2021 Year-In-Review

Heya Desai
12 min readDec 31, 2021


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A review and reflection on 2021, a year of learning, growth, change and new experiences — & an update on my personal journey.

The last time I was writing a newsletter, I noted how 2021 was officially 25% done. 9 months later, here we are at the 99.7% mark.

Inadvertently, a short planned break developed into an enlightening intermission. For the first time, I was compelled to confront my back burner.

Simply put, I’ve learned and grew more as a person in the last year than I have in any other trip around the sun. Above all else, my experiences have helped me in better understanding my mental frames and have given me direction.

The journey’s hasn’t been linear, but I can say with endearment and gratitude that it’s been more transformative than I can in an instant, conceptualize.

I look back with valuable memories and wisdom I gained just in time, as I move forward into the new year.

This update is going to take you through a reflection of my highlights, life lessons learned and defining moments through each season of this year. After, I’ll end off with a few of my core focus areas for 2022.

Let’s get started!

Spring: April — June

TKS Moonshot Challenge

During April, alongside Sanvi Rao, Sophia Laird, and Nancy Shnoudeh I had the opportunity to dive deep into the intersection of nanotechnology and malnutrition during TKS’ Annual Moonshot Sprint — inspired by Google’s Lab X, Moonshot Companies. We were given 3 weeks to find a pressing problem and create a solution leveraging breakthrough technologies that could be feasible in the next 5–10 years. My team focused on female, and maternal malnutrition, (you could imagine how thrilled I was about tackling a nutritional issue.)

Because of their reproductive biology and increased nutritional needs associated with menstruation, and pregnancy, women suffer from nutritional deficiencies close to two times more than men.

The concept of treating Anemia isn’t new — we have blood transfusions, supplements, multivitamins, and on the preventative end of the spectrum, there are prenatal vitamins but they’re meant to supplement your diet opposed to being the only source of nutrients. Yet, due to the lack of access to fresh produce and fortified foods, a cost-effective intervention is needed. We proposed using nanoencapsulation empowered supplementation to fortify 5 key nutrients into a therapeutic food product (RUTF) to treat anemic women, prevent fetal defects and impaired development and regulate production of hemoglobin & enzymes. This article will take you through the entire project.

Given the ambitious and complex nature of moonshots, my team did pivot numerous times before settling on our final approach. Unfortunately, building out a proposal in 7 days definitely puts you in a time crunch. Alongside being a learning curve, I was able to physically experience the outcomes of my drive and resilience.

I absolutely fell in love with the problem and found myself amidst a deep research sprint, gaining thorough knowledge about various nanosystems and BMC polymers — after starting from point zero.

Check out our one pager & intro video !

I absolutely fell in love with the problem and found myself amidst a deep research sprint, gaining thorough knowledge about various nanosystems and BMC polymers — after starting from point 0.

Check out our one pager, intro video & article :)

A Mindset Note

Our minds are a powerful force that can enslave or empower us.

We confine ourselves to mediocrity when we impose limits based on preconceived notions. Yes, execution has a high probability of being affected during shorter timelines, but through rebuilding the project schedule and strategically delegating — you can optimize performance. Estimate the time of each task and understand the revised scope of your project.

In retrospect, it’s worth noting Parkinson’s Law — “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.


I want to be intentional about where I volunteer, with the consistent aim to create value for others and build tangible skills simultaneously that I can take forward.

My first pursuit this year was tutoring elementary students and focusing on teaching primary portfolio + coding skills. I felt fulfilled — contributing to individuals building transferable skills and exploring aspirations early on.

While we’re on this topic, Manroop Kalsi, Richa Pandya, and I conducted a workshop in June on How to TEDx and 10x your presentations, check out the recording here!

I’m looking forward to start volunteering at my local hospital and gaining first-hand insight into the fluctuating transitions the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on healthcare systems. I’m extremely grateful to have opportunities like these.

The body keeps it’s score.

One morning in June, I woke up to wires being hooked up to my body. But I assumed it was a dream where I was boarding the SpaceX Starship, lucky enough to be apart of the first manned mission. The second time I woke up, after noticing a combination of people I wouldn’t normally find in my room in the morning (my neighbours & family friends) I realized the circumstances were a bit different than I presumed.

Long story short. I have TD1 — I experienced acute hypoglycemia in my sleep for the first time. Previously, I never had hypoglycemia unawareness, I’d generally experience the symptoms right away, with hormones like epinephrine releasing right away.

