JESSE: So, what is the portrayal of America from growing up? [crosstalk] Yeah. So, I guess from your point of view, what did you prior to spending time here I mean, what did you think America was?
FIONA: I just felt like coming from Thailand that I was about to go to something that’s complete on the opposite spectrum. Well, first of all, it was like, Mom, what am I going to eat in America? I don’t like McDonald’s. You got that initial kind of image where it’s like, I’m gonna get poisoned by the food and I’m gonna be eating GMOs all day. But I mean, putting that aside, I just think it wouldn’t feel like reality, you know? Because, for me, American had this like picture of perfection.
You know, you when watch movies, and you see people on TV that are American for me, the way they act, and the way they speak is like, perfect, and that’s TV and then you go back to your normal life, you know? And I guess, it just seems so big. It just seemed so big that I felt like going over there I’d be completely lost. Yeah. [??? 1:23] it didn’t feel real. It just didn’t feel like a country. I feel like I wasn’t going to a real place. You know, I used to be, it felt like I wasn’t gonna go to America until I was actually there. So, yeah, we arrived–
JESSE: How long was the flight?
FIONA: To Atlanta, it’s about nine hours from Dublin.
JESSE: And did you sleep on the whole way or were you sitting there nervous and not–?
FIONA: Yeah, so I was lucky enough because my dad’s brother is an uncle– Sorry, my uncle is a flight [??? 1:55] Aer Lingus and I mean, this is the thing, in Ireland it’s very much like family connections and…kind of thing. And that’s one of the things I was like, when I’m in America, who am I gonna ring if my car breaks down, things like that. Like who helps you over there. So, I went over with Aer Lingus and I was putting to first class by my uncle. The first and only time though, because he was like, that’s it now, you’re not getting spoiled again. So, it’s lovely.
I have a lovely big chair to myself, and, and lovely meal and everything. So, yeah, and was able to sleep well enough. And we got to go to Atlanta, and it was like 40 degrees heat. I couldn’t deal. We were like, it was just so humid, and couldn’t believe it. Like this is like middle of August. And we had come from Ireland, where – temperature is like 18 degrees, sorry, this is in Celsius. [crosstalk]
JESSE: 40 is over 100. Yeah, somewhere around there.
FIONA: It’s just really, really harsh. But then it stayed around like the 30ies for like a good while. But so we got to Atlanta, and we were actually staying, we just didn’t want to stay in student accommodation on campus, like me and my friend were like, we want to do something different. And we actually stayed in like a fraternity house, like an old fraternity house, little bit off campus. And so it was kind of like a shared accommodation. And so we got on there, and we were just like, just felt so innocent or something to like, this big city. And then Georgia Tech was like, really nice. It’s one of the nicest colleges I’ve ever been to or even visited. And I couldn’t believe that we were studying here for a whole year.
I’d say we were the only Irish people in the perimeter like because Atlanta’s you know, if you went to Boston or New York, or even like, LA or San Francisco, you’d always meet Irish people. Here, we didn’t meet any Irish people at all. So, a lot of the southerners were like, cuz you’re so exotic. And we were like, so are ye. In the south everyone’s so laid back. And you know, there wasn’t too much– once they got you’re Irish, it was just like, okay, that’s it. Whereas, I think in other parts of the world, they’re like you know, you kind of get that– I know it’s a stereotype that Americans are you know, love the Irish, and would be like, oh, please keep talking. We love your accent and things like that. Where in the south, they’re just like, well, you’re actually cool. You’re exotic, but like, we’ll take that, you know.
JESSE: Yeah, yeah.
FIONA: So, then Georgia Tech itself is a pretty tough college. And so it took us a while to get into kind of continuous assignments, and kind of way the school works there. Because we have like, big exams at the end of the semester, where it’s much more like, week by week and Georgia Tech. So, we’re like constant– Like in Ireland, you don’t really do anything for the first few weeks of college. And then the last month it’s like down with these exams. Okay, head down. Let’s do this. Whereas, in America, it was like constantly exams every week, which actually, there’s like, benefits and you know, [??? 5:06].
But in the end, I really liked the way they did it in Georgia Tech. So, yeah, I guess there was no football over in America. So, I said, my – had completely healed at this stage in September. And I don’t know, I just kind of think even after my whole summer in Thailand, my summer before where I was working as a waitress, I was just like, I want to do something completely different and actually focus on it now for a couple of months. And that’s when I joined the triathlon team in Georgia Tech. And I guess that’s when I realized that triathlon is actually a cool sport because people my age, were doing it. And it wasn’t just something for the middle aged men. And I know that’s like the thing you always hear, you know, triathlon is–
JESSE: Well, I mean it is a sport for middle aged men. They’re a lot of middle aged men. Yeah, instead of going and buying a red sports car, they could go buy a red, expensive bike that just cost just as much as a sports car, and then they start working out.
