Aw common now.

Sciencewoman has been covering the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, and YAAAAY!! Three chickadees won the top prizes! Sweet!

While the fact three girls won did get a nod from a random troll, it hasnt really been the main topic of the discussion. More people have been wondering “How the hell did a high school kid get the opportunity to study ‘Computation of the Alexander-Conway Polynomial on the Chord Diagrams of Singular Knots’? If a different promising student from say, Guymon, Oklahoma, got the same opportunities, wouldnt they thrive just like a lucky kid from Nassau County, New York?”

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeh! Does no one read my blog? Do you all just look at the puppy pictures and read the Chinese jokes?

I came from a town with a population of ~11,000 people (a Guymon of Missouri, if you will). We had no AP classes, much less university level research opportunities. I then went to college at a liberal arts university in a town of ~17,000 people. No BSL-3 laboratories, but I did get the opportunity to go to Nebraska to study viruses during the summer. Now Im doing kick ass HIV-1 research that literally no one else on the planet can do.

Louis Villarreal
grew up in East LA and went to community college, now hes a Top Dog in viral evolution!

You dont *have* to go to an elite magnet super high school in Boston/New York/Seattle/whatever to love science and to do it forever as a profession! You dont HAVE to get into an Ivy League school! You dont HAVE to have a pristine GPA and ‘make connections’ when youre 12!

Would it be great if every high school kid who was so inclined had the opportunity to help with Alzheimers and Global Warming research, YEAH! I love that ‘special schools’ have propped up to give kids a taste of real world research when theyre still little ones! I didnt even understand what a ‘PhD’ meant when I was their age (‘Theyre like an MD doctor, but they cant write prescriptions?’). But I hate the mentality awards like ISEF and ‘special schools’ foster in the majority of kids out there!

So congrats to the ladies who won this week! But hey! Hey you random 15 year old kid in Phillips, Nebraska reading my blog! And all you small town, ghetto town, farm town kids!

You dont have to be rich, to cure my AIDS.

You dont have to be coooool to harness energy from waves.

Aint no particular school you gotta get in!

Science just wants yo extra time and your p-p-p-p-p-passion.


  1. #1 Jrob
    May 18, 2008

    Well said.

    My favorite example of nature v nuture (since my daughter went to school with him) is Mike Brown. When a hayseed raised in Alabama can kick a celetial body off the list of planets, then @#$%ing anyone can change the way the entire world thinks.

  2. #2 Jrob
    May 18, 2008



    Why do my mistakes not show up in preview, but are blatant as all @#$% once I hit post?

  3. #3 J Myers
    May 18, 2008

    Now Im doing kick ass HIV-1 research that literally no one else on the planet can do.

    No one at all? Why is that?

  4. #4 podblack
    May 18, 2008

    Actually, there is some research on the topic that points out that yes – there are some common factors?

    So although the sentiment is good… it’s not actually reflected in the research so far? Yes, would be nice if it did and I have hopes that it will… But, no. Sorry.

  5. #5 Sili
    May 18, 2008

    Indeed, very few of us have any idea what we wanna do when we’re twelve. Thank heavens!

    Feynmann and Einstein had pretty modest origins too. We can’t all be born into dynasties.

  6. #6 efrique
    May 19, 2008

    Heh. The town I grew up in had about 900 people in it. By the end of high school (which was in a bigger town nearby) my entire class had 30 students.

    I spent a lot of very poor years as a student, too.

  7. #7 Ale
    May 19, 2008

    Now Im doing kick ass HIV-1 research that literally no one else on the planet can do.

    Research needs to be reproducible ;D

  8. #8 rimpal
    May 19, 2008


    This is very inspiring. Not that there haven’t been women winning these things before (shall we say women and not girls – that would be more respectful). I hope this means more women in the STEM fields. My daughter is in engineering school, after a math teacher here in junior high all but convinced her that she wasn’t cut out for math!

  9. #9 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    May 19, 2008

    Eeeeeeeeeeeeeh! Does no one read my blog? Do you all just look at the puppy pictures and read the Chinese jokes?

    She’s onto us.

  10. #11 me
    May 20, 2008

    I was an ISEP judge volunteer this year. Never had done this sort of thing before, so I found the whole science fair culture aspect pretty interesting.

    I saw only a limited slice of the presentations. But by a wide margin, the best project I saw was performed in a ‘top drawer’ Harvard lab.

    I don’t disagree with your argument on general principle. But the HS kid fortunate enough to be doing research at Harvard is going to move up the learning curve quite a bit more quickly than the kid laboring over a project conducted in his spare time in a HS lab. I talked to both types of kids.

    Both kids seem to have the same basal instincts and the same curiosity and drive to discover, but one was in a far better environment to foster that development than the other.

    And the advantages showed on several different levels, not just the way the project was presented, but also the way the kids thought scientifically.

    If I ran across a farm or ghetto kid with ambition, I’d point them to reach for the elite institutions. No, it isn’t necessary, but they’d have advantages and opportunities more difficult to find at WassamatterU.

    And besides, pedigree does matter.

  11. #12 ERV
    May 20, 2008

    Of course pedigree matters. If you are a substandard scientist, you can always play the ‘pedigree’ card to dupe someone long enough to hit another grant/position/whatever.

    But unless you are substandard, its not an issue. *shrug* Cream rises to the top.

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