Denied Victory – A Treatise on Why Corporate Sponsored Educational Events Suck

I was up in Sacramento this past weekend for the California State University’s Student Research Competition as a finalist in the Physical and Mathematical Sciences category. 190 students representing 23 different schools were participating! Pretty awesome event overall.

Anyway, we each had 10 minutes to present a Powerpoint Presentation and talk about our research topics. My presentation, entitled “Mapping the existence and extent of mid-crustal reflectors in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California” (It’s an unwritten rule in science to have the longest possible title in the world. Longer titles evidentially means you are cooler), was completely rock solid.

It was very well put together, designed great and flowed well too. I even had humor interjected in parts and the judges on my panel were laughing! Plus, it was actually fairly interesting (it has to do with earthquakes). I completed the presentation in EXACTLY 10 minutes, right as the moderator held up the sign for me to stop speaking. The judges then proceeded to ask me some questions and I had no problems answering them. In short, I knew my stuff!

After checking out the competition in my category (2 physics majors and 3 mathematicians, plus myself… a dirty geologist), I figured I had the competition in the bag. People were also telling me afterwards how much they liked my presentation too.

Anyway, Lockheed Martin sponsored a few of the science and engineering categories (and put up prize money for the winners), including mine. Both judges on my panel were theoretical physicists, one of whom works for Lockheed Martin.

So fast forward to the awards ceremony the next day. Second place went to one of the physics students, whose research delt with modeling various lasers. Awesome I thought. I knew for a fact that I did way better than he did! Then they call the name for first place. “Funny,” I thought to myself, “that name they just called didn’t sound like ‘Dave.'”

Nope, it was the other physics major! Gah! I guess that’s what I get for being so cocky, but in all honesty I don’t understand what went wrong, or what their selection criteria was. I was quite surprised, as were a number of other people. It was absolutely ridiculous.

Then again, I guess it would make sense that Lockheed Martin, the biggest military weapons manufacturer in the world (and as a result, the biggest exporter of death and destruction), is going to like someone’s research that could potentially have military applications (lasers!) over my research that has practical applications in using earthquakes to map/locate FUTURE earthquake hazards.

So yeah, I’m somewhat sour. Then again though, I did make it all the way to the finals and got to represent my school in my category. So at the very least, that is still quite an accomplishment.

This just means I should start new research this summer, and be ready to take the competition next year.