26 2 / 2014
In our latest Khanversation, we catch up with KA Program Lead for Medical Partnerships, Dr. Rishi Desai. This pediatric infectious disease physician is also the man behind our partnership with the AAMC and leading the charge in working with experts and content creators to expand Khan Academy’s medical content both to help students prepare for the MCAT exam, and more broadly. He originally started as a content creator, and has made several hundred Khan Academy videos and interactive questions of his own, so he knows both sides of the content creation equation.
His credentials, which include clinical instructor at Stanford, former CDC EIS (epidemic intelligence service) officer, and medical school at UCSF, vouch for his intelligence. But I have the honor of sitting next to Rishi at KA, and can vouch for his delightful sense of humor (aka biting sarcasm or extreme corniness), and constant positive outlook on everything. Aw shucks, Rishi is a really fun guy (pun intended) and is a doctor to boot! What’s not to love? Just look at that friendly face!
So…first question: what’s up, doc? Gosh, just had to throw that in there. Ok, let’s start again - tell us about your background.
Well I was born in the UK, but I grew up in Southern California as the only Indian son, which means that I frequently got asked, “What kind of doctor will you be when you grow up?” Actually, my parents were pretty open minded about what career path I chose, but they were always really involved and were always teaching me things at home. I remember waking up one day and having a big argument with my dad about which organ was more important – the heart or the lungs. My money was on the heart, but he tried convincing me otherwise, and I got really upset about it. Those are the sorts of conversations I remember having with my parents, always about math and science.
How did you get involved with Khan Academy?
I started working at Khan Academy nearly 2 years ago, and it started with a phone call that I got while I was at a basketball game. On the other end of the line was the man himself – Salman Khan! I knew his voice right away because at the time, I was going through the Khan Academy finance videos that he made.
It’s not every day that someone gets a phone call from Sal…how did you get his attention?
I had sent him a number of videos on medical topics that I had made, and he thought that they were pretty good. We talked for a while (yes, he sounds the same as he does in the videos) and he suggested that I come out to work for Khan Academy to work on medicine since that’s my background. I was thrilled at the opportunity, and drove to Northern California a few months later.
Where did you drive from?
I was living in Hot-lanta, Georgia at the time, and for anyone that hasn’t been there – I highly recommend visiting! It’s truly a great city. I drove with my wife across the US, and saw some really cool sights. My favorite was White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo – another recommendation for anyone that likes to travel.
What were you doing in Georgia?
I was working at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for two years as an epidemic intelligence service officer. It’s a fancy title for folks that go on public health outbreak investigations and do public health research.
Like the movie Contagion?
Yeah! Kate Winslet was playing the part of an EIS officer. I really liked that movie actually and they actually did some of the filming on the CDC campus. They definitely added artistic license, but the concept was intriguing.
So coming back to your work at KA, what do you do here?
Well, during my first year I was busy making medicine videos. I tried to explain concepts that I learned in medical school in a straightforward way. To be honest, it’s sort of the same thing as what I do when I’m explaining things to my patients. More recently I’ve been working with a whole team of really talented folks to make videos and questions for students entering medical school and getting ready for the MCAT.
Is it fun making medical videos?
Absolutely! I love teaching and I love medicine, so this is the perfect job for me. I think about each video, how to explain it in the most straightforward and intuitive way. It’s really, really fun! =)
Do you have a favorite disease? Is that a weird question?
Of course I have a favorite disease, that’s a great question! I’m an infectious disease doctor, so I have a favorite infection – toxoplasmosis. Here’s why: Toxoplasmosis infects animals as well as humans. Interestingly, cats shed Toxoplasmosis in their stool, and when a mouse gets infected it becomes fearless in the presence of cats and doesn’t run away! Isn’t that interesting? An infection changes the behavior of the mouse, the cat eats the mouse (which doesn’t run), the cat sheds Toxoplasmosis in its stool, and a new mouse gets infected by nibbling on stool. A perfect little cycle.
Wow, that’s so crazy!
I know. It makes me wonder whether infections affect us in ways that we don’t always realize. There are so many interesting illnesses out there, and they each teach us something about what it means to be human.
Random question – What is the quirkiest thing about you?
I really fear raccoons; they really bother me for some reason.
Okay, final question give me two truths and a lie…
Hmm, okay. Here they are:
1. My wife was struck by a bolt of lightning
2. My uncle had a winning ticket for a large state-wide lottery
3. My cousin has won a national spelling bee championship
…which one is the lie?
I don’t have a cousin that has won a national spelling bee championship, but I have some really smart cousins, so perhaps one day!
25 2 / 2014
Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher covers how “the design team at Khan Academy is helping lay the foundation for a revolution in education.”
Every morning Khan Academy’s lead designer, Jason Rosoff, spends the first 15 minutes of his day reading over the constant flow of new feedback from Khan Academy’s 10 million monthly users, who hail from more than 200 countries. In the company’s airy offices on the second floor of a building that bumps up against Google’s sprawling Mountain View campus, Rosoff pours over these little details from sometimes frustrated users that collectively can overwhelm. Do algebra students like the new feature they added? Are students still having problems getting credit for their calculus exercises?
Rosoff — who was one of the first employees hired at the non-profit over three years ago — calls the daily morning ritual his way of keeping a finger on the “pulse of what students are talking about.” It’s also his inspiration for the design decisions that have helped turn the company into the world’s largest interactive online classroom, with a mission to deliver a world-class free education to anyone, anywhere, at anytime across the planet…
Read the full article here.
14 2 / 2014
There’s lots of love floatin’ around the office today…from sweets to shoes!
Handwritten notes, mochi, and macarons. What a happy valentine’s day at @khanacademy!— Marcia Lee (@marcia_lee) February 14, 2014
Lovin’ the sweets!
Lovin’ those shoes!
12 2 / 2014
OH: “I’m so excited for BigQuery right now.” …Almost all of @KhanAcademy employees are about to learn BigQuery from our data science team!— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox) February 11, 2014
"Biggie Biggie BigQuery, can’t you see, sometimes your queries just hypnotize me." ..I didn’t make that up, these slides are 90s-rap-themed.— Pamela Fox (@pamelafox) February 11, 2014
07 2 / 2014
07 2 / 2014