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In 1973, Thomas Rosenbaum competed as a finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Forty-five years later, now president of Caltech, he addressed the 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalists as the keynote speaker of this year’s alumni dinner.
A few decades may separate the Science Talent Search experiences of Rosenbaum and this year’s finalists, but the spirit of friendship and making connections still remains strong.
At this year’s alumni dinner, Dr. Rosenbaum spoke about his own experience as a Science Talent Search finalist and what it means to be a scientist. He stressed that the most important part of the Science Talent Search, in his opinion, is interacting with other interesting and smart students and scientists that can offer unique perspectives.
Although they are only in D.C. for a little under a week, Science Talent Search finalists form close friendships and connections. Dr. Rosenbaum’s own experience is proof of this. He ended up being college roommates with a fellow 1973 Science Talent Search Finalist, and spoke about becoming lifelong friends with the finalist from Nebraska with whom he shared a room during the Science Talent Institute. They visited each other in their hometowns across the country during the summer, and still remain in contact to this day.
Interactions like that, Rosenbaum shared, are one of the most valuable parts of the Science Talent Search experience.
Also important is the “beauty of the science” that finalists are learning, Rosenbaum added.
“There has rarely been a time where science is more fun to do,” he said, speaking about recent advances in science and the amazing discoveries that are being made.
"You are standing on the verge of these sorts of discoveries and you will be the ones who are contributing to them," he said.
The stereotype of scientists wearing white lab coats working in basements all day is not accurate, he stressed, encouraging the finalists to continue to pursue the science that makes them happy.
Rosenbaum, who received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University and his PhD in physics from Princeton University, also advised students to always try to be around people who are smarter than them.
Of course, this year’s students were excited to ask Dr. Rosenbaum questions about his experiences and his 1973 Science Talent Search project, titled “The Structure of Atmospheric Small Ions.”
There's no doubt that 45 years from now, the 2018 finalists will remember this week at the Science Talent Institute, just like Dr. Rosenbaum fondly remembers his own experience from 1973.
Failure is a constant and should be expected in science. It may even be where you learn the most.