by Caroline Cotto ’10, Culture Content Creator, HubSpot
One thing I knew about Falmouth Academy when I started was that students were required to participate in the Science Fair.
This terrified me.
“Just pick something you are interested in and the rest will follow,” Mr. Conzett, now-retired, advised. And follow it I did. Little did I know that the Science Fair would become one of the most defining experiences, not only of my FA career, but also of my life.
Participating in the Science Fair taught me the skills I continue to use on a daily basis. I wish I’d had the insight then to know that so many life lessons could be forged over a tri-fold board on a folding table in a gym.
The Science Fair taught me how to translate complex jargon into common language. The first time I read a scientific journal article, I found myself Googling every other word of the jargon soup. But the practice of reading articles, extracting the relevant information needed, and processing that information into digestible sound bites was invaluable. Today’s employers value people who are able to “translate” complex ideas and technical language into simple, understandable, and relatable terms that can be understood by consumers, patients, and plaintiffs alike.
The Science Fair taught me how to use data to tell my story. The most important part of a science project is the data; essentially, what did you find and what can you conclude (or not conclude) from it. In college, I had a professor who advised students to skip directly to the figures and graphs when reading a journal article. He believed you could deduce almost all of the conclusions from the images, and if you still had questions, only then should you go back and dig for additional details in the text. Similarly, with attention spans so limited today, success depends on getting your point across in the clearest, most succinct way possible. A data driven approach is often the key to doing this effectively.
When I worked for large public health organizations, like the World Food Programme and the Let’s Move! Initiative, data were essential to securing continued funding. Currently, in my job at HubSpot, I use data on a daily basis to show the measurable value of diversity and inclusion programming we develop for employees and community members. Metrics show the impact of your work, and when telling your story, the more you are able to interpret and use them to your advantage, the better.
The Science Fair taught me how to sell. For me, Science Fair day was like the opening night of a play. When I got in front of the judges, I was the expert in the room on my project, and it was my stage, my debut, and my chance to captivate them from start to finish until they were “sold” on my results and conclusions. The same skills I learned and the confidence I built while presenting at Science Fair are the same ones I’ve used time and time again to give an elevator pitch about myself in a job interview or to introduce a new idea to my team at work. Presenting at Science Fair taught me to always lead with the problem statement, the “why,” and to succinctly communicate my findings in a compelling way. The same premises you need to “close” a Science Fair judge are the same ones you need to convince a customer to purchase your product or to convince a candidate to join your company.
The Science Fair taught me to say what needs to be said and nothing more. When Mr. Conzett first presented the concept of an abstract, I thought, “Impossible! How am I supposed to summarize the entirety of a months-long project into 250 words?” Being crisp and punchy goes a long way in professional communications, and if you can summarize a value proposition in a few short, but meaty, sentences you gain almost instant street cred. Making each word matter is crucial, especially when you only have one 8 x 11 sheet to summarize your resume experience or when you only have 140 characters to convince a customer why your company deserves her dollar.
The Science Fair taught me that design matters. I always put a lot of thought into making painted title boards for my Science Fair posters and obsessed over what combinations of colored paper to mount my graphs on. Now, as a content creator, this philosophy of “design first” and “presentation matters” are essential to helping me drive my company’s bottom line. You can write the best blog post, white paper, journal article, etc., but without something visually arresting to grab people’s attention, it can easily be overlooked. Those few extra moments you spend on design and style can be what makes your voice heard above the fray and what makes your piece of content out-compete millions of others.
The Science Fair taught me that results matter more than age and past experience. When I started participating in the Science Fair, I knew nothing about research. But I ended up going to the state Science Fair every year —because if you put enough time and passion into something, it generally pays off. Hard work is rewarded and genuineness matters. The Science Fair taught me that if you’ve discovered something of value or have solved a unique problem, and if you can astutely articulate it, your age doesn’t matter. You and your results are what give you credibility and authority.
Best of luck to everyone participating in this year’s Falmouth Academy Science Fair. The late nights, the painstakingly detailed notebooks, and the posters are all worth it and will pay dividends far into your future.