Edward Kang ’06 PhD
PhD in Molecular Neuroscience
Edward Kang received his PhD in molecular neuroscience from the Feinberg School of Medicine in 2006. He is the co-founder of The Laboratory Collective, a program that aims to “blur the lines between subjects, seamlessly connecting literature, history, art and design, writing, role play and popular culture and bring it to life through math and science.” Edward and The Laboratory Collective have been recognized as Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award Fellows and have been invited to present at the SXSW EDU Conference in March 2020.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
We seek to inspire children to love math and science as much as their favorite stories. We make science joyful by seamlessly connecting literature, history, art and popular culture. Students explore chemistry through Harry Potter, engineering through Greek Mythology, anatomy and physics through zombies, and forensic toxicology through Romeo and Juliet. We reinvent how science is taught, and we use science to teach creativity. We use what we learn to help teachers bring these ideas back to classrooms.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
After completing my PhD in molecular neuroscience from Northwestern University, I went through an alternative certification program to become a science teacher at a high poverty/low-income high school in Chicago. After several years of teaching, my partner and I started The Laboratory Collective as a side hustle, never thinking it would be more than a side gig, but after a few short years, it starting growing bigger than we could have imagined and to the point where we both left teaching to focus on the business full-time.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
The way our schools are teaching science to students is not engaging to all students. We have too many students, even as young as 7 years old, that hate school and especially hate science. Our goal is to reach all students, but especially those that are completely disengaged in science.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
There has been this push to change the way we educate our children. There is an uproar over the industrialized education system that we have been used to and a push to create a creative and engaging learning environment. There is a push for more project-based/problem-based learning that focuses on mastery of skills rather than memorization of content and grades. We are being recognized for developing a methodology that integrates problem-based learning with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with arts, reading, literature, history, and theatre.
What books are on your bedside table?
Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, Principles by Ray Dalio, Storm in a Teacup by Helen Czerski, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
What inspires you?
My family. Since I am an older father, I have made it a mission to stay both physically and mentally strong and the key to this has been discipline. I have shifted my alarm from 7:00 AM to 5:00 AM to have time to exercise, climb, meditate, and journal to settle my mind. I want to ensure that I have the strength both physically and mentally that comes with parenting, from skateboarding and playing catch, to dealing with the ups and downs of an emotional toddler to an emotional teenager.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Even now, I focus too much on the product or my progress as opposed to focusing on the process. Building a business, especially a mission-based business, is long and arduous and I should enjoy the process rather than solely focusing on the final outcome. I am constantly working to see problems and setbacks as puzzles to enjoy.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
We were selected to be Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award Fellows and flew out to New York to meet the founders of the Tribeca Film Festival as well as other fellows and award winners. We were chosen from applicants from over 40 countries to present this past November at an international science conference in Berlin, Germany. We have been selected to present a talk at the SXSW EDU Conference in March 2020.
Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
I expected that my life would be in either academia or in the industry conducting research and attending science conferences. I never expected to leave research to teach science at a high poverty/low income high school and definitely never thought that I would be running a company that has the mission of changing the way we teach science to our students. Even though it doesn’t appear as such, all the skills that I learned while pursuing my PhD have been valuable in all of my current endeavors. It isn’t the content knowledge per se, but the ability to adapt to and develop what is needed at the time, from building a website, to building furniture, securing funding, and even developing and/or modifying experiments that can be safely conducted by 2 through 12-year-olds. Each twist and turn in my career has required skills that I learned along my entire life and though my life did not turn out the way I had planned, I feel that it turned out exactly the way it was supposed to.
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