I was selected for the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), which was held in Orlando, Florida, from April 30 to May 4. The title of my project was "Assessment of Antibiotic Resistance in Farm Animal Isolates of Escherichia coli O157: Chromosome vs. Plasmid and Potential for Transfer." I wrote this blog about the week's events, so please enjoy the daily accounts of the competition!
Wednesday, April 30
After an 11-hour drive, my family and I arrived at the Wyndham Hotel in Orlando, Florida at around 3 p.m. We then followed everyone to the registration table and familiarized ourselves with the hotel. The welcome dinner was served at 6:30 p.m., with Captain Stephen A. Burris presiding. Captain Burris is a Commanding Officer for the U.S. Navy Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division. He has logged over 3,300 pilot hours in different aircraft, and earned numerous awards, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal and the Joint Service Achievement Medal! Our keynote speaker was Vice Admiral Alfred G. Harms, Jr., who is the Vice President for Strategic Planning for the University of Florida. He has also won numerous service awards, including the Legion of Merit. Admiral Harms welcomed us all to the symposium and described some of the activities that were going to take place, which started to make the experience feel very real and exciting! After dinner, all of us student presenters attended a meeting, where we learned about the symposium's rules and expectations.
I was very fortunate to have the same roommate as I had last year—Brad Williams, who is from Pennsylvania. We get along very well, and we still keep in touch with one another. I also became great friends with Caroline Lang and Kenny Bruckno, both also from Pennsylvania. I met Caroline last year when she was a presenter, but this was Kenny's first year attending the symposium. The best thing about competing at the symposium is meeting all the different students from across the United States who also enjoy science. You make so many new friends and get to see a lot of different research projects.
Thursday, May 1
Today I woke up around 7 a.m. in order to get an early start on breakfast. I had a difficult time finding the ballroom where they served breakfast because the hotel is so huge! Dr. Anthony Junior, who is a Program Manager for the Office of Naval Research, presided over the morning session. Our keynote speaker was Dr. James F. Reilly, an astronaut with NASA who has logged over 853 hours in space, including five spacewalks totaling 31 hours. Dr. Reilly gave an inspiring speech about motivation. He talked about how motivation played a big part in his success as an astronaut. His speech made me realize that anything is possible if I apply myself.
After breakfast, we conducted our breakout sessions and career roundtables, which we had signed up for when we arrived at the symposium. Career roundtables are a really cool part of JSHS. In the career roundtables, we were able to discuss different topics related to various careers in the scientific field. We met several scientists and military personnel. It was a great way to become familiar with careers that are out there and discuss some of them with people actually in those fields.
For lunch, all of us students received a box lunch and headed to the buses for our tours. When you register as a participant, you must also select tours that you are interested in seeing. I had signed up for the army simulation and training tour—it was VERY interesting. I learned so much about how the army prepares our soldiers for combat. For instance, we saw a firing range where soldiers work with human body simulators to receive training for a variety of combat situations.
At dinner that night, our keynote speaker was Dr. Cali M. Fidopiastis. Dr. Fidopiastis is an Associate Director for the Applied Cognition Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida (UCF). She received the prestigious LINK Foundation Fellowship, which enabled her to complete her PhD dissertation in modeling and simulation at UCF.
After dinner, I gathered with some of my friends from Pennsylvania and we went swimming. The hotel had three very large swimming pools, which was great. Luckily, the weather was good the whole time and at night we could enjoy a dip in the pool.
Friday, May 2
Friday was presentation day! I was actually pretty collected, despite the fact that my presentation was supposed to begin in about 40 minutes. After breakfast, I sprinted back to the room so I could look over my PowerPoint one last time before presenting. The symposium had five different sessions: first was Environmental Science, then two sessions of Life Science, and finally, two sessions of Medicine and Behavioral Sciences. They had so many entries in Life Sciences and Medicine/Behavioral Sciences that they had to split both into two sessions each.
My project fell into the category of Life Sciences, which includes my specialty, microbiology. Because my project focused on testing the genetic origin of antibiotic resistance in farm animal isolates, I decided that Life Sciences was the correct category for my research. When deciding which category to enter your project into, always remember it's best to go with the category that is most relevant to your research. This will enable the correct judges to evaluate your project.
