2022 Annual Letter

Simran Mayra
10 min readJan 1, 2023

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This year, my mom sent me a poem by Khalil Gibran that I often reread.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

In 2022, I experienced an immense amount of joy, coupled with some inevitable sorrows life brings. One cannot exist without the other.

Unlike ever before, I learnt to appreciate unfortunate circumstances as part of the human experience and found beauty in both sides of the coin.

Some of my favourite parts of this year:

  • Driving around Minneapolis at 12 am, blasting music with the windows down
  • Spending several weeks in India — immersed in culture, love, and family
  • Working in University of Minnesota’s Medicinal Chemistry Lab with Diba & Noman
  • Exploring France, Italy, Spain, Monaco with the people I grew up with
  • Speaking at Collision Conference about my male contraceptive research
  • Spending time with my amazing friends — cooking, skiing, taking walks, coworking, playing WRNS, going to the gym, trying new restaurants, and swimming :)

👩🏽‍🔬Male Contraceptive Research

I wanted to find a longterm project in reproductive health by February, and I did. The idea of a male birth control pill excited me, so I spent a large chunk of the year working on it. (male birth control updates linked: #1, #2 from earlier this year)

Over the span of several months, my friend Diba and I wrote a drug repurposing proposal for contraceptive target retinoic receptor alpha (RAR-α). We wanted to computationally screen and test FDA approved molecules to see if any of them could stop the production of sperm by binding to RAR-α. The benefits of finding an FDA approved compound were that it could speed up the process of bringing a male pill to market by several years. The idea also hadn’t been pursued, as male contraception is a very new + unsaturated field.

After speaking with multiple labs, we met Leigh Allen at the University of Minnesota. We were so grateful for her curiosity, and desire to help us. She introduced us to Noman (finishing his phD) and Dr. Gunda Georg, who invited us to spend several weeks in Minneapolis.

My trip from YYZ → MSP was the first flight I took alone. In the security line, I made lots of friends. They asked me where I was going — I told them about male birth control and how I excited I was to work in the lab. Janet was infront of me. She was going to Minneapolis too (for a wedding) and was living in Scotland.

When I told her it was my first time flying alone, she told me we could stick together. We waited for each other after every check point, and talked the whole time. I appreciated this kind stranger who had become my friend in a matter of hours. Through the whole flight we shared stories and experiences — It felt fulfilling to get to learn so much about someone I just met. It was the best conversation I’ve ever had on a plane. Thank you Janet :)

Overview of My Time In The Lab

I’ve never been exposed to so many new things, so fast. The first day I got to Minnesota, I learnt about using a supercomputer. Within one week, I had grown billions of cancer cells in a tube, learnt to make a drug more soluble, run thin layer chromatography, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometry. In two weeks, I conducted my own scientific study.

In the University of Minnesota, Medicinal Chemistry Department

Drug Repurposing Study

With Noman’s help, Diba and I screened an FDA approved database of thousands of compounds using Schrödinger’s Maestro molecular docking software. We identified the top 100 hits, and then did another manual screening of the compounds by analysing their shape and function. All potential candidates unavailable in lab were ordered online for testing. We tested the ones we had using the assay developed for retinoic receptor alpha. Unfortunately, none of the compounds we screened ended up binding to the contraceptive target we chose.

This definitely doesn’t mean that drug repurposing won’t work for male contraception. We only tested one target and there are around 20–25 validated targets for a male pill.

I’d like to publish our methodology and results soon, showing which exact compounds we tested. I believe our study would be quite beneficial to someone exploring drug repurposing in the male contraceptive field. This work serves as our very small contribution to a space that will continue to grow over the next decade.

Living at UMN

Living in Minnesota gave me a sense of freedom and responsibility I had never felt before. Making my own meals, doing laundry, cleaning, and commuting — I was basically in university one year early.

I loved living on campus so much. The silence of my mornings where I journaled before everyone woke up. Trying new restaurants with Diba. Watching the Aquatennial fireworks with my mom’s best friend. Late night drives. Hell’s Kitchen. Dinner at Gunda’s house. Desert with Leigh and her husband, Matt. The mall of America.

Diba and I at Sally’s Saloon

Every day was an experience I’ll remember forever.

Speaking at Collision + Living With My Friends in Toronto

Thanks to Dan Jacobs, Diba and I got to speak at North America’s biggest tech conference in June.

That week, I lived in a beautiful Air BNB property in Toronto with 10 other TKS students (most of which I had never met before).

It’s a time I look back at fondly.

I was beyond happy to meet my dear friend Zayn from Seattle in person for the first time, after months of talking online. I loved getting to know Apoorva, an incredibly genuine human from California who gives the warmest hugs. I also met Tobias from Montreal, who was my networking partner during most of the conference. We connected so well on almost everything, especially on music. I’m so glad I met them.

The Colour of Life is Green

I’ve practically grown up with my family friends, because our parents have been best friends since way before we were born. We go on trips all the time. Hawaii, New York, Jamaica, Turkey, Greece, Cuba are a few places we’ve travelled together. Last summer we went on an incredible Europe trip. I loved exploring different cities and taking pieces of them with me.

