kg320
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 5:53 pm
Occupation: Student

Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby kg320 » Thu Jan 17, 2008 5:58 pm

Hello everybody. I’m new here.

Anyway, many of you may be familiar with the Intel Science Talent Search. The semifinalists in this competition were announced yesterday, and it was very disconcerting for me when I found out that I had lost. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect about this failure is that it is simply the latest development in many years of substandard performance in science competitions.

I started participating in my regional science fair (synopsys silicon valley) when I was in sixth grade. My interest in science competitions started to grow when in seventh grade, I received the opportunity to attend the california state science fair. However, since then I have not ONCE returned to that level of competition, let alone ISEF or anything of that caliber. Sure I may have racked up category awards and special awards at the regional level, but this is not the standard I want to hold myself to, especially when so many people can achieve far better results.

Through my junior year in hs last year, I had been doing experiments in the microbiology area, and due to change in interest I decided to switch to math/computer science this year. Due to my many disappointments, I knew that I would have to work hard over the summer if I was serious about submitting to STS and possibly the siemens competition. I ended up not entering siemens so that I could use the extra month or so to fine-tune my paper for STS. Regardless, my work did not really pay off.

By far though, the most frustrating aspect about this competition was not the fact that I lost (It’s not like I felt entitled to win), but rather, the fact that I have no idea what was wrong about my research (and what I have been doing wrong for the past 5 years). I know that STS also considers grades, test scores, essays etc. but my test scores and grades are fine and I thought I did a good job of answering the questions on the application. I am well aware of the fact that there are no gray areas in such a competition. You either win or you lose, but sometimes it is very desirable to know what went wrong. It could have been because I didn’t do my research at a university with a mentor, but the bottom line is I really don’t know.

Because of this, I’m not even sure if I should enter my project in my regional science fair this year due to the fear that there may be something seriously wrong with it and my worries that I will once again fall short of my goals.

The reason why I get so disappointed about things like this is because science fairs are what I do. I don’t write, I don’t dance, I don’t play baseball, but I do science fairs. I dont do science fairs to put them on my resume, I do them because I enjoy it, but it is a little depressing to see the same people succeed every year, not knowing how they do it (or what I do wrong, for that matter).

Anyway, sorry for the rant, just felt I had to get it out. On a more positive note, congratulations to all the semifinalists and good luck on making finalist!!

-Karthik

Louise
Former Expert
Posts: 921
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2006 2:17 pm

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby Louise » Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:34 pm

kg320 wrote:Hello everybody. I’m new here.
Anyway, many of you may be familiar with the Intel Science Talent Search. The semifinalists in this competition were announced yesterday, and it was very disconcerting for me when I found out that I had lost. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect about this failure is that it is
simply the latest development in many years of substandard performance in science competitions.


I think you need to adjust your expectations. I understand that you are dissapointed, and that requiring external validation is often human nature, BUT this is the worst way to look at things. You've had incredible success and opportunities at many levels and you call your performance "substandard"?

[/quote]
By far though, the most frustrating aspect about this competition was not the fact that I lost (It’s not like I felt entitled to win), but rather, the fact that I have no idea what was wrong about my research (and what I have been doing wrong for the past 5 years). Because of this, I’m not even sure if I should enter my project in my regional science fair this year due to the fear that there may be something seriously wrong with it and my worries that I will once again fall short of my goals.

Maybe nothing was wrong with your research. People perform exceptional research everyday, but only the tiniest fraction get acknowledged with awards, whether it is winning Intel or winning the Nobel Prize. I haven't won a Nobel Prize, and frankly I doubt I ever will, but I NEVER DOUBT MY RESEARCH. I know I do good work. Sometimes, I even do great work. Regardless of whether it is good or great, my research helps advance understanding in my field, even if it is just a tiny bit. If you honestly believe you cannot tell the difference between good research and bad research, then I think you've found your problem. I'm sure most of what your saying is because you are upset and not because you believe it, but what you've said seems to me to be the antithesis of the scientific method.

As for you goals, what are they? Is it really to win Intel? That seems so narrow in scope. Is there a problem you really want to solve? Can you see spending the next 10 years studying it, or is it really just coming up with a cool project to win Intel? Then what?

I won first place ONCE at my high school. I now have a PhD and get to play with the coolest 'toys' imaginable. I pretty much have unlimitted resources to answer a research question that I've been working on for 7 years and that I can see spending the next decade on. And I get paid to do this! I cannot imagine anything better. If I had bailed on science because of a science fair, I cannot imagine what I would be doing now, but I doubt it would be this much fun. Do I feel disappointed when one of my papers is not as widely read as my co-workers' paper? Sure. But, I don't ever doubt my work. Do I sometimes whine to my friends about how I should quit and become a barista (we drink a lot of coffee in lab, so making coffee seems like a good choice!)? Sure. But then I get a cool result or I read an exciting paper, and everything is okay. Plus, I have a laser, so how could I possibly stay depressed??? :D

The reason why I get so disappointed about things like this is because science fairs are what I do. I don’t write, I don’t dance, I don’t play baseball, but I do science fairs.


This describes everyone competing against you too. Not to generalize or stereotype too much, but- You aren't competing against the football player for a slot at Intel, your competing against the fellow science nerds! Maybe you aren't as dedicated or as smart as they are. Maybe you are. Maybe your topic isn't "trendy" or the judge had a bad day or somebody did similar reasearch last year. Maybe the judge misread the scoring instructions. Maybe the research was so advanced the judge did not understand it. You have no idea why you didn't win, and your only hypothesis is that your research must be so fundamentally flawed that you should never enter a science fair again?


