A week in the life of Karen Ingram, Creative Director, Designer, and Illustrator at Karen Ingram & Associates, Inc.


I will never profess to be a morning person.

I begrudgingly tumble out of bed somewhere between 5:15 and 5:30 am, and groggily ready myself for an early morning run. It’s my “medicine” before I embark on a 7 hour plane ride to San Francisco.

The Brooklyn air is cold. By the time I finish running, it’s snowing. Again. This makes me all the more stoked to be heading to the warmer climes of San Francisco.

I’m heading to SF for two reasons; the first, to participate in the Synthetic Biology Standards Consortium (SBSC) at Stanford, organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The second reason is to attend the Synberc retreat as a guest. Synberc is a “…multi-institutional research project to help lay the foundations for the emerging field of synthetic biology.”

On the way to the airport, the car driver’s radio reports of downed computers at various airports; airlines are issuing hand-written boarding passes. Boston, Florida… strangely, I do not hear any New York area airports mentioned. I cross my fingers.

I arrive at JFK, and it’s a mess. Apparently, JetBlue is the airline whose computers were affected, and that’s what airline I am flying. My luggage contains implements to concoct a “Brooklyn cocktail”; a gift selected for the kind souls whose house I am staying for the week. l ponder dumping the goods in the trash, skipping baggage check, and heading straight for the epic security line, but decide against it.

I check my bag, suffer through the sisyphean security line, and manage to make it to the departure gate in time to procure cash and water. In contrast to the pre-security area of the airport, the terminal is almost empty. I have a jovial conversation with the fellow from whom I buy the water. He had been working at the airport since 5am but was completely unaware of the reason for the shenanigans. 

A few hours later, I am happily chatting in the Mission District kitchen of director Jason Sussberg from Structure Films, and producer Kate McKlean. Jason and Kate are married and they’ve work together on several pictures. I had met Jason at SXSW in 2014. He attended my Biohacker meet up in order to promote his amazing new film, “The Immortalists”.

Jason co-directed the film with his Brooklyn counterpart, David Alvarado. I’ve been tipped off by David that Kate and Jason enjoy cooking at home a lot, so along with the Brooklyn cocktail implements I bring a copy of Rachel Wharton’s “Edible Brooklyn”.

I decide to go for a walk. Kate advises me to pay a visit to Bi-Rite and get an ice cream. I do so, and luxuriate in every morsel of the dreamy concoctions: honey lavender, ricanelas, and malted vanilla with peanut brittle.

Later that night, we dive into some tacos and guacamole at Tacolicious, and chat about the status of our current projects and ventures.


Another 5am morning- PST, so a little less punishing. I wind my way through the dark morning streets; a quick 2.5 miles to get the dust off, followed by coffee and bananas.

Once I arrive at Stanford for SBSC, I am delighted to see some familiar faces. Earlier this year I was selected to be a LEAP fellow. Several of my co-fellows are present. Also present are many well-established luminaries in the field of Synthetic Biology.

Around 4:30, 16 of us board a bus to go to the location of the welcome dinner and keynote at Synberc.

We are served a wonderful dinner, and listen to the Michael A. Fischbach discuss his groundbreaking research on the human microbiome.


On my running route today, I head west to the Castro, Corona Heights, and back to the Mission.

I meet an old college buddy, musician Andy Cabic at Four Barrel. Andy’s music moniker is Vetiver, and he’s just released a new album.

On this particular day, the BART is experiencing major train delays. I decide to take the “glass half full” approach, and get some work done while I am waiting.

I work on the design of a communications piece for the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program. The Commons Lab section of the STIP is hosting a Science Hack Day in DC on May 16th and 17th.

Once I finally arrive at Berkley, I watch student presentations from a host of academic institutions, all doing research in synthetic biology.

Later that night, Jason and I go to Rock Bar for Andy’s bi-monthly DJing gig.

When we return to Jason’s house, we realize that we’re hungry. Jason whips up a yummy open-faced sandwich with pecan pesto and cheese. I’m in heaven.


I head out for my morning run at about 6:45. I hit the Castro, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, go past the US mint and back to the Mission.

