ISB News

ISB Q&A: Dr. Kalli Trachana

Photo by Hsiao-Ching Chou

Dr. Kalli Trachana is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr Lee Hood’s Lab. She recently was featured in the “People in Research” column in the Puget Sound Business Journal ( She also was accepted into Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program, which takes place over 10 weeks this summer in Mountain View, CA. She will be immersed in incubator-type courses and be surrounded by Silicon Valley tech icons.
Q: You are about to participate in an incubator-type program. What attracts you to startups vs a traditional research path?

A: Research is a creative process: the feeling of discovery, invention and innovation are fundamental values that both researchers and entrepreneurs share. The distinction between academia and the startup environment stems from the scale of how you try to solve a problem. How can we scale up solutions and transfer them out of the lab? How can we provide sustainable, long-term solutions that decentralize innovation and empower communities? We have the opportunity to collaborate with leading industry partners in long-term research projects. Unfortunately, traditional funding agencies don’t support “big science” projects which makes grant writing challenging, especially for young researchers with progressive ideas. We need to create new metrics to quantify innovation and impact in basic research, and there needs to be a mindset shift from academics. ISB is quite unique on this front: it has a startup mentality, and our leadership tries constantly to inspire and sustain funding for high-impact projects. Still, until a global shift happens, it will be hard to establish high-impact solutions in a traditional academic setting.

Q: You were determined to work for ISB. What drove you to pursue a position here?

A: I’ve always flirted with the idea of entrepreneurship. It was clear to me that I needed a mentor who is a serial entrepreneur and who supports young people. I wanted to be in a place that is a step closer to industry but would still allow me to engage in basic-science research projects. ISB had all these qualities. Dr. Lee Hood’s vision for P4 (predictive, preventive, personalized, participatory) medicine is inspiring and his enthusiasm is contagious! P4 medicine is shifting the paradigm of our philosophy for health and disease, and our interactions with the environment. I’m fascinated by how predicting health-to-disease transitions can drive profound economic and social changes. I believe that the unique blending of cutting-edge technologies and computation with theory make ISB a pioneer in this arena. ISB staff represent a diverse network of perspectives, experiences and talents, and this community spurs me to want to participate and solve complex, real-world problems by using out-of-the-box approaches.

Q: What advice would you give college students who are considering research?

A: You have to be a problem solver. Dramatic technological changes are happening at lightning speed all around us (self-driving cars, AI, 3D printing, gene editing, etc.), and we need tech-savvy, next-generation problem solvers. My top three tips for students:

  • Find your passion: It sounds cliché, but it is so true. Engaging in a long-term research project and creating impact means that you care. You also can better understand any failures, so that you can re-define or pivot your goals as needed.
  • Find your mentors: It doesn’t have to be just one person. Seek experts in different fields who inspire you. Once you find them, listen to them and learn about the history of an industry or a research field.
  • Predict the future: You should train yourself to spot trends and think about the next ten years instead of the past ten. Many magazine articles forecast that our future is a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. Problem solvers who can synthesize information across fields and translate their knowledge into real-world solutions will probably shape the future.

And as J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “not all who wander are lost.”  Foster asking questions as a rule in your life and you will be successful.

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