Honest Review of The Knowledge Society (TKS)
I went through two years of TKS, a human accelerator program for students who want to explore how STEM can solve global challenges.
Background: I did the program in my sophomore and junior years. I’ve only ever been to public school. I’m a first-generation Canadian. I’m a senior now with an offer to study Human Sciences at Oxford (in the same building where Robert Hooke studied !!!!!!).
I also got the Morehead-Cain (full ride) scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill, valued at $300,000+ CAD, which is where I am heading next year. That means my return on investment ($10,000 CAD) is 2,900%. I can confidently say I got the scholarship BECAUSE of my experience at TKS.
This post will summarize what I got from the program, who I recommend the program to, and my critiques.
Quick oversight to the most valuable parts of the program:
- Two consulting challenges with companies: you work in teams to build a recommendation deck to solve one of their problems.
- Access to directors pretty much 24/7. Most are former founders, graduates of top universities, who have worked on difficult challenges (anything from improving semiconductors to enhancing B2B security).
- Exclusive guest speakers pretty much every week (noble prize physicists exclusive).
- An environment where you’re encouraged to foster your ambition. With the community and directors, you can realize what you’re capable of (e.g. I learned how capable I was at learning biochemistry concepts quickly and explaining them in simple ways).
There are three main assets I gained from the program:
- People Skills [for professional environments]
- Experiments to find my passion areas
- Great friendships
I want to be clear that I LOVED my experience at TKS. So this review is coming from someone whose journey through the program was immensely positive — and I am not a lone case. 99% of the dozens of people I know through the program would say it was the single most life-changing experience.
‘Networking’ and ‘People Skills’ in Professional Environments
I learned about email (cold, warm, intros, follow-ups), communication (writing, oral, giving feedback, listening), design, managing teams, managing my time, attending conferences and running meetings.
I’ll highlight two examples:
My dad is a mechanical engineer at a nuclear fission company. I sometimes sit in on his calls where he interviews potential engineers to join his team. One of the questions he always asks is for their experience in documentation and communication.
“What have you worked on in the past that shows your communication skills?”
People will often site a project report from an internship. Or a project from University. TKS will give you hundreds of opportunities to learn and improve your communication skills.
Some ways include: writing articles for your portfolio (the average student writes ~10 in a year), working on a consulting challenge with a company (e.g. Microsoft, Kidogo (a non-profit), WHOOP) and private opportunities to present your projects in front of relevant judges.
TKS introduced me to project management and collaboration. Then, the program gave me TONS of opportunities to practice working with committed people. Every weekend we had group challenges related to a technology area; these were great fun and opportunities to continue practicing working with other people efficiently.
The ‘directors’ in the program act as life coaches for any projects you take on. Their guidance immensely helped me during our TKS projects with Sidewalk Labs and Kidogo (I worked in a team to build a recommendation deck for the companies). In both cases, my team built one of the top recommendations, and we presented it to the executive teams. All students have the opportunity to work on two consulting challenges per year.
Identifying My Passions
TKS is the Costco for learning what you want to do in your life. It’s a series of samples — not all of them will suit you — but in the grand scheme, you will gain a significant amount of self-awareness.
The program encourages students to work on ‘focuses,’ somewhat like a sprint into a STEM topic (AI, Stem Cells, etc.). While the focuses are self-directed, I found the framework, resources and guidance essential to my growth. Also, it’s all the more fun when you have other students going through their own ‘focuses.’
The weekend sessions are tasters. You explore technologies, sciences, philosophies, career trajectories and so forth. Yes, I learned about STEM, but also psychology, metaphysics and the world (we did a ‘how to make money session’ and an ‘accounting/taxes’ session for example).
I learned about what I like and what I don’t from the program.
For example: in my first year, I worked on an idea sprint project with my friends on artificial wombs to make pregnancy possible outside the body. It didn’t materialize. But a year later, my knowledge for improving pregnancy returned. I wrote 6 women’s health articles, got paid to suggest women’s health standards at the British Standards Institute (BSI) and started an initiative to end maternal mortality. 2 years since that original idea sprint at TKS, I am now working on a maternal health initiative with $20,000 USD raised to launch a pilot in Nigeria. One of the directors at TKS was my team’s original advisor.
Of my ten closest friends, six are from TKS. Two are from my childhood. Two are from High School.
The program unlocked opportunities that were catalysts for great relationships. One week, we earned tickets to a local technology conference; another, we had a group-bonding day with ‘camp-esque’ activities. Some of my favourite life experiences were the conversations I had after our weekend sessions.
So, who is TKS for?
The program is for students who want to explore their life opportunities. You need to be open-minded to mindset changes, taking on challenges and learning new skills quickly. TKS will open doors to experiences — opportunities to work with companies on consulting challenges, internships and learning about new topics.
Look — my 14-year-old self made a 24 page 5 year plan the summer before TKS. My 17-year-old self has a very different 57 page 5 year plan because of the self-awareness I gained from the experiences I received in the program. It’s like adding data to your life spreadsheet: you’ll have better analysis with more data.
Where does TKS fall short?
Like anything, there’s always something that can be better.
I talked about my three favourite parts, so I’ll talk about my three critiques:
- Imbalance of high-level exploration and depth
- Pressures to fit a specific mould
- Pressures of Vanity Metrics
High Level vs Depth
This program is suited for curious students that love learning. It will fuel your hunger. However, TKS does not teach technical skills (e.g. coding, circuitry, lab work) or foundational knowledge (e.g. calculus, physics, grammar), which some students (including me) expected going into the program. There is access to ‘learning modules’ and resources, which are great starting points. The learning is self-directed to optimize for breadth.
TKS becomes a place where you will materialize your life ambitions, but you will need to form your technical skills elsewhere. What you learn at TKS will become your blueprint, not your entire toolbox.
When I was 15, all I was used to was grades. Entering a program without grades or formal evaluation is new. At the start, I chased the same ‘dopamine hit’ grades gave me — completion and validation.
Many students have a similar take; seeking approval through low-quality work.
I’m an alumnus from one of the original cohorts of TKS. My portfolio is sometimes used as an examplar. As TKS has expanded to 800+ students in the past months, I’ve noticed some issues of plagiarism from my work (i.e. students copying parts or entire projects I’ve done. Or not crediting any adaptions).
The root of this behaviour is not the fault of TKS, but the lack of policing is. I’m not suggesting a formal rubric or evaluation system. I’m outlining the challenge students face transitioning from one environment to another. Ultimately, this can lead to a culture where vanity metrics (e.g. # of things published) are valued over integrity.
In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. I loved TKS, it was one of my best life decisions. I owe a debt of gratitude to everything TKS made possible for my life.
You can send me an email if you have any other specific questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scroll for some pictures of my TKS experience:
I hope this post gave some useful perspectives!