Who am I?

I was made in Athens, Greece, back in the 70s. I was the third and last child of John and Anna Kamvysselis, just a year younger than my sister Maria, and two years younger than my brother Panayiotis.

My family lived in the center of Athens, with a beautiful view to the Acropolis and the Parthenon from our balcony. The sun was always shining in Greece, and every weekend we were taking off to our summer house near Sounion (the picture to the right is of the temple of Poseidon in Sounion).

It is from that summer house by the sea that i have the best memories of my childhood. I spent 12 beautiful years there. I can still remember every pebble in the shore and every rock on the seabed of this beach.

I started out a pure Greek (scientifically proved). Greek parents, Greek habits, Greek jokes, Greek friends, and a marvelous addiction to Greek food. (PS: all this is still true!).

Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
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Route des Platanes in Aix-en-Provence
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The road 2 France

Who would have ever guessed that all of a sudden, my family would move to France. You can call it a leap of faith, a jump to the unknown. France was certainly the unknown, not only to the twelve year old that i was, but also to my parents who didn't speak a word of French.

My father had always regretted not being able to speak a foreign language, so he decided that his children would grow up bilingual. Since he wasn't able to teach us, or speak with us, he decided to immerse us in an environment where we could only speak French to even survive. That's certainly one way to teach your children how to float. And so we had to learn to swim...

Since we had never visited France, and we didn't have any friends or family to make us decide on a city, we asked our French professor where to move to. She told us over the phone the name of a city that she had driven through and that she really liked. My father wrote it down in Greek characters, and four months later, sure enough, we were living in Aix en Provence

And so the Greek in me was now getting a twin brother, who spoke French, went to a French high-school, had French friends, and even a French accent. At home in the meantime, young Manolis was growing up with his Greek parents, Greek habits, Greek food... (you get the idea)

The 3 sibblings, crossing the Atlantic

The next step down the road was Manhattan, the antithesis of Aix-en Provence. As you can imagine, it was hard for the sixteen year old that i was to leave all my friendships behind, just as life was getting peaceful again. However, I sure as mit crossed the ocean, and went to the most beautiful country of the known world: New York.

The people there were so polite, the streets so clean, the sirens so delicate. I hated New York for six months, but soon I learned to accept the down-sides, enjoy the upsides, and got used to the rhythm of the city that never sleeps.

I continued my French education at the LFNY (Lycée Français de New York), and got my Baccalauréat two years later. It was my first exposure to a well-travelled crowd. Professors and students alike had lived all over the world. My travelling wasn't out of the ordinary, except maybe in that I wasn't the child of a French diplomat.

Statue of Liberty in New York

MIT dome from Boston
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4am - Across the Charles

So in one year, my brother, my sister and I all got admitted to MIT. My family moved once again, this time to Boston, the Athens of America. After moving here, we realized that our new house was only two blocks away from where our grandfather (my dad's dad) used to have a photography shop back in the early 1900's. History repeats :o)

Here i am now a senior at MIT. Over the years, i've been known to run around campus organizing huge events, such as International Fair (usually 2000 people). I love sailing on the Charles, ice skating and skiing in the winter, rollerblading and biking in the summer, and then all sorts of dancing: latin, swing, ballroom, Greek. As for sports, i'm into volleyball, soccer, running, swimming, hiking. Photography is another of my hobbies, mostly color, now and then some color slides and a few black and white for the MIT yearbook.

I learned lots of things over here, i did quite a few, i got involved with lots of things, and in my spare time, i even took some classes. MIT was quite an experience i wouldn't trade for anythign in the world. I know now that MIT will probably be the place i'll miss the most.

5 mins to California

Then in the Spring on 96, another random event happened, that helped shape my life. As i was walking out of an MIT computer cluster, i see my friend Tammy with a stack of papers, so i ask her what they're for. It was the application for the VI-A Industry program, where students get to work in top companies for three consecutive summers, while doing their masters. I had 5 minutes to apply, so i did.

I ended up working at Xerox PARC, the research center that invented the modern personnal computer, ethernet, laser printing, and user interfaces. I worked on computational geometry, modular robotics, human motion understanding. The influence these three years had on my academic and professional life is priceless. They taught me how to really take on large scale projects, and that the real world is not that scary after all. Back at MIT, i was always launching myself onto something new and something bigger every time.

Living in San Francisco, and embracing the California way was another thing that made these three years unforgettable. I loved the golden city, and the people i met there. The adventures we lived together built us all with support on each other. I made my strongest friendships, fell in love, grew older and wiser, but neither rich nor famous. Thank God, i should say, i escaped the bay area just on time.

San Francisco and the Golden Gate by night
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MIT sunset from Boston
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6 years to go - Back in MIT

In a college graduation address i heard once "Live in New York once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in California once, but leave before it makes you soft." (Tal Bachmans' song "Sunscreen"). I guess noone told me "Go to MIT once, but leave before it makes you old". Well that's me on that parkbench, contemplating MIT, where i've spent the most wonderful years of my life.

No reason to get melancholic though, it's not like i actually went too far away. With the early days of genomics spurring the human genome sequencing race and promising to fundamentally change our understanding of biology, health, and medicine, co-advised by Bonnie Berger, i joined Eric Lander's group at MIT, which eventually grew into the MIT Genome Center and later the Broad Institute, where i got hooked into comparative genomics of yeast, fascianted with biology, evolution, and the study of complete genomes.

In the end, my PhD wasn't really 6 years, as things went really well. I found a great project, great environment, great advisor, and got permission to defend after three years, earning the Sprowls Award for best PhD thesis in Computer Science, on the comparative genomics of four yeast species. We showed that you can discover genes and regulatory motifs de novo, just by studying their conservation patterns across many related species. I did stay for a bridge postdoc for a year, showing that yeast underwent a whole-genome duplication and studying its post-duplication adaptation and emergence of new functions. And then i was off to the real world...

MIT Computational Biology Group
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7 years to tenure (and that's if all goes well)

... or so i thought. After interviewing to some of the top places around the country, and getting some offers that i thought i could not refuse, I realized there was really no better environment to really dive the depths of the human genome than MIT itself, returning to my home department of Computer Science and building a small group of computer scientists who shared my passion for understanding biology.

I must admit that as a kid, i never thought i would be a professor, and to be even more honest, never looked too much into my future career paths (my attitude has always been that every time i had a good idea for the future, i should just try to do it this week and then move on and think of something new). I somehow found myself in one of the most coveted positions on the planet, working with oustanding students and colleagues, and having my days (and frequently nights too) filled with scientific pursuits. And i'm realizing how every part and aspect of my passions and personality are constantly being called upon for each different aspects of the work. After years of agonizing how i was going to convince people i'm mature, responsible, wise, old, i'm now realizing i can just be me, accept my shortcomings, embrace my personality, and focus on the science.

All this to say, to young students and faculty out there, each of us is totally different, and being a professor is not a cookie-cutter job. "Be yourself, no matter what they say", as the song goes. And since it's come to Sting, time for the epilogue...



Run my name through your computer
Mention me in passing to your college tutor
Check my records, check my facts
Check if I paid my income tax
Pore over everything in my CV
But you'll still know nothing 'bout me - Sting, Epilogue from the album Ten Summoner's Tales
All pictures of or by Manolis Kellis.