Saturday, March 21, 2009


What's the Big Deal?

It's Science Fair Week on the OhmsBlog! Yesterday's post is available here.

Today is the Kiwanis Regional Science Fair in Medicine Hat! Hatters, get your asses over to the College right now to check it out!

In case you haven't noticed, my science fair adventures are important to me. Even though my science fair career reached its pinnacle eleven years ago, I still consider it to be a vital contributor to who I am today. "So what?" you might be thinking. "It's just a kid or two standing there with a book and a backboard! How can that have any meaning a decade down the road?"

I intend to explain it.

  1. Science Fairs provide tremendous opportunities for personal growth. They bring out the best, and sometimes the worst, in students. Both aspects become positive in the long run. The positives are mostly self-explanatory -- students gain valuable experience in self-directed research, public speaking, making friends, and time management. Indeed, one does not need to win anything to reap these gains. Unfortunately science fair experiences occasionally cause students to learn about humility "the hard way." This is not a bad thing.
  2. Science Fairs take the training wheels off of learning. My school science experience involved experiments that were already designed for us. In the science fair, projects need to be designed from the ground up. I learned far more about scientific method from the science fair than I could ever have gained from a textbook experiment.
  3. Top Science Fair projects contribute to society. Many of the CWSF-calibre projects out there are conducting valuable, innovative research that makes a difference. These projects aren't your baking soda and vinegar volcanoes - some of the stuff being done is comparable to graduate-level research in universities and private R&D facilities.
In my opinion I was able to take advantage of all of these benefits. I worked very hard to reach the CWSF, and even harder to win gold. I had my fair share of second place finishes to get to that point. Even as a winner, I experienced bitterness and resentment from students who didn't fare as well, as they came up to me and attempted to belittle my project to make themselves feel better. I don't feel bad about that at all - it was just one more learning experience. I came out of it with a thicker skin than I had going in.

My science fair experience played a pivotal role in obtaining admissions to university undergraduate programs. There were certainly other important factors, but as far as extra-curricular activities were concerned, my CWSF experience was hard to beat.

One day when I was off at university, I saw a fellow riding a bike down the street. He was wearing a familiar-looking sweater - from CWSF '97 in Regina. On another day I was wearing my CWSF '98 t-shirt at my co-op workplace. Lo and behold, the student in the cubicle next to me recognized it because he was there. The resulting friendship ended up being one of my most important at university.

Once I had finished my degree, I went searching for full time software development work. As it turned out, somebody at my future employer had heard about my software development exploits at the science fair. I have no doubt that the resulting interview discussions contributed to my hiring.

I still consider winning gold at the 1998 Canada-Wide Science Fair to be one of the most fantastic moments of my life. It is now so many years later, yet my science fair odyssey is still paying dividends. It might seem like a bunch of reminiscing about standing at a booth with a backboard and a couple of duo-tangs, but it defines and haunts me still. I guess that's why I have been coming back.

Tomorrow: A review of today's activities.


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