SSP Alumnus Shari-Lynn Odzer, who participated in both the Science Talent Search and the International Science and Engineering Fair (now both sponsored by Intel) while in high school, describes her experiences participating in science education competitions and how that impacted her current career as a physician. Shari’s oldest daughter, Jamie, a 3rd Award winner in Environmental Management and recipient of a Special Organization Award from the American Veterinary Medical Association at Intel ISEF 2012, also shares her thoughts. Jamie’s sister, Nicole, also recently won a 2nd place Science Award for her project on reef-building corals and global warming at the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS.
Responses provided by Shari-Lynn Odzer:
What was your experience as a Science Talent Search and International Science and Engineering Fair finalist like?
I participated in the International Science and Engineering Fair in 1982 and 1983, and in the Science Talent Search (then sponsored by Westinghouse) in 1983. All three of these experiences were incredible! From the intellectual stimulation, to the self-confidence each competition afforded, to the camaraderie with like-minded kids which ultimately developed into life-long friendships…it was these experiences which shaped my future, defined who I was, and contributed greatly to the career I ultimately pursued. The memories which stand out the most were:
- Meeting Ronald Regan in the press room of the White House during STS! He took the time to shake every single finalist’s hand and to say something complementary.
- Glenn T. Seaborg, Nobel Laureate… he was everywhere, and involved in all aspects of the competition at STS. I remember each of us having to meet with him individually for an interview. He couldn’t have been nicer. Truly an amazing man!
Can you provide a short description of your research project?
My project involved the effect of auditory stress on the chemotaxis of white blood cells. I became interested in the topic while reading about the negative effects of noise pollution during a science project in middle school. I had read about anecdotal evidence that exposure to loud noises could make you ill, so I wanted to investigate a possible physiologic explanation for this. I used blood from monkeys in the experiment. No doubt, I would have much more work to do with obtaining approvals in today’s much more strictly regulated environment regarding animal research!
How did doing original research and participating in events like the STS or ISEF affect your career trajectory?
Participating in original science research and competing in various forums truly shaped my future. The experiences I gained doing science fair and STS gave me tremendous confidence. Simply being smart or interested in science is terrific, but to be a truly successful scientist who makes a difference in the world, communication skills are essential. These science competitions taught me how to effectively communicate science, which is not something that one necessarily learns in AP biology class. The skills I gained from my experiences preparing for ISEF and STS have been crucial in all aspects of my professional career. I am comfortable explaining confusing diagnoses or concepts to people from a broad range of backgrounds ranging from highly trained professionals, to a nervous patient and her family, to wide-eyed school children.
What are you up to now?
I am a physician in South Florida. I am a diagnostic radiologist, specializing in breast imaging and interventional procedures. I am also a mom to three great kids.
Career/research highlights you would like to share?
Finding a balance is everything. When I was in training, I visualized myself in a career that involved intense academia. However, I have had to adapt my career to my personal life. This involved some hard choices. Love, marriage, three children…it all comes into play. Most of the students who are involved in this level of competition are smart, successful, and accustomed to doing everything with perfection. One must realize that life’s journey is not easy, or predictable, and it is not possible to do everything perfectly all the time. And that’s just fine.
Your daughter, Jamie, has participated in the Intel ISEF for the past two years. How has the competition changed and/or stayed the same since you participated?
The Intel ISEF seems grander now and the level of competition more intense than I remember. I don’t think I would do as well if I had to compete now! It has been so much fun for me to re-live the experience through my children. My daughter, Jamie, has had a passion for science since she was a little girl. She is an extraordinary young lady who has learned to overcome many obstacles. Participating in science competitions has given her tremendous self esteem and led to some amazing friendships and experiences. It has been life changing, and will hopefully help her to discover what her future path will be. She has participated in Intel ISEF for two years, in 9th and 10th grade, and hopes to have another chance this year. Her younger sister, Nicole, has been very successful at the middle school level, and was a finalist in the 2012 Broadcom MASTERS competition in Washington, DC. For me, it has been a true pleasure to watch this experience through their eyes. As a parent, I think I am having even more fun!