I dont do science fairs to put them on my resume, I do them because I enjoy it, but it is a little depressing to see the same people succeed every year, not knowing how they do it (or what I do wrong, for that matter).


Have you talked to other people at the science fair? Maybe you can learn something from your peers, and maybe they can learn something from you. Can you see why the winning projects win? Can you ask for feedback on your project? Peer review is a great thing! And, as I said, since you have NO idea why you aren't advancing as far as you would like, it could be something stupid or trivial, and entirely fixable. Even if it is a substiantial criticism, it is still probably fixable. And maybe, as I suggested, there is nothing at all wrong with you or your work, and your peers have no idea why you don't advance. Maybe the guy who always succeeds is just as puzzled that he advances and you don't.

Anyway, I'm sorry you didn't make the semifinals. My response may sound a little tough at times... I'm 99.999% sure you don't actually believe the things I'm objecting too (otherwise, you wouldn't be a good scientist, and from what you've said about your incredible levels of success, I'm sure you are), but on the small chance that you do believe what you are saying- think very carefully about what I've said.

That said, good luck at the regional science fair, which you certainly should enter!

Louise

ChrisG
Former Expert
Posts: 1019
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 11:43 am
Occupation: Research Hydrologist

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby ChrisG » Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:51 am

Hi Karthik,
Welcome to the Ask an Expert forum. It sounds like you have worked with a lot of commitment and enthusiasm. Your disappointment is very understandable, and this sort of problem is common at all levels of science. This is a very competitive and results-oriented field (like many other fields). I and probably every other expert on this forum can tell you many stories of similar disappointments. For the sake of your morale, it's important to stay focused as much as possible on the constructive, long term efforts. I think you did the right thing here to express your doubts and regrets, and then turn your focus to the long term goals.

To get feedback on your experiment &/or paper, you should tap all the resources available. In a competition, the best source of feedback is almost always the people who are responsible for judging the projects/applications. It is worth some effort to try to contact those people before &/or after the competition, though I realize it is not always possible. The next best sources of feedback are people with similar backgrounds as the judges. The experts here have an incredible depth of experience in science, engineering, and science fairs, and we are always happy to offer constructive advice about projects.

Regards,
Chris

Christinariehl
Former Expert
Posts: 4
Joined: Tue Nov 20, 2007 3:02 pm

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby Christinariehl » Thu Jan 24, 2008 8:35 am

Hi Karthik,

I agree with what the other responders have said, and I just want to remind you that lots of fantastic scientists never won a science fair or other science competition. In a science fair, there can be only one or a few "winners," even if many of the entries are spectacular. In real science, though, there is no limit on the number of people that can do wonderful research and there is no one "best" project. I didn't even go to school until college (my parents taught me at home), and now I'm getting my Ph.D at a great research university in a field that I love! I would advise you to think more about what your work will mean in the long run, and what your long-term goals are if you're considering this as a career. Above all, don't let the fact that you lost discourage you from doing science!

Christie
Christie Riehl

hutchiekid6
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Jan 26, 2008 11:06 am
Occupation: student

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby hutchiekid6 » Wed Jan 30, 2008 5:23 pm

You just have to take what the judges say, and improver on your project by studying it all year round. I did that, and I am favored to go to the State science fair and the DCSYC.

PhilipPierce
Former Expert
Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2005 6:08 pm

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby PhilipPierce » Sat Feb 02, 2008 5:37 pm

Hi Karthik,

I've been going to science fairs since my Freshman year, and I've had my ups and downs too. The first project that I did was really simple and easy, but somehow I made it to state and the judges really liked it. However, the next year I spent a lot more time and energy (from May to February) and I actually ended up receiving much less rewards and recognition.

I couldn't understand why I was rewarded more for doing less work, and did not receive much of anything for working so much harder the next year. For instance, my project was over how radiation can improve plant growth, so I measured 500 plants every 3 days for a month. I then averaged all of the data and made a lot of graphs and comparisons, I then got some help from experts in radiation and actually went to a few meetings, and then I looked at samples from the plants on a microscope to see the overall health. However I didn't get hardly any special awards, and then projects such as how to save energy using a thermostat (which didn't take nearly as long or as much work) won.

But hang in there and keep researching what you like. They key thing that I have found out is to make your project relatable to the judges, if you can do that and tell them how your project affects them, then you will greatly increase your chances.

Good luck and please let us know how it goes,
Philip

tdaly
Former Expert
Posts: 1415
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2003 11:27 pm
Occupation: Planetary Scientist

Re: Dealing With Dissapointment

Postby tdaly » Fri Feb 08, 2008 9:14 pm

Karthik,

The most important thing I can tell you is that you are a success. The very fact that you are even entering these competitions is a mark of your excellence. There are millions of high school seniors in the United States. Less than 2,000 of them even applied to STS. That means that you are one of the top 0.002% of high school students in the entire United States.

Some people will tell you to suck it up. Others will tell you that if you only made one or two little changes, you could have made it. Do neither. Don't dwell on the past; it won't take anywhere.

Focus on the future! You are talented. You are smart. Don't forget that.

I have walked in your shoes; there have been times when I was sure I would win something. And I didn't. I would be down for while (sometimes a long while). But I moved on. I was a participant in the Synopsys fair for six years. I participated in many other fairs as well, including STS and Siemens. I wasn't a finalist in either competition. I participated in another prestigious fair called JSHS for four years and never made it to the finals. I didn't do a lot of things; there were a lot of scholarships I didn't win, a lot of contests I never even entered. But nothing in my life would be different now if I had won any of these competitions.

The best advice I can give up is to follow your passion. If you like science fair and think it is fun, do it again this year. If you would rather be involved in theater, do that instead. Find what you love and do it.
All the best,
Terik


Return to “Preparing for the Science Fair”