But on this day and the next, I was in a vegetative state and completely unresponsive. The subsequent morning when this happened again, I hadn’t completely lost consciousness but the realization settled in that it wasn’t just a low blood sugar episode.

My alpha cells (endocrine cells responsible for secreting the peptide hormone glucagon) were diminishing, leading to frequent and often unpredictable low blood sugar episodes.

My ability to get my G1 came to a halt, so did any and every aspect of hustle culture I was unintentionally engaging in. I haven’t been the best at fulfilling the side obligations that come with having td1 — I disregarded the importance of being good at timeliness and sleep, and notably, identifying methods to hold myself accountable.

When I look back at the past 2 years, I find a lot of happiness in the healthy habits I’ve formed. Discovering intrinsic motivation to exercise consistently at a high intensity — continuously challenging myself and maintaining healthy eating habits. I like to believe that I embody the #healthiswealth philosophy and am intrigued by what I don’t know — my curiosity drives me to investigate nutritional psychiatry and our immune system as a whole, everyday.

I understand that healthy eating + exercise =! healthy being, but this cognizance has always been on the back burner.

If you don’t atleast get 7 hours a day, you’re undermining all of your other efforts. In my case, I’ve never optimized for x hours of sleep based on my circadian rhythm — because I didn’t find the short and long term effects of my sleep deprivation lowering my quality of life. At least to an extent, that I found extreme.

What’s interesting is that I associated any muddled thinking, microsleep and food aversion to my lack of sleep, missing out on what could have been warning signs of my cell depletion.

I’m confident that I haven’t internalized this occurrence quite yet. What I do know is misconceptions that have to due with several possible health risks ought not to exist. I intend to reflect more deeply in the near future when I’ve corrected my oversights, routinely.

I’ve had to take a few steps back, to replenish and comprehensively rebuild a healthy physical state. Coming to terms with the outcomes of taking a break and a “change of plans” isn’t easy. But in this context, it is almost negligible.

Almost hit “rock bottom”, and I’m thankful.

I realized just how off course I was, determined my dysfunctional behaviours, gained humility and new perspectives, and improved my perception of reality

I’m alive and well. That’s what matters.

I’ve decided to give the pivotal highs and lows a written voice, to create a clearer vision on what I’ve learned, where I am right now and how I want to reinvent myself. An article enveloping 22 lessons I’m taking into 2022 will be published in the new year!

Summer: July — September

Research Work — Synthetic Biology x Pharmacogenomics x Neurobiology

I spent the first few months of 2021 focusing my research in synthetic biology, specifically on applications of gene circuits and Bio-CAD modelling. Simultaneously, my intrinsic desire to study behavioural psychiatry and the mind-gut connection continued to grow. So I further explored the premise of neurobiology before recognizing the role synthetic biology and pharmacogenomics (how our genes affect our drug response) can play in the activity of the neurochemical serotonin.

I’ve spent my time this year going deep into the learning phase and started crafting a proposal — which you’ll find an overview of in the focus areas section.

Might I just add, the more I internalize about this hormone — the more excited I get post working out. 100% guarantee that active awareness about your body’s response to activity will help you develop consistent habits.

I’ve also fallen in love with the Huberman podcast, through every episode I’ve cultivated better intuition, more interest and the ability to connect all of the dots.

Episodes I personally recommend:

Marketing Internship at Univie Health

In september, I began my first internship at Univie Health; an early-stage non-profit that aims to empower refugees to take ownership of their personal health data. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on the pre-work to building out the organization’s marketing presence.

Prior to this internship, my familiarity with the refugee and asylum seekers space was trivial, but in a small span of time I’ve had a lot of meaningful conversations and exposure to both the business and product side of international pilots involving AI + Blockchain platforms.

Special shoutout to Eddie Mele for all of his coaching and guidance. Endless appreciation. Couldn’t ask for a more supportive team!

More interesting experiences!

  • Consulting for the Toronto based Biomedical AI company in the drug discovery space, BenchSci with with Simran Mayra, Manroop Kalsi, and Richa Pandya! Our proposed recommendation increases the speed of clinical trials with AI-assisted design & partly sightless feasibility studies.
  • Went on a family trip to Muskoka — Journaling thousands of feet above sea level persists as one of my favourite experiences.
  • With Ontario entering step 3 of the reopening plan, I was incredibly fortunate to have a sweet 16 with family & friends. Thank you again to my parents for crafting the preciousist of days and for everything you do.

