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May 2010

Confessions of a science-fair failure

Report_card_orangeIn my last few weeks as editor of Under the Microscope (I'm leaving because of my upcoming move to Vienna), I've helped launch a new online event, Report Card for My Teachers. For this event, anyone -- and especially women in science and math -- can submit a "report card" grading their best and worst teachers from the past.

My report card came out today. In it, I describe my rocky relationship with science fairs. I always did terribly in the science fairs I entered. Once I was one of only four people to enter in the physics category, and I was the only one who didn't medal.

I think I failed again and again because I just didn't get it. I didn't see the point in repeating experiments that had already been done (the vast majority of science-fair entries), but I didn't know what it took to come up with and test an original hypothesis.

Now I know that even Ph.D. scientists struggle to come up with good experiments and fail far more than they succeed. But I really wish I had known that back then. I probably would have thought of myself differently: not as a science failure, but as a scientist-in-the-making.