When I return, I discover a note from SynBioBeta’s founder John Cumbers. There will be a design panel at the London conference, and he would like me to be on it. I am humbled and honored, and immediately accept.

The day serves up talks of organoids, parts, devices, chassis, policies and practices.

Early evening, my brain sufficiently drenched from the tsunami of information, I meander around the streets of Berkley, ideas floating to the surface of my brain like balloons.

As I dilly-dally, I get a text from Jason. He, Kate and their third roommate Daniel are making Jewish turkey meatballs. Would I like to join? You bet! I jump on the BART and head back to the Mission.

Four delicious meatballs and a bed of cauliflower later, we I head out to meet Mac Cowell and his girlfriend Lisa. We meet at Urban Putt and enjoy bourbon and beer while we chat about accessible biotechnology, which is Mac’s passion.


Beautiful morning in San Fransisco. Jason and I run “The Wiggle”- a winding route discovered by cyclists that weaves through the streets of SF, evading its legendary hills. We run along the “Panhandle” park, past the botanical gardens, and back via “The Wiggle”.

After we run, we devour Croque Monseaurs from Tartine, and I pick up a cookbook as a present for my mother.

I decide to grab one last Bi-Rite ice cream before my flight, then take the BART to the airport.

On the plane, I work on a few projects. One of these projects is a poster I am making for The Empiricist League, which is a science cabaret that I co-organize with David Leibowitz.

The topic for this event is “Food”. We have three outstanding speakers lined up- Isha Datar from New Harvest on lab-grown meat, journalist Drake Bennett on GMOs,and designer Ashley Marie Quinn on entomophagy.

The poster I’ve made has an illustrated image of Frankenstein’s monster holding an ear of corn. Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” is one of my all time favorite books. At the time when I had the idea for the poster, I wanted to portray the monster the symbol of caution, scrutiny, and skepticism rather than grotesque alarmism.

To me, the monster also signifies taking responsibility for the impact of human invention. From the first moment that Frankenstein’s creature awakes, the scientist is horrified by his creation and flees the scene; Frankenstein abandons his creation and as a result, the creature becomes a destructive scourge.

Now as I look at my design, I am slightly concerned that scientists will find this allegory offensive. I make a note to myself to get the opinions of some friends who are scientists before I make the poster public.

When I arrive back in Brooklyn, I pick up some late dinner at Sidecar; beet salad and their delicious white bean dip.


I wake fairly late in the morning, though timely for the west coast. I take 2 laps around Prospect Park. It’s gusty outside, but more pleasant than that dark and snowy Monday when I last ran in Brooklyn.

I spend the day working on various design projects. Around 7pm head to a friend’s 40th birthday party. Sean Pangea is the boyfriend of my office mate, science journalist Christie Nicholson. Both are dear friends of mine and I am excited to see them.

The party is wonderful. I chat with a wide array if interesting folks: a packaging designer, a software engineer, a surfer, an artist who created a cloud chamber, an art historian, a lady who works in food advocacy for underserved communities and many others.

Christie sends me home with delectable leftovers from Fancy Girl Catering: tiny shepherd’s pies and golden nuggets of fried sweet potatoes.

=====Easter Sunday=====

Easter Sunday brings devastating news.

One of our family pets, an endearing and inquisitive fawn-colored greyhound, was the victim of a savage and fatal dog attack while out for a walk.

It occurs to me that of man’s creations, domesticated dogs could be a fitting analogue to the monster depicted in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, rather than GMOs.

Domesticated dogs are living beings conceived through human design (selective breeding) and some have been bred with the genetic propensity to become fiendishly dangerous if not given the proper attention by their owner. Is a domesticated dog in the hands of an irresponsible owner in effect, a bioweapon?

In the late afternoon, I go for a run around Prospect Park. As I run, I cast my eyes upon happy dogs and their happy owners. In my state of rueful agony and grief, I feel sparks of mistrust and anger towards the dogs and their owners. I know this feeling will ebb.

I take note of the orange and yellow daffodils- bright notes of spring, willing their sunny heads above the earth’s dark surface.

Tonight I will eat vegetables for dinner. As a treat, I order guacamole, a salad, and esquites from Fonda, my favorite Mexican restaurant. I try my best to focus on my work.


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