seen so many students that like 1516, and they've got like, 500 plus connections, and they're just smashing it, you know, like, out of their social media profiles, I'd probably say that their LinkedIn one is the one that they spend the most time on, because they know that that's where they're going to find like minded people, they're going to find mentors, they're going to find other students they own to find all these kinds of people who they really came to connect with. And it can be difficult to find people at that level when you're just in your school, right? Like, if you're looking for other people interested in machine learning will come socket disease research, etc. And you're looking around your class, you're like, Okay, out of the 30 people here who was interesting, you know, you can find heaps of people who share those ideas, is that something you've experienced?
Yeah, I definitely have, I think a lot of people that I meet on LinkedIn, are just a different, I guess, group of students who are interested in going out of the way and actually going on LinkedIn, trying to connect with people who might be older, it's a little bit intimidating to because you have to take that jump in order to get into LinkedIn, and know that there's so many professionals on there that you can reach out to, but you're not afraid to, you know, just send a connection request or just reach out to more people. And I think that people that I've met on LinkedIn, some of them, I've worked on them for projects, or got them involved into elevated future. So there's definitely a lot of other people that you can meet on LinkedIn that many students might not realize.
Podcast Host 37:43
Yeah, no, I think it's a fantastic platform I myself have just been going through and because now I'm the host of this show, obviously. And and I've been looking to find high achieving students, and it's so great. I think it's fantastic. And they're like the most amazing, beautiful profiles, but you got to start somewhere, right? Like no one starts off with 500 connections in these beautiful profiles. It takes some time. But it really is the best chance to start, I think is when you're in high school. One other topic that we need to talk about, we can't go at a podcast show without talking about your competition, or your part in the isef. Talk us through that experience. Because for those of people who don't know, basically, the Intel science engineering failed now regeneron is like one of the most prestigious science and engineering fairs in the world for high school students. It's a huge or very, very high level of competition with some great prizes on offer. Talk to us about why you decided to enter that competition and what you ended up entering the competition with.
Yeah, so I think when I first came across this competition, I was immediately, like, so excited and surprised that there is this way that high school students could go present what they have in their research and get feedback from professionals or those in the field who have a lot of experience and who are willing to lend their time to help and give back to by providing feedback or providing ways that they can help high schoolers. So that was the first thing that struck me as Wow, this is a thing like this is great. And I think my initial idea was because I already had my camera Socrates project I was working on and it was pretty research related. And I really wanted to get feedback on this. I really wanted to be able to improve it and grow it to maybe some thing that others could use and find helpful. So I my main reason that I decided to go for an attend my local science fair, the San Diego science fair, was because I wanted to get feedback from these machine learning engineers or computer science, computer scientists who work at major companies who have so much experience in this area, and just be able to present my project to them and get their feedback like their honest opinions on what some things I can improve on. Maybe some things that I missed out on my project or that many professionals might do when they're working on their own work that I can maybe implement within my project. So that was definitely something that I found super valuable. I definitely did receive that feedback that I was looking for. And I got a lot of different ideas about different directions I could go and after writing, that's the main reason why I decided to go for the science fair. And after presenting there, it's actually my first year and doing the San Diego science fair. So I didn't know too much about the process. Actually, I, I remember talking to some people that I knew there. And I got all the judging wrong. I didn't know what was happening. But I was just there presenting my project. And turns out, I qualified to the International Science and Engineering fair. And that was such a big thing for me, because I know that this is a really like you mentioned really prestigious competition. And the fair is a really major thing that so many, like there's Nobel Prize winners that go and speak at the Intel science fair and amazing. There's so many amazing scientists, I can meet there. Unfortunately, it was virtual. But it was still a good experience nonetheless. And I still am so honored. And I still can't believe it that my project ended up making it alongside all those other amazing student projects, I was just looking at all their products and thinking, wow, there's so many people who are have so much potential, and they're so good at their respective fields, and their projects are all going to make such a big difference later on. But I think just knowing that there are so many professionals who can give me feedback and being able to put my project out there, well, something that I really wanted to go for when I first just looking at these fairs and getting my first thought about them.
Podcast Host 41:44
So talk to me a little bit about how you ended up putting together your project to present in a, you know, in in that kind of format. But what did you need to do? And what did you need to learn about? I mean, you said you were pretty new to the whole thing at San Diego. But was there a bit of like a, like looking at the rubric with it, or what the judges be looking for where you were like, Okay, I've got my project in this format. And now I'm going to need to put it in this format. So it presents well, and can you talk about that process? And how long it took you to do that?
