From Small Communities To Big Innovations

Patrick Boyle started his career in synthetic biology just as the field was formally taking shape.  Now Head of Codebase at Ginkgo Bioworks, Patrick was one of the first generations of students to complete his entire graduate program in synbio — and he had the unique opportunity to study under the industry’s pioneers. Back then, the field was still a small community.

He’s no stranger to small communities – in fact, he learned to thrive in them. Raised in Alaska and the son of two educators who moved to the state to enhance academic opportunities for indigenous communities, Patrick experienced a uniquely austere lifestyle growing up, living in tiny villages dependent on monthly food shipments and local food like salmon and cranberries. It was like living on Mars, Patrick says.

“I originally wanted to study aerospace engineering, and be an astronaut,” he remembers. That plan quickly changed when he arrived at MIT as an undergraduate and saw what was possible with molecular biology. Those possibilities, he recalls, “blew his mind.”

When he arrived in Boston, Patrick faced an understandable degree of culture shock – from a tiny village to a college town, and from Yupik community culture to a metropolitan lifestyle, away from his family and Filipino roots and into a culturally diverse network of classmates and faculty.

“My history involved acquiring a different level of privilege every few years. I went to a public high school in Alaska and somehow made it to MIT for college, and Harvard for grad school,” Patrick says. “The second I arrived [at MIT], the opportunities I had access to changed. All of the opportunities I have today are so different from the ones I was born into – and it makes me really think about all of the people who didn’t stumble into MIT and Harvard, and earn the privilege that I did.”

Dr. Patrick Boyle

Patrick says he tries to always maintain awareness of that privilege and of his roots, because he believes privilege becomes invisible once a person benefits from the experience of it. He also carries that mindfulness into how he manages and leads within the organization, and particularly, into Ginkgo’s hiring and recruiting practices.

“When you’re bringing in brilliant people that are really amazing in different areas, from all over the world, it’s really humbling,” Patrick explains. “[Ginkgo Founder] Tom Knight taught me that if you always feel like you’re hiring people that are smarter than yourself you’ll never regret it, and that’s definitely what we strive to do here.”

Patrick credits Knight, who was formerly a MIT professor, with fostering a culture of collaboration with very little hierarchy. According to Patrick, Knight is always willing to be in the lab and helping others, where he encourages dialogue and learning.

Ultimately, Patrick believes that Ginkgo is a place where he’s been able to not only grow, but also put down strong community roots. And he’s committed to helping others do the same.

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