I took the image on the left at 9:58 pm — capturing the northern lights from Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve. I’d never experienced such clarity, noticing every visible star. The sky really is a miracle of infinitude.

Fall & Winter: October — December

Effective Altruism

After completing my first Effective Altruism fellowship, I’ve started working with EA Toronto — planning and executing the marketing strategy to reach broader audiences of EA’s and will be tracking + monitoring the wellbeing of the team.

EA is a social & philosophical movement, comprised of organizations and effective altruists who use rational capacities and evidence based reasoning to do the most good and create lasting impact — directly through their actions. You can learn more about the key ideas through the Effective Altruism Handbook. Some of my favorite affiliated books are 80 000 hours — Find a fulfilling career that does good & Doing Good Better.

I’m very fortunate to be working with my best friends and having Yuli Jadov as an incredible mentor :)

Clearing the Backlog

After a hard lesson learned, I’m continuing to prioritize my non-negotiables to keep the entirety of my health in check and to optimize my performance, in any and all areas.

With September marking the beginning the first semester of my grade 11 year in the IBDP program, school commitments greatly influence the time I can allot to personal endeavors. Accordingly, I made the decision to put a pause on my research work until the spring of 2022 — allowing me to stay on track with existing responsibilities and to gradually iterate a sustainable ideal day.

My Year in Pictures

2022 Focus Areas & Objectives


In early 2021, I engaged in a lot of writing sprees and genuinely enjoyed the learning and reflection processes.

Yet, I often found myself conflicted between the done > perfect mindset and producing high quality work I would be proud of. I overlooked the importance of getting results, accepting constructive criticism and the matter of the fact that I was continuously growing, hence my perception of high standards could get irrational.

Producing results comes first. I want to make my research work and projects real, in whatever form that independently comes. I’m excited to get back to my drafts and work on them from a reformed, and amended lens.

As for projects, I aim to build out a proof of concept for my synthetic biology x pharmacogenomics and ml x qs projects by the end of 2022.

AI + Biocomputing > Technical Skill Development

In Spring, I will resume my skill development in ML, working towards carrying out a quantified self project for for thorough glucose monitoring and accurate a1c prediction through accounting for the influence of subconscious habits on glucagon secretion.

Upcoming Releases:

  • Proposal for griffonia simplicifolia derived 5-HTP as an alternative to SSRI’s for mental health disorders & exploring self-induced serotonin supply deficiencies
  • Review Paper on Designing Computational Circuits in Living Cells & Discussing Cello — Pioneer platform automating design of DNA circuits

Time Optimization

In Neil Pasricha’s book, “The Happiness Equation”, he identifies that everyone’s weeks are generally divided into three 56-hour “buckets”: 56 hours of sleep; 56 hours of work (education & work) ; and 56 hours for “everything else.”

I acknowledge that any time constraints I have, for the most part are self-induced and want to capitalize on the 56~ hours I have for my personal aspirations and development.

As James Clear explains in Atomic Habits, small habits make a big difference. By finding more of the habits and “things” that consume my time, I can improve, at an exponential rate and

  • Enter deep work and flow states regularly
  • Sustain energy levels and high-level consciousness
  • Abide by my non-negotiables and fulfill my health responsibilities

Engineering Valuable Experiences

Finally, I want to gain experiences, and build strong connections by activating them myself. In the past, I’ve been slow to act on opportunities, and a lot of what I’ve achieved this year has been through discomfort and difficult conversations. It’s essential to expand my scope for ambition to action.

This custom is accompanying me into 2022, in the driver’s seat… since I don’t have my learners permit, nor my license.

Let’s add that as another goal for 2022 ❤

I can’t wrap my head around this year coming to an end, but I’m grateful for my wellness, growth and perspective that’s been fueled by the people I’ve gotten to meet and work with, and what I’ve been able to learn.

I wouldn’t label 2021 as a great year, but surely a progressive one. I’m curious to see where navigating my current interests and broader goals takes me in 2022, and by the end I want to supercharge myself in every direction.

Stay safe, and please be kind to yourself & your body. Let’s celebrate being alive and the boundless potential we have everyday.

I wish you a flourishing and prosperous year ahead. Embrace the journey.

Cheers :)

Connect with me!

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