I didn't sleep very well last night, and I'm going to pretend that was solely because I was bothered by not being 100% honest with my readers...so here goes. Why am I judging at ISEF? And why am I giving it so much coverage on blog?
Second things first, Intel is picking up the tab for a trip that I would very much have liked to take even on my own dime. They wanted blog coverage and contacted one of the big-name Sbers who passed the word along. Much as I am sure Intel would have liked PZs blog statistics, they got me. And I am thrilled to help increase visibility for a really worthwhile initiative.
You see, back in the day, I had one of the project displays that I've been showing you. I was a nervous high school student competing at ISEF, sharing my research with the judges, and making friends from across the country. Science fairs were easily the most influential part of my pre-college education and probably the sole reason that I am a scientist today. Science fairs took a nerdy, socially awkward, bookworm and transformed her into someone with speaking, writing, investigative skills, and with confidence to take on the world. I'm not exaggerating here.*
So whenever I get a chance I try to give back to the organizations that helped me along the way. I've helped mentor science fair research projects. I've judged at local, regional, and state science fairs. And this is my second time judging ISEF. I can say from the perspective of both the student and the judge, that the judging process is the (most nerve-wracking and) the highlight of the science fair experience.
*See Emily's comment on a previous post for the perspective of another former science fair student.
My participation in ISEF fueled my desires to become an engineer. I've mentored since the time I came back from my first international fair. It amazes me how high school students can do research that competes with the "professionals" even when the students lack resources. My friends from my years in ISEF remain to this day; many of them have gone into STEM careers. I am looking forward to judging the fairs as I still do not meet judge requirements. I remember competing at under-staffed fairs, and I cannot forget that good projects were overlooked because the judges were too busy deciding the awards for great projects.
One of my mentors is in Atlanta now with her students. I wish them a good fair.
Another plug from a former ISEFer... I completely agree that my participation in ISEF and other similar events is the reason I am where I am today -- and, after a few trial runs in other interest areas during my undergrad years, why I chose to do the same type of research for my dissertation!
I think the one thing that I really didn't realize while competing in the fairs was how similar they really are to what 'real' scientists do. From public speaking, and paper writing to networking with people in similar interest areas, the science fair program really allows these students to get a jump-start on what could be their future careers.
Aside from the academics, I certainly was able to form some very (significant!) relationships. That really was a big part of the draw going back year after year -- to see some of the great friends made at previous fairs.
Since then I've volunteered my time as a judge at as many local, regional, and state events as possible -- and am looking forward to the day when I can go back to ISEF and be on the other side of the fence!
Enjoy the rest of the fair, ScienceWoman! And thanks to you and everyone else who volunteers their time to encourage these future scientists - it's worth it.
I find your personal science fair background intriguing. I judge at a local science fair every year - it is not well attended so does not begin to reach its potential (roughly 50 projects from a city of 200K residents with 12 high schools and close to 100 elementary schools).
When you have time I would like to see a post on your approach to judging science fairs at a the local level. How can you encourage people (and girls specifically) to continue being interested in science? Especially those with projects that show some promise?
Wow, more former ISEF-ers! I participated in ISEF from 1996-1999 (still amazed it worked out that way. . .), and my senior year project morphed very nicely into my dissertation (which I defended last Thursday). We didn't have a science fair program in my school (public school in a rural community out in the middle of the country - 16 in my graduating class), and the nearest university was 40 miles away. But, my parents encouraged me to pursue my interests, and I managed to make the contacts (no email for the first few years - it was mostly telephone and mail, because I was so far from any museums or universities!) necessary to get the raw data for my project. One of those contacts is now my Ph.D. advisor (12 years after we first made phone contact!). My first fieldwork happened at the invitation of one of the ISEF judges. I completely agree with the other commenters and ScienceWoman and that it was the science fair experience that took me where I am today!
And, I'm secretly rooting for my brother, who is on a group project at ISEF this year. :-)