Competitions are a great way to stretch your abilities, both individually and as part of a group. Besides, it’s hard to get better at something if you don’t know where you stand. You can learn a lot about your talents by entering competitions for other gifted students. This section gives you advice on competing and explains why it’s good to risk losing by going up against the best.
Competing tells you a lot about yourself
In an auditorium, contestants lean forward in their seats, hoping those few extra inches will allow the question to reach their ears first. Thumbs are poised above buzz-in devices, ready strike that red button for a chance to answer correctly.
Elsewhere, students sit and stand on a simple school stage as reporters and parents watch contestant after contestant be eliminated, leaving only a determined few waiting in the spotlight of the spelling bee, ready to answer the question, “Can you spell autochthonous?”
A thousand miles away, aspiring scientists make last-minute changes to their robots, vaguely aware of the thunderous cheers of fans and families watching on and the whispered encouragements of their teammates. Will months of preparation pay off? It all rides on this one moment.
These are all common scenes at academic competitions across the country. Tons of them take place every year, giving gifted students a chance to challenge themselves; meet students with similar interests, talents, and abilities; and walk away feeling more confident in their abilities, but that’s not all. Competitions can also help you learn more about a topic or even help make your career dreams come true. Think you might want to be a writer? Enter a writing competition to see how you like it. You’ll also get valuable feedback from professionals.
Find a competition that’s right for you. You’ll have more fun than you ever thought you could exploring an academic topic and gain an experience you just can’t get in the classroom.
Girl Power: What You Can Learn From Wonder Woman
Duke TIP thinks it’s important to support all gifted and talented students—and we also know that not all gifted students face the exact same issues. In particular, we know that gifted girls can face a unique set of challenges in their early years. Some issues facing gifted girls are created by others. For example, gifted girls are sometimes mischaracterized as bossy or boastful when they attempt to lead during group projects or when they are proud of a high test score. Some studies have even shown that teachers expect gifted boys to do better on tests than girls. If you think this is happening to you, speak up! You don’t have to be mean when you call people out on it. Sometimes, it’s better just to ask a question like: “Of course I’m proud of what I’ve done. If I were a boy, would you think I was bragging or being bossy?” Give people time to think about the answer and stay open to what they have say. You both might learn a lot!
Researchers have also pointed out ways that gifted girls tend to restrict themselves from reaching their full potential. They say it’s common for girls to be too modest about their success. For example, they may falsely attribute a high test score to luck instead of taking credit for that achievement. Experts believe that this happens because of social pressures that tell girls they need to avoid appearing “too smart.” In addition, many gifted girls have a fear of the future, and they worry about whether or not they have what it takes to be successful when they grow up. Sometimes girls even feel obligated to hide their intelligence. But you know what we say? If your lights are bright, let them shine! Take pride that you love learning and are smart. And remember this:
For most of the issues we’ve mentioned, there’s a common solution: confidence.
Wonder Woman is confident about her abilities and you can be, too! It’s important that you feel confident in yourself, the work that you do, and your own potential for success. What better way to boost your confidence than to remind yourself that people have been in your shoes and have not just made it through, they have enjoyed great success along the way. As you read about the following real-life wonder women, picture yourself in their shoes and visualize your own success.
From Girl Wizard to Global Advocate
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may remember Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger. What you may not know is that Emma Watson is also an example of a young woman who discovered her talents at a young age, owned them, honed them, became a powerful voice on the world stage, and then used that voice to address issues she believed were important.
Her story is an inspiration. She was just nine when she auditioned for her iconic role in the Harry Potter film series, and author J.K. Rowling knew instantly that she would get the part. Throughout the 2000s, Watson worked on the Harry Potter films and others, before enrolling at Brown University in 2009. Graduating in 2014 with an English degree, Watson was appointed a United Nations Women Goodwill ambassador that same year. Now, she speaks out on the international stage about women’s and human rights issues, but she hasn’t slowed down much in her success as an actress either. Maybe you’ve seen her as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and The Beast?
Did Hermione ever apologize for being smart? No, she did not. She knew that her intelligence might help save the world one day—and so did Emma Watson!
A First Lady Lawyer and More
Even better known than Emma Watson is former First Lady Michelle Obama, the wife of Barack Obama, America’s 44th President. While it’s impressive enough that she served for eight years as First Lady (or FLOTUS), she has done some pretty cool stuff outside of the White House, too. Like many of you reading this, Michelle Obama was taking gifted courses in subjects like French and biology by the time she reached the sixth grade. After middle school, she went on to attend a high school for gifted students, graduating as its salutatorian.