Yeah, so I think that process is really important. Um, you might have a project and you know your code really well. But it's about how can you explain it to others so that they can understand and they can know the reproducibility of your project, they can know where you started from, and where you are now the different steps that it took to get there. And that way, they can help offer the feedback they can see. Okay, this is a clear path of what they did. And now that I know that, what are some things I can think of they can improve on so they don't really understand your project, then that's not something that's very good. I know, a lot of times, in general with like research or anything, a lot of people try to make their research sound really professional use a lot of big words. But I think that just presenting in a way that really intelligent person, but might not be in the respective field can understand is really important. So when I was going through this process, I had a bunch of code and did I had like a huge notebook, they had just like everyday, just write stuff in and just log everything down. But I know the only I can understand my messy handwriting and like all my separate notes and data that are just numbers all over the place. Yeah. Um, so the first step was just coming up with kind of a recipe, like a sequence of you know, I started off here that I did this, and then I did this, and this is what I ended up with. Hmm. And I first I was just sorting out my data finding specific like, ways I can organize by this, like in diagrams, tables, something that people can look at and just easily understand and comprehend. And also putting my work into explaining it in a way that I can explain to my sister, or like my mom, just ways that I could, first of all, make it really concise, but also really clear about what I did. And also like the different technical aspects that I can put into making analogies or referencing certain things that people who might not be in the same field, they might be in the medical fields, but also understand about the technical aspect as well. And it was really great. I think it kind of worked out because I had judges say like, oh, wow, I don't even know like AI, but I understood what your project does. And that was really great to hear. Because ultimately, I just wanted people to understand and be able to know what my project is about without making any confusing or anything like that, um, in terms of in terms of the overall final presentation that I gave it was on a poster, and so kind of like a three fold. I'm looking at it right now actually deployed there to the side. Really? Yeah. So it's really tall. And I'm like right here. So the bit taller than I am and it's like a really big trifold poster.
Podcast Host 44:52
Amazing. So for those of our podcast listeners, it's like over like a metre and a half tall or something like that, right? I don't know. About six foot tall.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm like 5"3' So...
Podcast Host 45:04
Ok, yeah, yeah, the metrics and the imperial units there. But yeah, it's like this, this big kind of poster project, and you're taking people through your process on those posters. And you're kind of explaining, you know where you were and where you are now. And how long have you got up there on stage?
Yeah. So I've prepared multiple different timings of the length of my presentation, the judges have a lot of projects to look at. So honestly, I didn't want to take up too much of the time, because the time is so valuable. And I didn't want to just ramble on and on. So I had a one minute one, just a quick rundown of and quick, quick summary, like short, like, you can just look at the poster and I'll just tell you the main idea in one minute. So that was my, the first one that I prepared, just some quick facts that I can give that summarize my overall project, I also prepared a three minute walk. And so a little bit longer of a rundown, but still pretty short. And that one went into tiny bit more detail, but didn't really touch upon the more technical aspect. And then a 10 minute one, and that one was a more full out version. I didn't get to cover everything I did, obviously. But if they were curious about learning more, and wanted to hear a bit, stay a bit longer on my project and learn a bit more than I would give them the 10 minute version, where I'd run through everything on that big post over there just yeah, they'll took quite a lot of me skipping over some steps. Because there, I put it in tiny font. But there's so many things on that poster, but a 10 minute one, that wasn't too long that I would be taking up too much time, but that I could also explain some things in more detail.
Podcast Host 46:39
And what this whole experience do for you. I mean, like I know, students are probably out there thinking, this is very cool. I would love to and I know there's some Australian students who have actually won this competition before the Intel science engineering fair. Yeah. But I've also interviewed just a couple last week, I interviewed the 2019, winner of the Intel science and engineering critic, critic remeasure, you had a fantastic. Yeah, yeah, it was, yeah, fantastic interview. But in terms of as like, what this whole experience did for you, and for your project, and for your school life, like, Did it feel as though you were more part of this research community? It kind of validated, I guess, a lot of your research and kind of showed you that you were on the right path Did you? Did you come back from the from the science fair, and be like, Oh, my God, I'm gonna do so much work on this now. What are your experiences?
Definitely, it was such an amazing experience. And I think I'm just being able to hear all that feedback. Afterwards, I just Hi, I just sat down for maybe a solid 30 minutes of writing down every single thing that the judges are telling me and every single like, feedback that they gave. And I learned so much, just within that one science fair, like I lose, I got so much vegans a much better view of which directions I could be going in, and how to improve my project for maybe the next science fair, just in the next year. And I think I learned a lot on that aspect. But like you mentioned, I definitely felt more part of that research community, I met a lot of other students there as well, who had projects, not only within my category, but also I saw some other really cool projects and was able to talk to some of those students as well. And I think I didn't know that there is such a big High School research community, but it was so amazing to be able to see that because, wow, those high schools are doing such amazing things. And they are really thinking big too. So that's really awesome. And in terms of my research being validated, I definitely felt that maybe this is something that I can continue pursuing and keep on working on, I definitely felt a greater motivation that I'm I making a difference maybe and that someday, this project might become something that other people can use in their daily lives or find helpful. And I think that's something that really motivated me like having these machine learning engineers saying that this project is has potential and that was something just that was like really, really, really cool to hear.
