I’m Alexis, Ph.D. student of Prof. Elazer Edelman in the department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I was born in Lyon (France) where I did part of my higher education, before attending Arts & Metiers ParisTech in Lille and Paris. Being admitted to this prestigious school was already a big achievement, but I was bound to end up in the “Land of opportunities”, for an exciting time at MIT.

My journey to MIT started in 2006, at the very beginning of orientation week at A&M ParisTech. After a short night in Lille, the class was headed to the campus of Bordeaux for a conference gathering alumni, French officials, and wine from the Holy of Holies. In a one-word-per-slide presentation, MIT was featured as one of the most exciting places to do research in the world.

Despite the apparent simplicity, my way to Cambridge, MA was not easy. Luckily, I found the most extraordinary people at A&M ParisTech to help me out. Jacques Bojin (A&M ’60, IEP Paris ’63, MIT ’64) is certainly one of them. He is currently the A&M-MIT club president and acts as an interface between the school and MIT. Even if I didn’t know Jacques, I decided to call him and ask him some questions about studying in the U.S. He said with a friendly voice: “Indeed, we can help you. When can we meet?” A month later, he invited me to diner and gave me some advice.

Highlight of my days in Lille was the inspiration spread by Commencement speaker Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau (A&M ’72, Stanford ’81), President of Caltech, whose words resonated through our class’ soul and motivated so many of us to pursue endeavors in the U.S. Later, the American Friends of Arts & Metiers would play a pivotal role in my integration and fresh start in America.

I had just been notified about admissions to U.S. universities when I met with Eric Benhamou (A&M ’72, Stanford ’77), founder and President of AFAM. It was the source of an enormous pride since we share common roots – my grandfather lived in the same village where Eric was born. Though the meeting was short, Eric made a big impression on me, because of his achievement indeed, but also his charisma and his multi-focus insight. He ended our chat fueling the friendly rivalry between Stanford and MIT: “Thirty years ago, I was facing the same situation than you and I chose to go to Stanford” to which I replied “Thirty years ago Bob Metcalfe decided to go to MIT, it’s happy that you guys met [Bob is the inventor of Ethernet, he founded 3Com, which merged with Bridge Telecom, Eric’s first company. Eric would then chair 3Com for more than a decade].

The next day Eric gave an impressive introductory lecture on start-ups – my first ever business class. I had to skip class to attend it, but this is a secret. Eric described the different stages of growth of a start-up company and praised diversity on Boards of Directors. But the most memorable moment was when he gave up his trick to recruit new employees: “this is a test designed to challenge people’s mind, spot the time it takes for a candidate to answer: a spider falls twenty five feet down the roof of a building, happily, it can hold to its web and avoid crashing on the floor. It climbs three feet during the day but falls down by two during the night. How many days will the spider take to reach the roof?” Awkward silence in the crowded lecture hall as nobody dares to speak up; people are murmuring the answer. Eric goes: “if we were in the US, 95% of the class would raise their hand!” Answers start to pour. This highlights the dramatic differences between French and American education. France has some of the finest theoretical schools in the world but American schools make you grow as a person, which oftentimes is more important than knowledge.

As I experience new ways of thinking in my every day life, here in the U.S., I wish that the greatest number of A&M students would be able to benefit from this different perspective. In my opinion, this is the goal of AFAM. The values carried by this organization are those of discovery, exploration and innovation, reflected by its Board members, most of who are entrepreneurs.

In 2008, I humbly and thankfully received the first fellowship offered by AFAM. I have used part of the money to support my education and have invested the rest in a new biomedical venture that I am launching. For the future, my business acumen has taken over my gourmandism and I'll likely stay in America.

I’d like to warmly thank President Hautier and his staff for their support throughout this experience and share my small contribution to the school: two of the students that I have helped will be starting as PhD candidates at MIT and one will join UC Berkley in the fall. And the cycle continues…

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July 2010