From there, she was off the Princeton University, where she studied sociology and graduated cum laude before attending Harvard Law School and earning a Juris Doctor in 1988. As an up-and-coming lawyer, Michelle Obama worked at a high-profile law firm in Chicago where, one summer, she was assigned to supervise a young summer intern named Barack Obama. That’s right, she was the future president’s boss before she became his wife. And long before she became FLOTUS, she continued working in Chicago as an attorney and, eventually, as a vice president for a large medical center.
During her husband’s campaigns for U.S. senate and the White House, she delivered passionate and powerful speeches that were praised by critics and news media alike. When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, Michelle Obama continued to work hard as FLOTUS, launching campaigns for healthier eating and encouraging children to exercise.
As you can clearly see from these two women, gifted girls have the potential to make a big impact on their communities and on the whole world. What did they have in common? Both understood their potential. Both strived to do great things. Both believed they could do it, and when they achieved a goal, they set their sights on achieving another one.
It’s ok to be a little star struck when hearing about women like Emma Watson and Michelle Obama, but you must also remember that you can be just as successful as they are. You can do great things if you believe in yourself and work hard!
While our other two profiled role models are great examples of gifted women, it’s important to remember that being famous isn’t a requirement for being successful. Maryam Mirzakhani hasn’t achieved the same celebrity-status as a former FLOTUS or a headlining actress—but her groundbreaking work in mathematics earned her the respect of her peers, a spot in history, and the love of the entire nation of Iran. Her all-too-short life stands as a great example for gifted girls with big dreams.
Mirzakhani grew up in the Iranian capital of Tehran. She was identified as gifted from a young age, attending a school for students with the potential for academic greatness. It didn’t take long before she was putting her talents on full-display. In 1994, Mirzakhani won a gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad, becoming the first female Iranian student to claim the honor. She wasn’t done. The next year, she became the first Iranian student, male or female, to achieve a perfect score and to win two gold medals at the competition.
In 1999, Mirzakhani graduated from Sharif University of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. After that, she travelled to the United States to pursue graduate work, attending Harvard University and earning a Ph.D. in 2004. From there, she worked as a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute before becoming a professor at Stanford University in 2008. Along the way, Mirzakhani was researching some of the most complex problems in math. Mirzakhani’s research includes a few areas of mathematics, including differential geometry, complex analysis, and dynamical systems. She always said, “You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.” Her time and energy would soon begin to pay off.
Making progress on some of math’s biggest challenges was reward enough for her, but awards like the American Mathematical Society’s Blumenthal Award (2009) and The Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics (2013) made things just a little sweeter. Even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she wasn’t slowing down. In 2014, she was recognized with what some call the most prestigious award in all of mathematics: the Fields Medal. Simultaneously, Mirzakhani broke two barriers, becoming both the first Iranian and the first woman to win the award.
After that, Mirzakhani continued her work, famously using doodling as a way to simplify complex mathematical concepts. Her young daughter described these works as “paintings.” Those paintings, along with intelligence and hard work, led Mirzakhani down a career path full of success and allowed her to achieve monumental “firsts” in her life.
Tragically, after her cancer worsened, she passed away in July of 2017. And while it’s sad when anyone dies, we can hold on to the fact that Mirzakhani left behind a legacy that will continue to inspire gifted girls from all over the world to pursue their dreams and never limit themselves.
Why failing is a big part of succeeding
When you enter a competition or contest—especially one when you are competing against other gifted kids—you may not always win. In fact, depending on how many other students enter, chances are you won’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that failing is part of becoming really good at what you do. It can help you learn more about the direction you want to take and inspire you to work harder. In fact, successful people throughout history have used their failures to improve their abilities, products, and ideas. Here’s how some of the most successful people in the world look back at their failures as crucial to their eventual success.
We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.Marie Curie
Marie Curie was a two-time Nobel Prize winner. While researching radioactivity, she and her team of researchers discovered two new elements, radium and polonium, which were added to the periodic table.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”J.K. Rowling
J.K. Rowling was a single mom struggling to make ends meet when she came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series. The series would gross millions, and the film adaptations broke box office records.
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison made about 1,000 failed attempts at making the lightbulb. Although none of them worked, they weren’t really failures. Each one was a lesson learned. Eventually, Edison successfully invented the lightbulb. His story of perseverance sheds light on how failure can help you succeed.
When there is no struggle, there is no strength.Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was denied a promotion while working at a news station. Instead of giving up, she became determined to take control of her own career as a highly-successful talk show host. Now, she even owns her own television network.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Could you believe he was cut from his high school basketball team at one time? Imagine if he had stopped pursuing his dream then!
It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.Bill Gates
Bill Gates is among the richest people in the world. You may know him as the founder of Microsoft. Did you know that before creating Microsoft, he tried to start another company? It failed to catch on, and it made no money. Gates didn’t give up, however. Eventually, Microsoft would become a huge success.