2015 Speakers: A Look Behind The Scenes

Raj Patel
Raj Patel conducts an interview for his film project “Generation Food,” a documentary that will be released in 2016. An author, activist and academic, Raj is breaking through “people’s fear of systemic change by showing how some of the world’s poorest people are saving the planet through food.”

In Food Fix, Raj Patel will introduce a novel “technology” to global farming that can help decrease chronic child malnutrition and ensure food sovereignty. Knowing where to start isn’t easy, he tells us, sharing that “Many people want to change the world, but the ways we’re allowed to do it are trivial. Voting for one party or another doesn’t help. Shopping sensibly or voting with our forks doesn’t do a whole lot. But the minute we stop thinking about ourselves as individual consumers – whose only power is to shop – and think of ourselves as agents and scientists for change, new things start to become possible.”

What sparked Raj’s commitment to ending poverty? He shares the compelling experience: “I was five years old visiting Bombay, and couldn’t understand why a little girl was begging at a traffic light in the monsoon rain. It struck me as unspeakably unfair. As soon as I got back to England, I rented out my toys at kindergarten, and sent the money for hunger relief. It was an early career change. And I’ve yet to find a good reason why she was outside our taxi, and we were inside it.”

Raj Patel at work
Little boys from Bwabwa, Cameroon, make sweet potato donuts
Bwabwa, Cameroon.
Bwabwa, Cameroon



Dr. Dilip Jeste
In his office at UCSD, geriatric neuroscientist Dr. Dilip Jeste specializes in wisdom and other positive attributes of the aging brain.

“I am #Breakingthrough stigma against aging by discovering how late life can be a period of wisdom and growth – a time to thrive, not just survive,” says Dilip Jeste.

Dilip’s goal is timely, especially considering increasing life expectancy rates worldwide. He urges us not to view the aging demographic as a financial burden on the healthcare system, but as a valuable resource. Rather than the pejorative term “Silver Tsunami,” he tells us that it is instead “a Golden Wave of wise, emotionally stable, experienced decision-makers with a generative world view and a great deal to offer the younger generations.”

Dilip has no plans to slow down. “In 2008, for the first time in my life, I ran for a public election as a Trustee-at-Large of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the largest psychiatric organization in the world, with 35,000 members. The election involved political-style (but fortunately, without negative ads!) campaigning, seeking votes from a large and diverse body of members scattered across the country, giving presentations on why I was the best of the three candidates who were running for the position.” It wasn’t comfortable, he says, calling himself a “heavy underdog” at the start of the campaign. “Many friends and colleagues thought that I was risking my personal reputation by venturing outside the comfort zone of the academic ivory tower. Yet, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the world beyond academics and also to see if I could adapt myself to public campaigning. I won the election, while enhancing my friendship with the other two candidates.” He didn’t stop there. “After serving as the Trustee-at-Large for 3 years, I ran for APA Presidency, which was an even more demanding campaign. I won and in 2012 I became the first Asian American President in the 168-year history of this organization. It turned out to be one of the most fulfilling years of my life.”



Breakout Labs
Breakout Labs, workplace of Hemai Parthasarathy, Scientific Director of the Thiel Foundation and Breakout Labs and a speaker in our Catalyzing Great Science session.

Through her work at the Thiel Foundation, Hemai Parthasarathy tells us that she is “breaking through barriers between the laboratory and the economy.” At TEDMED, she will reveal what goes on behind the scenes of cultivating a scientist-entrepreneur and providing them with the tools to thrive.

But what about what happens behind the scenes outside of work? Curious to know, we asked her to tell us about the last time she did something for the very first time. Here’s what she shared: “In February, I started training a puppy for the first time. My family had dogs when I was growing up, but I’ve never raised a puppy before and it’s been fascinating to coach a non-human animal mind. Although I did animal research as a neuroscientist, watching non-human animal cognition and its evolution on a daily basis has given me a new perspective on just how fundamentally different and how utterly similar a different species’ brain can be.”



Vanessa Ruiz
Drawing from her love of street art, Vanessa Ruiz wants to break through “the confines of medical education by making human anatomy publicly accessible through art, design, and pop culture.”

Vanessa Ruiz’s company, Street Anatomy, is working on an online collection of top contemporary artists who use human anatomy in their art. She wants to shift public ignorance of human anatomy, saying “Most people know more about the settings on their smartphones than where their organs are located. I am attempting to make anatomy more accessible by showing how it is visualized outside of the realm of education—to break through the lack of interest, aversion to the internal, and perceived complexity. It is a step in making anatomy more ubiquitous and interesting.”

Vanessa Ruiz's office
A look into Vanessa’s office.

“OBJECTIFY THIS," curated by Vanessa Ruiz

In 2012, Vanessa curated a gallery show titled “OBJECTIFY THIS” that uses art as a vehicle for education. “I became more aware of the underrepresentation of female anatomy in medical textbooks and education,” she says. “The male body has always been the educational standard, possibly to the detriment of learning female anatomy. I have found that in art, there is no preference. It all depends on their frame of reference and experiences. I want to continue the theme of OBJECTIFY THIS and bring it to other cities around the world to educate the public on this overlooked issue.”