FIONA: Yeah, exactly. And like, all of a sudden here, these are college students just as broke as me attempting triathlon and I enjoyed it. And we got to do a few – that were just there were really, really fun. And kind of did like, so like, I was still kind of, I still wanted to run a bit more because you just get that edge where you’ve been off running for a few months. And it’s like, oh, all I want to do is just get back into running. So, that was like my primary focus. So, I joined the running club there. And then I was kind of doing the triathlon team as well, of course, but it’s kind of more focused on the running. And like in the space of, I’d say, eight weeks, I was at like a 28 minute 5K, and I went down to 20 minute 5K.
And I was like, okay, I’m gonna keep going with this, and I really enjoyed it. And then my hip started to be sore. Oh, no, here we go. And I did a cross country race and pretty well enough. And then like a week later, my head was getting really, really weird. I’d like to this day, I still don’t know what it was but it pulled me out of running for like, I’d say, four or five months. So, that was like all of Christmas, January, February, March. And so that’s when I just started, like cycling and swimming, like way more. And I really got into like, I don’t know if this is more of an American thing than an arcing, maybe it is. But in America, people are just so focused, and maybe it’s even a college thing, or even a Georgia Tech thing. But I found that like, everyone was doing okay, you’re doing a degree, well done, but you also need to be part of this society and doing these sports and excelling in all these different things so you can build your CV so much. Where in Ireland–
JESSE: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s exclusively American, but I know that yeah, it’s definitely not just a Georgia Tech thing. It’s very much like– For us, that’s almost instilled from childhood that if you want to get into a good college, you need to have good grades, and you need to be involved in five clubs. And you need to do three sports and it stacks on, yeah.
FIONA: Yeah. Whereas, I’ve never seen that in Ireland. In Ireland, it was like, well, if you’re sound, like you’ll get through, and it’s very rare that you find someone that’s really good at sports, and music and college. There’s much more emphasis on how you are in society and how your family gets on with people, and things like that. Whereas I just don’t think there’s as much pressure to excel in certain things, as there is that– Maybe that’s just me coming from a rural part of Ireland. Like, kind of the countryside and stuff that like even the fact that my dad, my dad was probably the only triathlete in our village as in it was the only one out in his bike on the roads, and everyone would know, oh, that’s John on the bike. You know, it wasn’t a done thing. Whereas coming to America, just having all these things under your belt was just the norm. So, I think my competitiveness, tried to like, match with that.
So, when I got to Georgia Tech, I was like, oh, my God, what have I been doing with my life? You know, it was that kind of slap in the face. And I was like, okay. And especially when you’re hanging around with triathletes, it’s like, well, there’s so much out there and so much more to do. And I was like, Okay, this is it, I’m going to get into this sport, and do all these different things. So, I think that’s what, I guess you are influenced by your peers. And one of the things we say with my friends is like, you’re the average of the five people around you, right. So, all of a sudden, I had five amazing Americans triathletes around me, let’s say and it was–
JESSE: Type A, very competitive.
FIONA: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, I think that’s what kind of pushed me through. And so I really got into swimming and biking. And actually, the bike I picked up pretty fast and [??? 10:14] around the Smoky Mountains, on our training camps. So, that’s like North Georgia, and killing it on the light downhill. And they were just a really, really good group of people that I was with and I just really enjoyed it. So, yeah, couldn’t complain there.
But at the same time, we’d come over on– this was our only year in America. So, every weekend, we were still going out drinking quite a bit with my Irish friend Katie. And it wasn’t as if like, it was like the week I was American, and then the weekend I was like back to being Irish again. So, that was kind of schedule we got into like, get all your work done, get all your training done all that week, and then [??? 11:02] on the weekends. And so we went traveling and did all these different things. But at the end of it, I did my first – our cities in Tuscaloosa in Alabama, with the guys and that was my first draft legal race, which I found so so fun. But that being said, probably, I just probably didn’t have the skills or techniques to properly execute the race. I guess I would know.
JESSE: It is a lot more technicality with draft legal race.
FIONA: Oh, yeah.
JESSE: It needs to be you to swim just like how to get on the bike. And then you do the technical skills on the bike to stay in your group.
FIONA: Yeah, it’s just like you’re fighting for the whole way through. Yeah. It’s like I don’t wave nearly. I’d say swim would still be my weakest now, just not having probably swum as a child and not having done like the six and seven sessions a week, which I’m going to start now in September. But I guess I was just just survive the swim. And then so I was like, one of the like last – out of the swim. And then I moved up to one of the first groups on the bike because I just like, and I was on a bike that was way too big for me. I think – friend gave me his bike, it was an arrow bike, and I was like, – this faster. So, get on top of this. And way too big but still I was just like, I’m gonna go and just really enjoyed the bike. And the draft legal was fun because all of a sudden, the girls start, like grouping up. Once you get into a group, everyone’s working together, and it’s like, wait I’m competing against you. But yeah, all of a sudden, we’re friends for this, like 30 minutes or whatever.
JESSE: Yeah, small section where you’re gonna work together to try to get away from everybody and then it’s everybody for themselves.
