I watched a documentary on this recently. Most kids show up and they are looking to win. That’s a noble goal, but that is the lowest value item for everyone except the eventual winner(s) which is a tiny percentage. I wish I would have been able to see what I’m about to suggest when I was younger.
The real value of the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is understanding the other interests, strengths, and projects of groups from all around the world. It’s possible that if you combined the resources, knowledge and drive of 5 different groups towards the most valuable project being worked on at the event, you would create 100, 1000, or a million times the value of the individual groups.
However, at the competitor’s age, each is looking to be rewarded as individuals, so that they can be picked later in life, without realizing that right now, they can choose each other to be valuable resources and create something highly valuable on their own.
If I could tell past self tips during these kinds of events, it would be:
- Rather than focusing on you at this event, look at all the other projects. Are you dreaming big enough by comparison? Is there new questions you can ask? Are you working on the most valuable problem?
- Who is doing the best work in your field? Who is doing the best work in a number of different fields? Be interested in the others with different skillsets and have conversations with them about problems that may intersect your skills.
- Is there anyone else who has work that builds on your own, or yours on theirs? Team up after the fair and keep going.
That’s not an exhaustive list, and this idea extends far beyond a Science Fair. It attends to any professional function. Don’t be short-sighted, see the opportunities in the form of other people.