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Value Not In Selection But In Attempt

Ling Li is a Vice President and Credit Officer at JPMorgan Chase. She submitted her original research project to the 1988 Science Talent Search in hopes of being selected as a finalist. Despite not being selected, her letter below describes the value she got out of the experience.

I attended New York’s Bronx High School of Science from 1984 to 1988. I was among the students who chose to participate in the Science Talent Search (STS), which was called Westinghouse STS then but is now known as Intel STS. For more than a year, several times a week after school, I made the hour-long commute on subway from the school campus in the Bronx to Rockefeller University in Manhattan.

At Rockefeller University, I worked in a research lab with a scientist who was conducting cell research. It was a privilege to be in that lab and exposed me to knowledge far beyond high school level material. The process was extremely technical and intellectually challenging, and it wasn’t always easy to choose between being in a lab and hanging out with my friends. But with support from my teachers and the kind mentorship of the scientist I worked with, I persisted in undertaking and completing an independent research project. At the end of the year, I submitted my project to STS, but I was not selected as one of the semi-finalists.

In the 25 years since working on my project for STS, I have often looked back on that experience with appreciation and pride. The act of persevering through such an intellectually challenging and time-consuming project has provided many lessons for the rest of my education, my career, and my life.

The STS experience gave me the confidence to pursue a technical major in college (an engineering degree from Columbia) as well as the motivation to pursue two Master’s degrees (at Yale and UCLA).  My first job out of school was as an investment banking analyst at a major financial institution. I believe that despite not having any prior exposure to business/finance, my proven willingness to put in the long hours to do analytical work was a key factor in getting this competitive position.

I have been a corporate banker for more than 16 years, in a career where I provide financial and strategic advice to corporations. The processes of inquiring, analyzing, researching and presenting conclusions are the tools of my trade.  I have often had colleagues remark that what stands out about me is inquisitiveness and an analytical mind.  This has led me to contemplate where such habits originate and what can inspire similar tendencies in children (including my own) and in young people.

The reason for my deep appreciation of the STS experience is this – it was the seed for a lifetime of learning and planted the confidence to tackle any intellectual endeavor.  Doing independent research in a stimulating environment provided the chance to practice repeatedly for over a year, the tenacity and focus needed to turn inquiries into conclusions, and to translate diligent effort into results. Being selected as a semi-finalist or publicly recognized wasn’t the most important factor in that youthful but brief period.  The experience ultimately provided intangible rewards that are immeasurable and lasting throughout my career and my life.

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