FIONA: Yeah, I love those dynamics. Like, in a race, I always say like, every race is such a different story to tell. I don’t know about you, but not one of my races has been the same as another race. And there’s always– I always learned something different from race. You know, I always come out of the feeling like, you know just got a completely different feeling out of every race, which is, I guess what I liked about triathlon. I get bored quite easily, as you can see because I jump from things to things. But triathlon is the one thing I’ve actually stuck with now for the last or two years, I guess just because it never gets boring.
JESSE: So, I’m one of the things I was curious about was you were telling me before we could recording about applying for your study abroad because you’re at [??? 13:36] studying and then there’s a study abroad program. So, you’re saying only a few people get to go, what are the criteria? How did you get picked, I guess, or the opportunity to come?
FIONA: So, I guess, yeah, my year biomedical engineering, there was about 70 of us and four were to get picked. So, initially, it’s based on your results and then you go through three or four interview processes. And so then there was there’s four places and so two people got to go to Purdue and two to go to Georgia Tech. So, really, they interviewed you like okay, it’s one thing getting the results, another thing is like do you have the, I guess characteristics to be able to go abroad for a year. And for some reason, I was able to convince them in that interview. And I guess one of the things is like I lived away from home anyway. Because I guess one difference as well between maybe Ireland and America is that in Ireland, we’re always close to home.
So, if you go to College, Dublin, you’re only like max three hours away from your home house. But most people actually end up going to college right near their house, so you end up staying at home. Whereas I know in America, a lot of people go away for college, and they don’t come back for like four or five months. So, I guess finding people that had gone away, so I’d gone away to Galway which is an hour and a half away from my house, but that’s still considered like you’re traveling for college. And so that was I guess one of the things that I helped to push us through and I guess I’ve been top of my class for every year in college as well. So, that that helped to get me the place in America. Then afterwards my placement in Boston Scientific, where I worked for a few months after that.
JESSE: What did you do there?
FIONA: So, there I was working with heart valves. And so I was investigating the classifications of- in your aorta. And actually, it stemmed from I worked in Georgia Tech in a lab in a fluid mechanics lab between Dr. Yogananda and his lab where we were actually making radial transducer. So, in order to calculate your annular forces and– You know, your aorta, so that’s like a valve in your heart. We created a transducer to measure the forces of the aorta.
And so when you put in a heart valve, you know, there’s obviously certain sizes based on the geometry of your top, but you also want one that will actually mimic the forces of your natural annulus as well. And so that’s one of the things we investigated. So, that followed through, and I got a placement in Boston Scientific then from that, which is great, did that for like a whole summer. And I guess at that point, I got into a routine and working on my placement and then training and I guess that was my first summer competing in the triathlon Irish series, which is the National series we have here at home. So, yeah, that was my end of third year before getting into final year.
JESSE: I saw, so I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit more about it. When I was doing a little bit of background research, I saw– I’m sure I’m saying this wrong. Is it loci where you work now?
FIONA: Yeah, Loci, Phoenix.
JESSE: So, yeah, so can you tell me a little bit about what they’re doing? I looked into it, but I think it’ll be probably easier for you to explain what they’re doing.
FIONA: Yeah, so I guess I joined a startup company in September. And so there’s only three of us. There’s a doctor and two engineers on what we’re making at the moment is a treatment for thumb based arthritis. So, it’s very common actually, 30% of women over the age of 60 get this disease and it’s very painful and it affects a lot of women also a lot of men as well and affects how you perform your activities. And at the moment surgery I guess is the prime option in order to fix this.
But it’s not ideal and what we’re making, we’re a [??? 17:51] company so we’re making an implant and so you have your hand and in your hand you have – you have two bones that articulate your metacarpal and your trapezium. And so thumb based arthritis is when these bones here start to degenerate and then rub against each other and cause a lot of pain. And so at the moment, one solutions is to take out the trapezium, and so you set up the range of motion, but you don’t have that same force as you would have if you had the two bones together.
Otherwise, there’s other things like ligament reconstruction when you take out the bone, you try and like sew up your ligaments again to get some sort of range of motion. Otherwise, there’s a total – implant where it’s like you’re kind of fusing both bones together. So, get then you have a thumb that’s kind of doing this like that’s very strong, which is you’re not getting the total range of motion. So, – implant is essentially two axes implants that allows you to give you the whole range of motion and that strength as well.
So, that’s I guess the initial or kind of basic summary of it. I have been working with them since September, and we work with a lot of surgeons based in Stanford, and Brown and K Leuven and Belgium. And so it’s one of those jobs where every month you’re traveling, every week, you could be traveling. So, I started in September, and they were like, oh, we’re going to Boston next week. I was like, okay, cool, for a conference. Yeah, so we’re back and forth doing different trials and–
JESSE: Are they based in Galway?
FIONA: We’re based in Galway, yeah. Exactly. So, actually we’re based right – University. So, I didn’t really move too far away. And, yeah, so it’s been quite a roller coaster so far because what a startup company. One minute, you think everything’s going brilliant, and then the next minute, it goes down again. So, it’s like, yeah, like an ECG kind of–