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!).
Click to enlarge
Click to Enlarge
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.
Click to enlarge
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
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.
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
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
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...