Frieda Fein, alumna of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2009 and the Intel Science Talent Search 2010, and her little brother Eric, alum of Intel ISEF 2011 and Intel STS 2012, have a lot to be proud of. The siblings share a passion and, with the help of their family, they have both found a place for themselves in the world of science and research. Freida, currently a geology and political science dual-degree graduating senior at Yale University, shares with us how her science-oriented family has helped fuel her early passion for research.
Can you provide a short description of your research project and how you initially became interested in this topic?
My Intel STS research was an archaeology project: I used stable isotope analysis to determine whether the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi were raising domesticated animals in the 1800s. I investigated faunal diets by measuring stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios from faunal bones excavated from a Pokagon Band settlement.
I have been interested in science since I was very little. My dad is a geologist and would talk to my brother and me about his work, take an interest in whatever science we were learning in school, and help to explain it to us and make it more accessible. I started doing science fair projects in third grade and continued through high school – getting to conduct my own research, even in elementary school, helped to sustain my interest in the field. In terms of archaeology, I think I might first have gotten excited about it by watching an Indiana Jones movie, but what really made me interested was the possibility of using science to quantify and better understand history.
How has your family supported your interest in science and research?
Most importantly, my mom and dad always encouraged me to conduct research. The best thing about science is that it can be hands on – you can apply what you are learning even at a young age and my parents made sure I had opportunities to experiment, especially by supporting my science fair endeavors.
What was it like to watch your sibling qualify for and participate in a Society competition?
Honestly, it was even more exciting than when I went myself. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Intel STS experience, but I didn’t know much about the program so it wasn’t something I had my heart set on. My brother learned about it from me and made it his goal to be an Intel STS finalist as well, despite the very long odds. For him to achieve this goal made me incredibly proud of him!
How did it compare to your experiences?
I think we had pretty similar experiences. Both of us loved it!
How did your parents foster an interest in science and research for you and your siblings from a young age?
Lots and lots of ways. Even today, as a senior in college, I asked my parents to edit my senior thesis and talked over my research with them about as much as I did with my advisor. They are similarly willing to help my brother when he asks. I think most importantly, they are always there to help us: to look up enrichment opportunities, fight for better science classes in our grade schools and high schools, edit papers, or discuss our interests and future goals, but they never involve themselves without our request. Science was never forced on us; both my brother and I chose it. We’re lucky enough to be able to use our parents as a resource to further our education.
Have you ever conducted research together? How have you helped and supported each other’s work?
No, we haven’t ever done research together. Each of us is very interested in what the other is working on, and we often bug each other to hear about the other’s latest project. We are interested in relatively different fields, however.
Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
Don’t give up on it! I have heard a lot of people who were turned off science by a lackluster class or an uninspired teacher. I’ve struggled through plenty myself. But science is more than a class or a teacher- so don’t get discouraged! Find extracurricular opportunities to foster your excitement, read books outside of the class; if you love it just stick with it!
What are you up to now? Any highlights you would like to share?
I’m about to graduate college. I’m a double major in political science and geology. I’ve done a lot of work with satellite analysis – both to answer scientific and social science questions. Next year, I am going to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho.
Do you have any tips for how to make research a family endeavor?
Talk your parents’ ears off about your projects! They definitely are interested in what you’re up to so make a point to include them!