SOTY 2015: The Student of the Year Scientist/Mathematician needs to look beyond the laboratory

SOTY 2015: The Student of the Year Scientist/Mathematician needs to look beyond the laboratory

Judges reveal the qualities they’re looking for as they try to decide who should win the Student of the Year Mathematician/Scientist

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Judges (from left), Karen Sit, Allen Ma, Bien Perez had their work cut out trying to determine the winner.

This year’s Student of the Year is a clash of the titans, with such an extraordinary calibre of students that even seasoned judges have to pause and debate who should receive first place.

Bien Perez, SCMP Chief Technology Reporter has the highest of praise for this year’s top three. “I would be proud of them if I were their teacher. I would want to be friends with them when I was in school. You wish you were them. They are awesome,” he says. “There were students here working on planes, cancer research, and genetic diseases. When I was their age I was playing basketball.”

Allen Ma Kam-sing, CEO of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) observed students are not just doing science, but doing it with society in mind. “Innovation and technology are about converting science and the results of research into solutions and products than can benefit mankind. The candidates can see what society needs and understand why they are studying math and science.”

Ma emphasised the importance of curiosity and ambition. “I pick up comments about a student doing DNA sequencing. Another student was helping build and design and aeroplane. We have no aerospace industry in Hong Kong, yet we have students with this ambition. And these were students in Forms Five and Six. I really admire them.”

Ma also noticed times have changed. “What we used to use to differentiate ourselves has now become a given. What differentiated better performing students back then were passion, curiosity and perseverance. But these students have all that and more. This is your starting point.”

Karen Sit-man, museum director of the Science Museum says this year’s finalists have a deep understanding of their chosen subject and a clear goal - but it will take more than that to win.

“I hope future candidates can be well rounded with broad knowledge,” says Sit. “Students don’t really need to specialise so soon. By learning about different subjects, they may find a more suitable path for themselves. We often ask questions in the interview to observe their reactions and general knowledge.”

Sit says this is important, and suggests younger students learn about other things. “Science is related to everything, not just books. labs or ‘high tech’. It can be fun. Always ask why and pursue knowledge. Researchers need to know things.”

Perez considers versatility and adaptability to be these finalists best traits. “They are eloquent and well rounded.” he says “They are intelligent and fluent in English, and while their minds are sharp, their tongues are not; they are tactful and courteous.”

Ma also believes that these English skills are crucial for those going into science fields. “English was picked by fewer candidates than last year, which is a worrying trend.” he explains. “To be a global citizen and read not only science literature but all information, and communicate around the world requires English.”

Sit echoed Ma’s emphasis on communication, saying: “Modern society requires scientists to leave their labs and communicate, be it to find funding or teach the next generation.”

Perez tells students to not “act” the part of a Student of the Year but “be” the part. “Be well rounded. Be as good as you can be. Make full use of your gifts,” he says, adding that sincerity is all important. “Play the game straight and you’ll be a winner in your own way. It just has to come across as ‘you are a good student.’”

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Student of the Year

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