13 February 2014

Science Fair Judges

I'll write about and to science fair judges before a note to the students.  A joke I made today got its due chuckle, but there's a real point to it.  I observed of judges that "We're very scary people."

Now, we know ourselves, and scientists in general are not scary people at all.  Even more so, if anything, those of us who do science fair judging.  We tend to be parents with school age kids ourselves, or at least not too long since we were (and, in my case, I'm still an uncle to kids this age).  And to like talking with kids and have a certain degree of understanding of (in today's case) 14-18 year olds. 

On the other hand, I can recall ages back, when I was a 26 year old finishing his PhD and presenting at an international scientific meeting.  Only about 200 people in the room (on the other hand: 200 people in the room!).  And I was 26 and nearly done with a PhD, not a 14-18 year old in perhaps my first talk with a scientist.  But I was seriously nervous, before, during, and after.  Most of that was unnecessary, as, again, scientists aren't actually a very scary bunch.  (It did work out in my accidental favor, more in a moment.) 

It was a great relief to survive the talk (nobody threw anything!  er, ok, that didn't happen to anyone, and I'd never seen it happen before.  But ... I was nervous).  And it was thrilling when, unforced, one of the 'Big Name in Field' people present said they'd liked my presentation.

I try to pass this along (not the big name in field aspect, which I'm not, but at least a good word somewhere).  And try to de-scarify for the students I talk to about their work.  We're still pretty scary to the students.  But I enjoyed my chats with students, and hope they came away with a bit more understanding of doing science.

The 'more in a moment':  The later postscript on my presentation was about my nerves.  Back then, when I was nervous, I spoke slower.  Opposite of most people, but it worked in my favor.  The thing was, at an international meeting, many people (in this case, about 2/3rds) are not native English speakers.  A speed that a nervous native is capable of racing through can be all but impossible for a non-native to follow.  Since I slowed down, I was more understandable to the group.  Several folks thanked me for my consideration.  They didn't know it was terror :-)

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