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#RedefineAtoZ: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya Is Bridging the World Between Science and Design

With her latest project, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya hopes to encourage women to stop wondering: “Can I make an impact in science?”
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya started poster project Beyond Curie to bring more attention to women in science.Paulo Chun / NBC News

NAME: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya

AGE: 28

HOMETOWN: Norcross, Georgia

TWITTER: @alonglastname / INSTAGRAM: @alonglastname

How do you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. I'm a creative director and design strategist. By day, I’m helping reimagine the relationship between people and finances at Capital One, and by night I focus on bridging the worlds of science and design.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, where my parents met and settled after moving to the U.S. from Thailand (Dad) and Indonesia (Mom).

What inspires you?

Before I began my career in design, I studied neuroscience at Columbia and worked for several years in a lab at Columbia Medical Center. I’m inspired by the extraordinary women who have built the foundation of scientific discovery our society stands on.

I started Beyond Curie, an illustration series that celebrate these badass pioneers, in part because I was so inspired by them but also because I wanted to share the rich history of women driving society forward with the next generation. My hope is that when young women learn about the incredible scientists and engineers in Beyond Curie they will stop wondering: “Can I make an impact in science?” and start asking: “Why the hell are we stopping now?”

SEE THE LIST: NBC Asian America Presents: A to Z - The 26 Emerging Voices of 2017

What challenges you?

Public speaking. It’s not something I’m naturally comfortable with, but in the last year, I’ve worked really hard to get better at it. Before doing the TED Residency in the summer of 2016, I had only done a handful of public speaking events. None of them held a candle to the intensity and visibility of a six minute TED talk, recorded live in one take in crowded performance space. I remember being so nervous, I could barely breathe, and I actually froze for five seconds midway through the talk before regaining my train of thought and finishing the presentation.

I made it through that talk alive, and since then, I’ve been invited to speak at Unilever, CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, Microsoft and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Every talk creates new challenges: How do I better engage my audience? What do I do when they can’t project my slides? How do I sound more fluid and natural in my delivery? I’m committed to always improving this craft, and excited to soon join the 2017 class of Fresh Speakers, a speaking bureau that represents next-generation thinkers and doers.

Tell us about the biggest risk you ever took.

I walked into the office of my design agency on a Monday morning last March and quit. Despite having no freelance gigs lined up and an enormous, unproven idea with no realistic plan to achieve it, I still felt strongly (and perhaps foolishly) that this was the right move. I was embarking on the TED Residency, a 14 week idea accelerator where I would incubate The Leading Strand, an organization that uses design to shine a light on breakthroughs happening in science. We paired five neuroscientists and five designers to co-create experiences that translated research in rigorous and visually compelling ways. Little did I know it then, but that leap changed everything, and set me down the path of applying design to hard problems in interesting ways that I’m still following to this day.

What are you reading/watching/listening to these days?

I’m fascinated by relationships and am reading "Power: Why Some Have It and Others Don’t" by Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. [It] has given me incredible insights into how to leverage my skills, talent, and relationships to create work that matters.

"I firmly believe that disruption often comes out of nowhere, and it’s that defiant, rebellious spirit that drives things forward."

There is a fine line between creativity and chaos and because I feel that I often veer close to crossing that line, "Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives" by Tim Harford has been very self-affirming. I’ve also begun to read "Quiet: The Power of Introversion in a World that Can’t Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. As an introvert and former woman in science, I appreciate how she expertly weaves neuroscience, anecdotes, and advice on how to harness the power of being an introvert.

I’m also watching "The Expanse" on Syfy. Based on a best-selling sci-fi book series, the show takes us several hundred years into the future, when humanity has expanded to Mars and the asteroid belt. It’s both a visually compelling show that also serves as social commentary, exploring race, conflict, and the potential threat of new technologies.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what job would you want to have?

I would want to be an experimental artist who lives abroad and does large-scale provocative work that combines science, technology, dance and design. Perhaps you'll be seeing me dabble in this in the near future.

What’s your motto?

“Come out of nowhere.” I used to believe that you needed a lot of time, money, experience, and industry recognition to make great impact. But incubating The Leading Strand at the TED Residency showed me that I didn’t need any of those things after all. When the program began in April 2016, I only had a crazy dream and largely unproven idea, to use design to illuminate scientific research. I had big plans to pair and support 5 neuroscientist/designer teams to co-create experiences that translate scientific research for the general public to understand and enjoy. But I had no team, no funding, and no exhibit space.

I’m not sure anyone expected the initiative to fully launch in 13 short weeks given my inexperience and the number of obstacles in our way: I hadn’t ever run a successful Kickstarter campaign before, given a TED talk or put on an immersive exhibit of that scale, and there was no precedent or model for organizing the kind of designer/neuroscientist collaboration I had in mind. Somehow, after many long days and even longer nights, we pulled it off.

RELATED: ‘Beyond Curie’ Wants to Introduce You to Female Scientists You May Not Have Heard of

While much of it was a blur, I still remember the feeling of gratitude for my team on opening night. It was my honor to support them and see their collaborations bear fruit. The Leading Strand came out of nowhere. And in this spirit, I continue to bridge these two important spheres of my life, science and design, for the greater good. I firmly believe that disruption often comes out of nowhere, and it’s that defiant, rebellious spirit that drives things forward.

I celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month because…'s an opportunity to highlight the diversity of our people. Many are quick to group “Asian” into a single monoculture when really, we draw our heritage from a massive population of two and a half billion people. Growing up in a Thai and Indonesian family, my holidays, what I like to eat, and my traditions are totally different from someone who is from mainland China or Pakistan or Polynesia. I'm excited to share my experiences and culture and hope to learn about others as well.

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