Do you have any advice for young students interested in science and their parents?
Try, fail, and try again. That is the nature of science. Who knows, you may stumble onto something of greatness. Look for competitions, and try them. The experience gained from simply “speaking” science, rather than just doing a lab at school or putting results on paper will be beneficial in all aspects of education and beyond. What I found personally when I was in high school, and what I have seen watching my daughters compete in various fairs and symposia, is that there is a strong social aspect that works well to inspire teens. Let’s face it… missing school, hanging out with smart, cool kids, winning prizes, and even getting to go to a few theme parks here and there is pretty fun! If that is part of what it takes to inspire young adults to continue pursuing scientific endeavors, then that’s terrific! For parents, be savvy, and search around. If you happen to be in a school district that does not emphasize science fair, you may have to do some research on your own. Most competitions are open to anyone and will accommodate students who may not have the advantage of a school or district affiliation. But you and your student may have to do some legwork to find what’s out there.
Responses Provided by Jamie Odzer:
What was your experience as an Intel ISEF finalist like?
Having the remarkable privilege to be a finalist was honestly one of the most amazing experiences of my life! Being surrounded by so many beyond-brilliant students that were all going to grow up to make a difference in the world was unforgettable. My first Intel ISEF was held in Los Angeles and we not only got to participate in the fair, but were able to tour the amazing city as well; however, the memory that sticks out the most is the Pin Exchange at the beginning of the week. I met fascinating people from all around the world who shared my passion in science and with whom I still maintain friendships today.
Can you provide a short description of your research project and how you initially became interested in this topic?
My research for the past four years has been on Everglades Restoration and whether scientists are proceeding in the proper direction with restoration efforts. My first Intel ISEF project involved using anurans (frogs and toads) as an indicator species to determine if different types of restored areas had ecosystems as prolific as the native everglades. The following year, I devised a new procedure for monitoring wetlands by using blue crabs, which I believe is more effective in monitoring certain ecosystems and can be applicable to other wetlands globally. My interest in these topics was fueled by my lifelong interest in South Florida’s native wetlands, which exist virtually in my backyard.
How did doing original research and participating in events like the Intel ISEF affect you?
Being able to work on original research projects has completely changed my life. I was chosen to go to the Florida State Science Fair in seventh grade for my first project, which investigated the effects of different types of human activity on wildlife. I had such an amazing time that I was determined to go back as many times as I could! More importantly, it made me realize what a passion I have for research and that I want to continue finding solutions to actual, real world problems. Plus, it is a lot of fun getting to go out and do fieldwork next to alligators! As for Intel ISEF, after being selected in my freshman year and having the most amazing experience of my life, I was motivated even more to try to participate again. I was so moved by the experiences I’ve had at Intel ISEF, not only because of the fun, brilliant, and diverse people I’ve met, but also by the idea that I could actually be one of these students and really make a difference in the world.
What are your future plans?
I want to continue conducting research, and also get the results of my past studies published so that they can be used to advocate for more governmental research funding. For the next two years, I am going to continue doing environmental research since I sincerely enjoy it! In the future, I would like to continue to pursue science, perhaps with a career in neuroscience or international public health.
Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?
Never give up! Science may seem cookie-cutter in middle school when you do science projects, but in the real world of research, it can be very messy. Research takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and above all, PATIENCE. You most likely will not have significant results on your first try, and they certainly won’t be groundbreaking. It takes dedication and a certain mindset. You need to be the type of person who enjoys the challenge of the puzzle in front of you and strives to find a new way around it, rather than someone who will be discouraged by it. Imagination, in my opinion, is always more important in science than deductive reasoning, because any new discovery is the result of a new way of looking at things. Don’t ever be discouraged. If you are patient and willing to work and think outside the box, you will be successful and love what you are doing.
Interested in more information about Jamie's project or others? Click here to access searchable abstracts from Intel ISEF.