Intel STS – Day 2-3: Judging

March 13th, 2012 by ben Leave a reply »

Intel STS Series – Jump: Day 0-1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4-7

I started Facebooking today, and I swear I’m going to regret it. Regardless, I blog on.

I explained judging in the last post, and that was before I actually went through the experience. Which… wasn’t very different from what I imagined. Before our interviews, a few minutes early, we’d drop by the second floor of St. Regis where the interviews were being held. There was a waiting room there where Diane juggled finalists and schedules. They had bottled (glass bottled, mind you) sodas and cookies and such.

The meals here are extravagant, and I don’t think there’s ever been a day when we’ve finished more than 50% of the food they served. It’s sad to think that all of this expensive food — expensive, expensive food catered by the hotel (god knows how much they charge) — goes down the drain. And when we eat out (at gorgeous places), and they always order the best, most delectable dishes, I feel like we finish even less of the food. But about the glass-bottled sodas: soda tastes infinitely better in glass.

At the Judges Introduction Breakfast I spoke with someone who worked in energy and public policy, with very intriguing experiences. My first judging interview was in Room 3, and there were no physics questions. There was an unfortunate computer science question involving computational complexity — unfortunate both because I couldn’t really answer it, and because my project happens to be in computer science. Very embarrassing. The biology lady was amicable. We discussed genetic modification, fish farming, and ethics. Despite knowing close-to-nothing about biology. Then I headed up for a nap. You’ll notice that I tend to nap a lot between and after judging sessions.

Later in the day I went to Room 4, which I don’t remember all that clearly. Really, I can’t recall anything about this room at all. Whether that’s good or bad, I can’t say, but there were still no physics questions! You can’t imagine how devastating this was for me, because physics was where I had a chance to impress the judges.

Waiting Room #209 during judging was, perhaps surprisingly, not populated by balls of nervousness. The finalists were confident and the atmosphere was pleasant — there was always a conversation going on, usually about what question this judge in that room asked, and figuring out the solution before you had to go through that room. The conversations with this bunch of 40 are always fantastic, whether about judging, school, monkey physics, or college.

As for room 2, my last for the day, I had questions about Earth and the moon being tide-locked and about drink sweat on a water pitcher. Those were perhaps technically physics-related but they weren’t knowledge-based physics questions so I still wasn’t able to use my Physics Olympiad experience to my advantage. I heard a lot of people got asked very hard physics questions that I would have loved to have gotten, but as luck would have had it, the judges, whimsical, avoided physics.

I might have mixed up some of these questions — in fact, I probably have, and I will go back and edit if I ever figure things out. I have a feeling that future Intel finalists will be reading this post, judging interviews coming up in a few hours, desperately looking for clues, help, information, data, statistics, secrets — searching for the formula to succeed in these interviews. I’ll tell you, there is none, and it’s a lot more fun if you go in without staying up all night studying and preparing. What’s most important about being an Intel finalist here in DC is not the prize or how you do in the judging. Really, it’s about connecting with the 39 other brilliant minds. Talk and laugh and joke and smile.

We had Brian Greene speak for us that night, and I was honored to be at his table for the (again) gorgeous dinner at the Astor Ballroom. His speaking was dazzling. The spiel he came up with on the spot about competition leading us forward was brilliant and eloquently delivered, and his actual presentation was mind-blowing and flawless. I applauded vigorously, but that wasn’t all — Friday night, we also each had a minor planet named after us!

That is simply amazing. Speechless. We each received a certificate and ephemeris data so we could locate our minor planets in a telescope. This the first real estate I have ever owned. I hope someday to travel to my minor planet and invite some friends to party.

For dessert (being the sweet tooth bearer I am), they had a chocolate fountain, and I tried chocolate-coating various objects ranging from pretzel sticks and pineapple to… graham crackers. It wasn’t really good, maybe because the chocolate just wouldn’t harden. Maybe I’m more of an ice cream, cake, and pie person.

That day I also went to my media interview, and the media crew was impressively professional. Stacks of MacBooks, large professional cameras, boom mics, an elaborate lighting setup, and such. Very nerve-racking.

Saturday we had our portrait sessions. The photographer was extremely kind, and told me (I remember this very clearly) that I was very photogenic. After my final interview in Room 1 where a way-past-cool Indian dude who was the only computer scientist on the panel grilled me mercilessly, and I was ripped apart by the other judges in the room — ahem, after all that, we set up our posters at the National Geographic.

Now, I have a confession — being the eternal deadline chaser and procrastinator extraordinaire I am, my poster was incomplete. Not to mention, cheap and shoddy. Looking around at the professionally-printed, well-designed posters that surrounded my table, I was struck with extreme embarassment of my own poster, with few words printed on (hear this) printer paper! — and an incredibly lame attempt at being artsy, trying to vary the font sizes of my meager sentences.

Of course, I had to rush to finish my poster. Luckily, the Business Center in the hotel had an awesome printer (though unfortunately only black-and-white). Somehow, I finished, and double-sided-taped the scraps of printer paper to my board. I could go on for a rant about double-sided tape: it is godly.

Well, then we had a nice dinner and a strange tour of landmarks in Washington DC. It just passed 3am, and tomorrow is a busy day, so here’s where today we pause.

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