Earlier in the year, I competed in three other competitions, which greatly assisted me in preparing for the symposium. So my presentation and question-and-answer session went really well, but I did not make it to the runoffs/finals. These runoffs were only conducted because of the large number of projects in the Life Sciences and Medicine/Behavioral Sciences categories. It's like advancing to round two of the competition. I was disappointed, but there's always next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. I'm only a freshman this year, after all. I'm certain the judges have a hard time deciding some of the scores because all the presentations seemed so great.
Throughout my time here, I've been able to observe some of the presentations, and I learned a great deal about public speaking and effectively getting the attention of the judges. A great deal of skill goes into the method of answering questions and presenting your research.
I also got to see a non-competitive poster session for student delegates. All of us students were invited to examine the posters and could vote for our three favorites. This was something new that the symposium added to the agenda this year.
That afternoon, we departed for Sea World in Orlando. I was able to ride one of the best roller coasters, "The Kraken." Everyone had a great time and then they served us dinner at Sea World, which was really exciting! The speaker that night was Dr. Patricia Gruber, who is the Director of Research for the Office of Naval Research. She spoke about research projects involving underwater acoustics. We then returned to the hotel and some of us had a quick swim.
Saturday, May 3
Today was the last day of the symposium. The remaining runoff sessions were held during the day, and the awards banquet was this evening. I attended many of the runoff sessions and listened to the presentations. Most of the presenters were seniors in high school and had been researching their projects for several years. I could definitely tell a difference between research for a first-year's project compared to research for a third-year's project. I learned a lot that will help me prepare for future years here.
Later, I went to a banquet where Captain Burris was again presiding. The Junior ROTC from Lake Howell High School made the presentation of colors. It was definitely an exciting night with the Director for Army Research and Laboratory Management, Dr. John Parmentola, speaking. Additionally, Rear Admiral William Landay, Chief of Naval Research, spoke about the need for great scientists. It was finally time to announce the awards. The top awards were presented to: Aaditya Shidham from Upper Arlington, Ohio; Eric Delgado from Bayonne, New Jersey; Shivani Sud from Durham, North Carolina; Phillip Sandborn from Columbia, Maryland; Stephen Trettel from New Prague, Minnesota; and David Rosengarten from Great Neck, New York.
There was a midnight dance for students, which was a lot of fun. The only bad thing about science competitions is that they are not long enough! You meet so many new friends and have so much in common with them. I like attending my school, but it seems like I'm more in tune with my friends from competitions like this symposium. I guess we all have a common goal, which bonds us throughout life. It's a shame you cannot go to school with all the friends you meet, but you can always see them again at the next competition. I really enjoyed the competition and watching all the presentations. I know this experience will really help me with my future projects. Competing at regionals is very competitive, but competing at nationals puts a whole different perspective on the level of competition.
I just wanted to add this one last entry for Sunday, May 11. I arrived at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Atlanta, Georgia to compete, and noticed that a lot of the students from the symposium were also here for Intel ISEF! My roommate from the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Brad, was also competing. It was great to see everyone again—this time for six days instead of four. When you compete in these high-level contests, I bet you will notice that you see a lot of the same students.
I greatly appreciate all the effort by the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, and I think it is a very worthwhile program for students. Anyone who has the chance to compete in his or her regional competition should take advantage of such a great opportunity—it could mean advancing to national competitions. JSHS was a wonderful learning experience and it gave me the chance to meet many few faces. I would have to say that the entire experience was just AWESOME!!!
My Advice For Aspiring Competitors
Some suggestions that I can offer to students who are contemplating entering the symposium are:
- Work hard! You are competing against the best of the best. Two words come to mind, which totally describe this competition: Top Gun.
- Practice makes perfect. Try to practice your presentation as many times as you can in front of family and friends. I also practiced my presentation in front of several of my high school teachers.
- Be prepared! A panel of judges will have 6 minutes to ask questions and test your knowledge of your research. Remember, debating an issue with your research is a good thing. Confidence in your answers is always a plus.
- Have fun! Even though you might feel some stress and your stomach might be in knots, until your presentation is over, RELAX! Chances are, your presentation will go better when you are relaxed than when you are all tense.
I appreciate the opportunity from Science Buddies to share my National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium competition experiences with you. I would also like to thank my mentors, Dr. Gladys Alexandre and Dr. Ann Draughon, with the University of Tennessee, and my teacher, Hardy DeYoung. A special thanks to the Director of the Tennessee Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Dr. Dan Roberts, and the Director of Academic Outreach in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Lynn Champion.