“Furthermore the program brings together young people from all over the world with similar interests and thus aims to promote international understanding and friendship.” – excerpt from program section, “History and purpose of Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS)”.
How do our individual career paths in our day-to-day communities relate to the greater international society? Or put more simply, how was Sweden? In asking about my experience in Stockholm, most friends ask questions with words like the latter, but their curiosity reflects the former; what is it like to go between the simple ground level of science to historic celebrations of the greatest benefits to humankind from science? I did not know what to expect from the opportunity to explore this notion; what I found was the connection comes through the people involved, that friendship and creativity and relationships define discovery as much as the technical nature of science.
The week had an incredible component of science and knowledge. What brought us together as conference participants was an aptitude and potential in science and research. Many of the friends I met had won national science fairs, immersed in independent research while in high school. The end of the week culminated with participation in the Nobel festivities. Attending the press conferences and host universities introduced us to the impacting science recognized by the Nobel foundation; meeting the laureates at evening parties gave us personal connection to the celebrations, and our experience at the award night and banquet capped off the week with a once-in-a-lifetime look at what science means to the world, a pinnacle of exploration full of hope and encouragement for future endeavors.
As a first year graduate student just beginning to ponder my directions in science at the ground level, I found these events to be incredible opportunities to observe the other end of the spectrum in science and appreciate the impact of research. Seeing that overarching level of science was an insightful perspective for me. In the methodical timeframe of research, one may not see results for days or weeks – or more. I am currently learning how to reconcile this slow pace of progress with the desire to get results quickly. The scientists involved in the ceremonies provided the visible reminder of the time often involved in research of important magnitude; most of them had been working on their projects for years! They had not gotten results for a long time, and they had shifted their focus questions as time moved along as well. Their journeys were added encouragement for flexibility as I choose my directions in research; the questions are to be found as we go and not known entirely when we begin – and we change our course based on the answers we find as we go.
Talking with the laureates was a special treat; those conversations revealed to me how personal science can be, how there are faces behind the big questions we are asking. Amidst all the limelight of the prestige of the Nobel festivities, the people whom I will remember the most are my friends from the conference, my fellow students who showed me a glimpse of how science is built on community and fellowship. I learned the most from our adventures and conversations together.
What struck me was how the diversity of projects matched or surpassed that of the students themselves; I got to spend most of my time on the presentation day trying to wrap my mind around fascinating projects in fields about which I knew very little. That afternoon was a turning point in the week for me – I realized that while our science had brought us together, we would find friendship beyond just the knowledge; we would relate as individuals, as cultures, as people who had stories to share and time to learn about each other. We all did a form of science and yet were exploring such distinct areas; our commonalities were not at a research level. Where did we find connections? We related through things we all share – we talked about family, about culture, about world events, and about hobbies. We explored our surroundings in Stockholm together.
While the events of the week with the Nobel festivities are prominent memories, my favorite moments were in the community of new friends. We got to cook Swedish food together one night; I’ve never seen such thick pepparkakkor cookies or Swedish meatballs, but then again most of these friends had never made them before. We went ice-skating downtown, and though I am not an expert by any means, I could still help those who had never seen an ice rink have their first skating experience. One of my favorite times of exchange was the ethics seminar at the beginning of the week at a comics museum; we spent the afternoon role playing as leaders and people from around the world and also had time to share our personal views on some of the big questions facing our world community today. And these kinds of memories reflect the purpose of SIYSS – to “promote international understanding and friendship.”
I am honored to have been a part of this program and thank the Swedish Council of America for their support. From the time I got to spend with an amazing group of students, I know greatness will come out of the group through science and other pursuits; the understanding fostered through this experience encourage us to go forward together in community, encouraging collaboration and friendship as the tools of success.