Diversity and Inclusion

Our inclusivity team pursues a society where no one is left out of education. We continuously question and consider the way to promote synthetic biology to as many people as possible.

Chaeyoung's Story

Chaeyoung Sohn, our leader of the inclusivity branch, propelled the traces of our team starting from the first meeting. Chaeyoung is currently attending an online school from home after leaving traditional offline school in South Korea. She gave our team first-hand insight on how it feels to pursue education at home via online. This is the story that Chaeyoung shared about her educational experience.

As far as I can remember, biology and medicine were always a major part of my life. The origin of this relationship was largely me visiting my father as a little girl while he worked at the hospital. I always found his ability to offer real solutions to his patients’ suffering and change their lives to be incredible, and I wanted to become just like him. I spent countless evenings waiting for my father to come back from work to hear about his day. Engaging in biology by dissecting frogs or memorizing different types of amino acids at schools or participating in science fairs outside of school felt like physically getting closer to my dream of becoming a medical researcher.
When COVID-19 broke out, however, my classes changed to online courses. Given my father’s myelodysplastic syndrome, my family had to be extremely careful adhering to social distancing regulations. Even as others returned to school, I still had to attend classes online. I felt left out; life seemed to move on for everybody but me. I worried I might fall behind my peers and lose my interest in biology. Having to rely on boring old textbooks to answer my questions, instead of asking them out in class, was beginning to wear me out. However, when I was struggling, I learned about the existence of online schools and decided to transfer.
I did not expect to make friends; yet, I found myself laughing with friends from the States, parts of Europe, and around the world. I did not expect to have laboratory time in my studies; yet, each class energized my passion and confidence in learning. I did not expect much laboratory experience; yet, I found myself truly immersed in virtual lab simulations. Unexpectedly, I found myself enjoying my time at school (and online!) for the past year.
As soon as I heard of the inclusivity team when I joined Seoul_Korea this year, I knew I was passionate about contributing towards our goal of bringing the marginalized into the center of education. I could help students who have been deprived of the same educational privilege and opportunities that the majority of students have. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to share my passion for science and experience of virtual labs with others in Korea. I hope this will give them motivation to pursue their dreams just like my new school did for me.

After listening to Stella’s story carefully, we were deeply resonated and we decided to learn more about those outside of national institutional education. As an extension to Stella’s own experience of pursuing science in a non-traditional schooling, our team was determined to support science education outside the institutional boundaries. The following is a summary of our research.

Research: Out-of-School Children

Fig.1. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). "New Methodology Shows 258 Million Children, Adolescents, and Youth Are Out of School." UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2023, https://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/new-methodology-shows-258-million-children-adolescents-and-youth-are-out-school.pdf.

According to UNESCO’s report published in 2019, there were 258.4 million adolescents out-of-school. Though this figure has been in a downwards trend (376.1 million in 2000 to 258.4 million in 2018), it still represents one-sixth of the global population within this age group.Our team recognized the significance of exploring and further targeting to enrichen the education of students outside institutional education.

Fig.2. Education Statistics Analysis Data Collection - Elementary and Secondary Education Statistics. Ministry of Education, Korean Educational Development Institute, 2014, pp. 44–48, https://kess.kedi.re.kr/publ/view?survSeq=2014&publSeq=43&menuSeq=0&itemCode=02&language.

Realizing the value of supporting education for out-of-school children, we delve into the context of South Korea.
Consistent with the global trend, the percentage of out-of-school students (or dropouts) in Korea has decreased from 1.1% to 0.9% over the past decade, according to Seoul News. . Regardless, 0.9% still accounts for over 52,000 students who chose to continue education outside of school.. We wanted our project to bring the stories and experience of these adolescents to the center, looking from the same lens and position as adolescents ourselves.

Fig.3. “초중고 6만8천여명 학업중단…고교생 100명 중 2명.” 서울신문, 3 September 2013, https://www.seoul.co.kr/news/newsView.php?id=20130903800138. Accessed 11 October 2023.

Focusing on the individual, there are various reasons and scenarios causing students to leave school.