Podcast Host 49:06
Oh, that's so cool. Let's talk about what's next for you. Because there's a lot of things going on. You're You're 15. Now, what is the next six months year long term vision of, you know, potentially where you want to go to university or what you want to study? Give us like the five year plan of Ellen?
Yeah. So I think in terms of college, I've definitely been taking this time of high school to kind of explore different fields, whether it's in business or computer science and trying to find out some areas which I enjoy. I think right now, I've been thinking about possibly taking a double major in business in computer science, because I want to continue exploring these two fields and I feel like I enjoy both of them. So I can imagine like, just choosing one or the other at this point. But in terms of university, I would like to stay on the west coast. I really love California. So I've been some colleges I have in mind are Berkeley, Stanford, Caltech, those are all in California. So those are some that I've been looking at. But honestly, I haven't talked too much about college yet. But those are just my overall ideas. And in terms of some other activities that I would like to continue within the next five years, I do want to continue this kind of Socrates project, also furthering Elevate the Future and being still involved in these things that I care a lot about, maybe even in college as well.
Podcast Host 50:36
You've had so many different experiences, you've got so many different areas that you have interest in, what would be based on your experiences, your main advice for you know, students come up to you that like a cane being 14 year old and 13 year old, never maybe could have made 16-17 year old students who are older than than you? And they say, Ellen, what's your one piece of advice for me? I'm here in high school, I want to make the most of it. What would be your your sage advice for students who are who are looking for that golden nugget of advice based on your experiences?
Yeah, so students have probably heard this before. And it's probably something that their parents might tell them as well. But one thing that I really think is really true, and students should, I guess pay attention to more often is really to try to do what you like. Because I know a lot of students might feel pressured to try and go for different things that their other students might be doing. I'm trying to follow down, I guess similar paths as what they see other successful students doing by really think that whatever you're doing high school should be something that you want to do for the rest of your life. It's not really like a time to try and force yourself into this one field, or try and limit yourself in any way. Because you think that it might be better to see other students seeing the same thing. I think that if you really do enjoy something, you wouldn't mind putting in the effort to do it. And you wouldn't mind continuing the college. So you're really helping yourself in the long run by getting this Head Start into where you want to go in life and where you want to go into in the future. So I think just doing what you like, it's just really simple and really basic concept, but just finding activities that you genuinely enjoy, and that you you know, that you're really interested in and keeps you up at night.
Podcast Host 52:22
What happens if that activities like playing fortnight? Theoretically, I don't play fortnight, but I do know students who do play a lot, you know, and they're just kind of like, well, hang on that, you know, it keeps me up at night. Yeah, like, I love gaming, like, let's just do that, I know there's a lot of parents are like, no, don't, don't say do something that you enjoy, because my kid will just do gaming endlessly. And I think there's a certain degree of, of like, you've gone above and beyond school and you found you know, you got Elevate the Future that came into your life as a result of you know, someone reaching out to you. You've obviously had the experience with Kawasaki disease research, he chased that Intel science and engineering fair. Is there something to be said about really working on finding those things that you like, I think a lot of students are kind of sitting back waiting to come across the thing that they like, and it's just kind of like, they think it will come into their life, just by sitting there and waiting for it to happen. Whereas It sounds like you like the main things that kind of you identify with the things that you chased. And have you found. So what would you say in that regard to like, going above and beyond and actually seeking these opportunities?
Yeah, I definitely think that something that many students probably benefit from, I think that China seek opportunities is something that's really great and just exploring a lot of different areas. I know for me personally, right now, I do this for fencing, but I played at least 10 Sports before that, and I'm honestly tried so many sports out there tried golf, swimming, ice skating, gymnastics, almost any sport. That's pretty common here in California, I've probably tried. And also within computer science, too. I've been in cybersecurity, I've done AI. I've explored a bunch of different areas. And also business to honestly some people are like, Why do try out so many things. But I think that in order to find out what you like, you probably want to know what you don't like to Yeah, and just being able to know, okay, I've tried this, I might not like it, that's okay, I can move on, I can try to find something else. And I think just being able to experiment with new things, since my students are young, like you're just in high school, right? You have time. And this is the time of your life to be able to try out new things and see what you like and you don't like and try to figure out your interest more. So I think that's definitely how I was able to come across these opportunities just by trying something new or just experimenting in a variety of different fields to see what I like and what I don't like. And that's something that helped lead me to, you know, doing what I like overall, because if I found an activity that I didn't like, I just dropped, it wasn't a big deal. I try to find a different area that I was enjoying it and not investing my time to something that I didn't actually care about. So I think that's what I'm trying to say before but not gaming, you know, like, you're probably you can probably like fortnight but this probably you probably wouldn't want to be playing fortnight your whole life.
Podcast Host 55:18
Well, I'm sure there might be a few students who will disagree with that statement, but we'll have to leave things there. Ellen, it's been fantastic having you on the show. And I'm sure that many of our students will be following your journey on LinkedIn.