Monday, 12 January 2015

16+ Things I've Learned from BTYS 2015

Nope, I'm not ready to stop talking about Young Scientist yet. A lot of this isn't newly learned, but I've been reminded of it, or experienced it properly...

I've been working towards BTYSTE 2015 for a year, and it was over too soon. It really was an incredible experience; not perfect, sure, but the event was amazing and I think I'm always going to adore the competition for all its opportunities. 

1. Altruism is Fun

On the Tuesday night before the Exhibition, 2nd Year Niamh's project report book and display board weren't finished, even though she'd spent the whole Christmas break in working on them. I'd finished putting together my report book at 2 pm that day (I stayed in school until 1 am the night before putting my board together), but I stayed an extra 9 hours, until 11 pm, that I could've spent practising my speech for the judges, helping her.

It sounds like I'm boasting and negating the purpose but I'm getting to the point. By 8 pm, a small army had assembled to get it done. Ms. O' Regan, me, Kate and Moya were there earlier, Patsy, Niamh's mother and brother Leo, Anna, Anna's mum ... We all knew the drill, pretty much, and working together got it done when it would've been impossible otherwise. It was a tough haul for Niamh, but I think it was nice for her to see that she had support.

I thought I'd regret it the next day. But really, that was the important part. 

2. Folders

Folders are very important and with a project like mine you might die without them. I used to just throw files into my documents like a heathen, but now I've learned how beautiful folders can be. 

ALSO, very importantly, Sinéad showed me how to drag & drop the contents of whole folders in one go. 

There are currently 73 files in my "BTYS" folder, and when my Dropbox ran out of space it would have been a major pain to individually transfer each file to OneDrive. Thankfully (and I'm sure it's old news to most people) I could do it all in one go, saving a lot of time. 

Also, they keep your data stores nice and uncluttered. 

Only problem is remembering which bloody folder you put that file into... 

3. Predictions are Hard

A lot of people thought I'd win some big prize. I avoided thinking about the results at all, but I definitely didn't predict who would win. Last year it was more predictable, but this year the judging was all over the place. Brap girl getting Best Individual - didn't see that coming. And I don't think anyone saw the Alcohol consumption project winning overall. Now, Brap girl's project was beautifully done, and I can't judge A.C. because I don't know enough about it (I'm lying), but all predictions went out the window at the Awards Ceremony.

Which is why Ms. O' Regan and I kept trying to make people stop pressuring me. I'd done the work, but I couldn't influence what happened on the day.

4. Judges are Human Too

It's easy to be angry at the judges, and I was a bit. Because of the confusion of the category change, because of how that judge told me it was forgotten about.

I see it from the perspective of the project I slaved over. But they didn't do it on purpose. That judge came out to apologise, which was nice of him, and got Tony Scott to sign the book, which was nice too. It was too late (after the Results), but there was nothing he could do about it. When you get to a certain age you have to accept that there's no magic wand or do-overs. 

As a side note, so is MOR. She apologised today for being cranky to me on Saturday evening, so I should apologise for giving out about her here. We were both a bit bummed. 

5. Time Will Run Out 

Last year, I ran out of time to properly complete my project. So this year I started in January, two days after the last Exhibition ended, sure that would give me lots of time. And it did - at the start. 

But by the time September rolled around I was feeling the pressure, and tasks dragged out until I was in the exact same frenzy as last year. What's that law again, that tasks expand to fill the space allotted?

That one is a killer with Young Scientist. 

6. PhD Students Are Cool

Before I spent time with them, I thought of PhDs and doctoral students as scary middle-aged white men. Then I watched a guy in his early 20s juggle hammers in the lab, and listened to my mentor Sinéad (also in her 20s) talk about how much she loves Disney, and went for coffee with Sinéad and Maria. 

Also, they're all huge nerds. Just listening to them discuss LOTR...

Love you. guys. 

7. If You're Right, Other People Will Probably Recognise That

Unexpectedly, school was fine today when I got back because people knew I tried my best. They didn't think I'd just wasted the school's time and money. A lot of them held the same opinions as me about the results. MOR rang Nina at the lab and she said the judging should've had a specialist. Not pointing fingers, just saying the acknowledgement and support is nice. 

That doesn't mean you'll get awards for it, though, because...

8. Politics Abound

The less said about this here the better, but big competitions are full of politics. It's sad.

9. Where the Bargain Food is

Empty demibaguettes, Centra or any shop stocking Cuisine de France, 39 - 70c each. Those and 25c Chomp bars kept me going on many a day in the lab as I passed the lunch hour alone in Dublin. 

On the other hand, food at the RDS is ridiculously expensive, don't go near it. It's €3.05 for "Infused Water". 

10. Nope, I Still Can't Smile

I really can't smile for photos. It just doesn't work, I look insane. You'd think that with so many pictures being taken of me I'd improve, but nope. Thing is, I don't even think I'm that ugly. I like the way I look, I'm just incredibly unphotogenic. Also the moment I move I become dishevelled, which doesn't help. 

Awful, I know.

11. Being in the News is Really Weird

As a kid, I always wanted to be famous. I still want to be successful, and in most fields fame comes with extreme success, but it's really weird to have stories about you in the media (not that I had many, but still. people who don't even know me read that). A lot of people also came up to me like "Hi, Elle, I know you from xyz!" and I had no idea who they were. I mean, I am forgetful but I felt bad. I hope it wasn't too awkward for them. 

12. Friends are an Anchor

The way I'm writing this sounds like I won something big, sorry. But anyway, I would've been pretty upset on the Saturday if I didn't have a huge group of such wonderful friends come visit me and keep me busy. 

Thanks, guys. I owe you.

13. Spontaneity Gives the Best Silver Linings

This relates to what I said about predictability earlier, but I had no idea Intellectual Ventures was bringing someone to Seattle as part of their prize. I learned about it literally on stage, with the cameras on me. And that was pretty wonderful, because I didn't have time to become desensitized to it. 

14. You Can Get a Lot Just By Asking

You wouldn't think people would let you use million-dollar equipment just because you wrote in to ask nicely, but it happens. It happened to me. I am very, very grateful to everyone who gave a 15/16-year-old the benefit of the doubt, and I hope this gives you courage.

The worst they can say is no. 

15. Don't Do Silly Emotional Stuff

When you're there for four days, it's good to make friends, but not to get too attached. Those friends are likely to be spread out across the island, making it very difficult to see them. 

I don't need more long-distance friends. Well, except Kay I guess. 

16. My Name is Apparently Just Unpronounceable

You'd think that presenters might pronounce my name right when calling me up to the stage a second time in front of the media, or that papers might print it without the "i". Nope! "Ella Loughran, winner of ..." Sigh. 

And then you add in all the other stuff, like what I learned in my research, what I learned about academic life, how much more independent I became, how much I've come to appreciate my school...

It's been a wild ride. I find that YS is a hugely maturing experience, where you get exposed to a lot of new things and adapt or die. I'm glad. 

In the words of Ryan Tubridy: "have fun, young nerds, have fun."

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