According to the statistics published by the Ministry of Education, the first reason was the country’s intense competitive spirit in education, reported by 28.30% of those who left school as the reason behind their leave.The country's intensely competitive education system puts kids under tremendous academic pressure. Additionally, according to an OECD survey, South Korean students reported the most significant levels of academic stress among all OECD countries, with 73% students reporting extreme pressure to excel academically. Social pressures such as adaptation issues, school bullying, and interpersonal relationships are additional factors contributing to children becoming isolated or uncomfortable, which harms their desire to continue their education. According to the Ministry of Education, 17.35% of students reported the challenge of adapting to school life as the significant factor in their decision.

Recognizing there are many more issues (such as lack of economic freedom, lack of interest in learning, or overseas departure), we would like to say that yet the common problem is that it is highly difficult or rare for them to be exposed to science education. Outside the public education system, it is likely to reduce their access to public scientific knowledge. Thus, even if they are willing to keep pursuing their education outside of school, it is extremely challenging. Therefore, our team was inspired to know how to include people who are pursuing science out of school. We started with listening to Stella's stories about her full-time online education experience.

Comparison of Online and Offline Lab Experience; Can Online Labs Substitute Offline Labs?

Laboratory experience is intrinsically a hands-on offline activity, or at least it seems at first glance. Stella’s own experience of online labs substituting offline lab experiences posed a thought-provoking question: can online laboratory experiences serve an effective educational alternative to their offline counterparts? The answer seemed obvious to our team, whose members were all used to offline labs. Given Stella’s personal experience, however, we decided to test this for ourselves. Thus, the hybrid biology lab camp, with two days for both offline and online labs, found its beginnings.


With our on-going goal to support teenagers who do not go to school, we invited students who had chosen to opt-out of the school system in Korea. To make sure the hosting of our camp reaches to the out-of-school students, we actively advertised across South Korea. We explored several routes of communication and took actions, ranging from communication with youth centers and online community posts to handwritten letters and advertisements in the form of posters in youth centers and apartment complexes.

Fig.4. Poster of the Hybrid Biology Camp Hosted by 2023 Seoul Korea

Fig.5. Handwritten Letters and Posters for Advertisements

Fig.6. Visiting the Koom Dream Youth Center Located in the Yongsan-gu District

Stories of the Camp Participants, Children Out-of School

Of the participants, we had the chance to listen to the honest stories and experiences on the reasons behind dropping out of schools.

My parents suggested me to pursue homeschooling in a form of self-directed and self-paced learning inspired by the pastor in our church

I felt pressured in spaces with a lot of people, like at school. I also disliked how the school system doesn’t meet individual needs as much as it could.

Growing up as a girl with multi-disciplinary interests, I have always been recommended to home-school. I finally made the decision when I realized secondary schools in South Korea seemed interested only in university applications rather than my interests

Our discussions with these students revealed to us the depth of consideration they had when making their choices. Listening to the multifaceted experience that students of our age group had was a positive experience for our team members, and helped us realize the diversity of experiences and interests that people had.

Biology Lab Camp: Offline Lab

The lesson plans for two days of the offline camp were constructively organized with the fundamental labs of DNA modification, the core of experimentation in synthetic biology. On the first day, we discussed relevant molecular biology theories and laboratory safety protocols. Then, we stepped into the actual lab by our first activity, Plasmid Mini-prep. The plasmid DNA from E.coli with recombinant DNA was extracted. The next day, participants conducted PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests using the extracted plasmid DNA and carried out gel electrophoresis. At the end, participants were given some time to share their findings and a summary of the experiment’s results.

We were told that the intensive biology camp starting from 10:00 AM until 5:00PM was a fascinating experience by connecting the theories learned beforehand directly into practice inside the lab. The participants were delighted to be familiarized with pipettes, incubators, spectrophotometer, and many other laboratory equipment. We had a mentor-mentee system with each of the participants paired with one of our IGEM members to figure out the lab processes. It was a thankful event to share our common interest, biology, together.