Journal Entry from August 9th, 2022

Day 6 of Europe. Visited Barcelona, Corsica, Rome, and Naples. Today is Livorno. Time is moving so fast but so slow. I’ve listened to the song Mona Lisa so many times. Soon I’ll be in India.

Europe has been really beautiful. I loved the Amalfi Coast most of all.

I’ve tried to put myself in the scenario of living in France since I got here. It’s weird. I can’t imagine just being by the beach or being so relaxed all my life. Everyone seems so free. I feel like things don’t mean as much here, but I’m probably wrong. I wonder what I would be like if I was born here.

The colour of life is green.

Reflections in India

I wasn’t necessarily excited about going to India for so long. I really missed my friends and was homesick because I’d been travelling for a month prior.

A lot of me wanted to go home before I even got there. So when we landed, my parents told me that when it was time to leave- I would want to stay. I bet against it.

I was very wrong. India brought me much closer to my family and culture; Despite my share of cold showers and mosquitoes, I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.

We went to Delhi (where my cousin got married), Kanpur (to see family) and Bareilly (where my dad’s sister lives). Getting to know all my cousins, uncles, and aunts made me so happy.

My grandpa and I in Delhi

I’ve never felt so loved by people I had technically just met. There was so much genuine care present in every interaction I had.

Some other thoughts, re: India:

Journal Entry from August 27th, 2022

How Many Muffins?— On poverty

We’re at the train station in Kanpur. I got off the train and a kid came begging for food. So I gave him a muffin I brought and a bottle of water. And then another one came. I gave him my juice box and I searched for my second muffin, but he had walked away. When you help one kid, more and more come. But I have a limited number of muffins and water. It feels so bad to say to the first few and no to the rest. The thing is, I’m not even sure if the kid will eat the food. Often there are gangs where the kids have to collect food and report back. That’s why giving money doesn’t seem like the best way to help. There’s such a large gap between middle/high class and low class. I wonder about the ways I can make the lives of these kids better. But even if I do feed them, they’ll be hungry in a few hours. And if I give them money, I’m not sure where it will be used. I wish I could help them more. Everything seems like a bandaid solution to such an intricate problem. I’ll be thinking about this for a while.

Journal Entry September 1st, 2022

Excerpt from ‘Notes, Learnings, and Thoughts from India — End of Trip’

I’m realizing the importance of family after seeing my dad’s love for his sister who lives in Bareilly. I feel a perspective shift after seeing her itch to explore the world, as she feels stuck in the city she lives. I also feel grateful today. There was a fire in the building my family was praying in — we were so lucky everyone got out safe. Also, the week long wedding was the best thing ever. I loved it so much :)

My cousin also named Simran (haha) and her husband Prabhneet

I will never steam my face again.

Just days after I got back from my world tour, I found myself in the most excruciating pain I had ever felt in my entire life.

I had a slight cold…so I decided to steam my face to unclog my sinuses. I accidentally dropped the steamer, and boiling water fell all over my leg. Yikes. The result was second degree burns.

It was a pretty traumatising experience. I just remember screaming for a minute straight, unable to think or move away from the water- until someone heard me. The next few weeks were tough on me both physically and mentally. In the same time bracket, my grandpa got diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, and flew from India to start chemotherapy.

(Note: As of December 22, he is cancer free. ❤ )

I dealt with a lot of anxiety that month, which I had encountered earlier in the year.

Journal entry from April 9th, 2022

Since saturday, I’ve been feeling uneasiness at random times of the day coupled with chest pain, cold sweaty hands, and palpitations. This hasn’t ever happened before so it’s been very weird. I’ve worked on identifying triggers but it seems to be underlying and truly random. It’s happened everyday and is causing me a lot of internal frustration.

I write something similar the next month.

Journal entry from May 6th, 2022

I still come across sensations of situational anxiety from time to time. Frequency is not as often now, but the feeling is the identical. I have become hyperaware of the way this feels in my body. I can think incredibly clearly but still my heart is palpitating, my chest feels tight, I appear more hunched over, restless legs, sweaty palms, and I feel cold.

It frustrates me how my mental state so clearly reflects in my physical. I can’t elude myself, and I can’t hide from the way I’m feeling. I’m forced to confront it.

Connecting with Self

In 2022, I continued to build a deeper relationship with myself. I spent lots of time sitting alone, especially in nature. I began to enjoy my own company and understand myself at a much deeper level.

Here’s a photo of a place where I sat and meditated for some time. I found a chair from a nearby patio, and dragged it into the middle of the road. I recall feeling so much clarity on this day.

Thank you Jap for capturing this photo for me

Right now — I’m at the crossroads. Since September, my main focus has been school and university applications. In February, I’ll be done with that bucket and onto a new chapter of my life. I’m really looking forward to it.

I feel excited and grateful as I write this. Thank you to all the people that make my life more colourful. I love you very much, you know who you are :)

I hope 2023 is filled with introspection, travelling, hugs, growth, and adventure. Cheers to the beauty of being alive, and thank you again 2022 ❤

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