Fig.7. Photo of the Offline Biology Camp

Biology Lab Camp: Online Lab

Fig.8. Photo of the Online Biology Camp

Following from the offline lab, we carried out an online lab with the same participants using a lab simulator app called Praxilab. Out of the many available simulations, we chose the same laboratory activities we performed offline to better compare online and offline lab experiences: 1) Mini-prep, 2) Gel Electrophoresis. In the virtual meeting room, the mentors shared the screen to guide the lab simulator while each tried with their own. The explanations on the scientific concepts or how to operate the online equipment were unnecessary since the platform provides specific instructions as well as the safety concerns for each step. Online lab simulations were definitely more approachable labs to students outside of the public education system as lab opportunities are even rare for children within the public education system.

Unfortunately, the online lab activity was only available in English. This presented a language barrier for some of our participants. Regardless, our team overcame this barrier by translating each step into Korean and organizing it into presentation slides as additional educational material. We made sure the mentees felt welcome to ask us questions throughout the exercise, allowing them to progress at a pace they felt comfortable with.

During the ending marks of the camp, we supported the future access to Praxilab for the enthusiastic participants. Feedback from both our team members and the participants were largely positive, giving us the confidence that such online tools be more widely used to provide virtual lab experiences to students. Engaging with theory through interactive activity would certainly help bolster synthetic biology in the Korean education system.

Reflections; What We All Learned Through This Camp

Lastly, we interviewed each participant and asked them about their entire lab camp experience. For the offline lab, the participants said that it was good to gain knowledge and experience that gave them a grasp of what experiments are conducted in actual laboratories. Also, they said the experiments were conducted in a safe and controlled environment under the guidance of a teacher when it is difficult for an individual to perform labs due to location, equipment, and safety reasons. One of the most popular moments in the lab was when participants could visually confirm the extracted plasmid DNA inside their microtubes.

Online labs, on the other hand, seemed to work best in that repeating experiments were much easier. While the online lab did not provide tangible equipment for participants to touch and familiarize themselves with, the lab proved effective in helping participants confirm learned theory with hands-on experimentation.

Interview Question: “How did the virtual experiment experience in the online camp compare to the actual laboratory experience in the offline camp?”

Although the online lab was relatively simple and convenient, there were many shortcomings in learning how to use tools or how to deal with unexpected situations, which are greatly helpful in actually conducting experiments.

The online lab was really convenient, since we didn’t have to go through secondary processes like preparation or finishing. Processes that took long in real-life were done quickly, so I could get a much broader overview of the experiment.

conclusion: The Answer We Arrived

Undeniably, virtual labs embody the offline lab that extends our education in science regardless of time and space. Words from the adolescents we interviewed, who mostly continue their education at home, heavily appreciated the accessibility and elaborative features of the lab simulator. Still, they identified that there are rooms for improvement on the lab simulations in terms of the real-life implications for everything that could happen in the lab. Online labs are truely helpful, yet haven’t reached to an extent when it can substitution offline labs; this lesson certainly hardened the conviction for our team.

Promoting inclusivity in competition

After listening to the stories of the participants, we recognized the need for more educational opportunities in South Korea to engage with biology. In South Korea, extracurricular learning opportunities such as competitions have been turned irrelevant due to an increasing focus on purely in-school activity in the college application process. Apart from a fraction of the student population, such as those in elite science-specialized schools, scientific activity is hard to find. To provide such opportunities, our team hosted a themed debate competition for students to learn more about the field of synthetic biology.

The Korean Synthetic Biology Competition (KSBC) aimed to become a platform where students could explore and share opinions about modern issues regarding synthetic biology. Everyone’s voices were more than welcome to be heard, explored, and further criticized. The competition was hosted online to reach out to the maximum number of people across South Korea.

In our ongoing initiative of fostering an inclusive community for education, we took deliberate measures to widen the pool of participants to encompass teenagers who may not be able to attend public schools. Recognizing the importance of having diverse backgrounds in our competition, we have made deliberate choices in diction to describe eligibility conditions such as describing possible participants as “teenagers” rather than “highschool students” in our official posters.

Fig.9. Poster of the Korean Synthetic Biology Competition (KSBC) hosted by Seoul-Korea 2023

Moreover, in the competition’s advertisement poster, we inserted a QR code to raise funds for the Africa Asia Development Relief Foundation (ADRF). We tried to spread the initiatives of ADRF, a global non-profit organization that strives to improve the learning of refugees who do not receive institutional education. One of the initiatives of ADRF has been dispatching educational overseas volunteer groups to the areas where the refugees live across 14 Africa-Asia countries.

The competition was packed with a webinar session led by Dr. Wooli Bae, a lecturer in Experimental Soft Matter Physics at the University of Surrey. He studies methods of synthesizing artificial cells for research. The webinar session was another science engagement activity for anyone to join if they were interested.

Fig.10. Photo of Wooli Bae, Who led the Webinar as a professor at the University of Surrey

Lab Kits Reaching Overseas - Indonesia Refugee Camp

Creating Lab Kits

After realizing the value of offline lab experiences once again, our team wanted to share the hands-on lab experiences to everyone, regardless of space. Our team also realized that there may be some students who are not attending school who might not have access to the internet. Therefore, we created a lab kit.

Our team decided to make a Broccoli DNA extraction kit. Broccoli was our choice was its DNA extraction is relatively simple, and results in large amounts of DNA that can be visually confirmed in a short period of time.

Components of the lab kit were gathered, suitably prepared and packaged, and finally assembled into the final lab kit. We did not pack live broccoli into boxes concerning the preservation on the 4-week journey to Indonesia.
The kit included the following:

  • 200ml of 100% ethanol
  • 2g of salt
  • 7ml of kitchen detergent
  • 150ml of distilled water
  • one miniature strainer
  • one graduated cylinder
  • one petri dish
  • two beakers
  • gauze roll
  • one magnifying glass
  • one glass rod
  • one pair of wooden chopsticks
  • one pair of plastic pipettes
  • one pair of gloves

We further created a tutorial video that outlined the experiment and showed step-by-step how to perform the extraction.

Tutorial Video

Where are we Sending the Lab kits?

We are shipping our kits to a Refugee Learning Center (RLC) located in Indonesia. Our team expanded our initiatives to spread synthetic biology globally after hosting only in-Korea events. Providing Afghan refugee students currently living in Indonesia with opportunities to learn synthetic biology is our ultimate goal of this project.

The Refugee Learning Center (RLC) located in Indonesia contacted us while we were looking for the recipients of our kits. According to the Website that they sent us as the introduction of their center, young refugee children who are currently dwelling in Indonesia have extremely slim opportunities to learn and experience what they should at their age. As the non-denominational learning center, RLC provides not only education but important socialization and a sense of normalcy. Despite the staff and children’s passion, since refugees are not allowed to work in Indonesia, rent, utilities, learning resources, and equipment are lacking in RLC. Thus, our inclusivity team decided to collaborate with the RLC and send our kits to them.

Fig.11. Poster of the Korean Synthetic Biology Competition (KSBC) hosted by Seoul-Korea 2023


The common problem for synthetic biology in Korea is the general lack of public awareness. In promoting synthetic biology and our other goals, we thought of the magazine as the best medium to incorporate scientific depth with ease of access and readability. Our team thought about the goal for this magazine and also essentially what a magazine means and entails. Magazines, in our current society, although not the most popular form of content due to the rise of technology, can still provide beneficial and meaningful information. Furthermore, not only are there currently no synthetic biology books, but the existing books were created from the perspective of adults or institutions. Therefore, we created a student learning resource out of student perspectives and voices. In order to create a magazine encompasses the necessary knowledge but also communicates the information in an accessible way that includes all audiences. Synthetic biology is not well covered in the public education system, so it is a topic that children outside of school are rarely exposed to. Through the publication of this magazine, we introduce synthetic biology information tailored to students' level and the infinite possibilities of synthetic biology.

Notably, this magazine has a separate section that covers inclusivity in education. The stories of students who left school or students with underprivileged educational backgrounds are shared with scientific data accompanied by specific reasons. While this magazine also serves as one of the rare learning tools for synthetic biology, it addresses the dire need of more synthetic biology-related activities to be practiced including any adolescent to join.