Technical Advisors

Preparing for the Competition:

The Internet Science and Technology Fair (ISTF) staff would like to thank all of the technical advisors who participated in the 2002-2003 competition for taking on the challenge of advising student teams.

Of those who participated as mentors in the 2002-2003 Internet Science and Technology Fair:

  • 46.7% were contacted by students in the community
  • 17% were contacted directly by teachers of ISTF teams
  • 16.7% were found directly by the student teams through Internet searches
  • The remaining 20% either were asked by their employer to help out or were found by other means

Developing Projects for the Competition:

During the competition those teams that did have technical advisors received the following kinds of help from their mentors:

  • 66.7% - Provided information on web sites their teams could use
  • 63.3% - Helped the students better understand technical information they found on the Internet
  • 56.7% - Explained to students what kinds of questions they should be asking him/her
  • 50% - Asked questions that would help the team better understand the technology they were researching
  • 46.7% - Requested that the students narrow the focus of their project
  • 30% - Asked the students to revise their project focus.

NOTE: Approximately 45% of the 2002-2003 ISTF teams had no technical advisor - even though many made valiant attempts to find a mentor.

Completing the ISTF Projects:

At the conclusion of the 2002-2003 ISTF, technical advisors had some important information to share with the ISTF Office. A quick look at the final comments in the Technical Advisors' evaluations show the following:

  • 30% saw their team's web site while it was a work in progress
  • 56.7% saw the team's web site only after the project was completed
  • 13.3% had not seen the web site at the time of the evaluation

Seventy percent of the technical advisors felt their teams incorporated the proper amount of technical information into their projects.

Comments about the final web sites ranged from:

"It is a BIG endeavor they took on, and it is hard to address all the ramifications of their decisions."


"The website and mechanics were good. Regarding content, various team members wrote different components and there's very little continuity between them. The components cite inconsistent statistics, and are sometimes redundant."

While a final project found on a specific web site might not be totally acceptable to the team's technical advisor, 73% of this year's advisors felt they had helped their teams to better understand the steps in technology research, and 63.3% said they would consider being a technical advisor again.


The technical advisors in their evaluations addressed three major areas of concern. These include:

  • Understanding the role of the technical advisor,
  • The project focus presented by the team, and
  • Communicating with the team.

The role of the technical advisor:

Ninety-three percent of those who accepted the role of ISTF mentor reviewed the technical advisor guide at the ISTF web site and about one-quarter found it to be very useful. Almost 63%, however, found it only adequate. For anyone considering helping a team in the 2003-2004 competition, we suggest that you view the following link which includes a brief, bulleted outline of what mentors are asked to do:



The ISTF is a learning experience not only for the students, but also for their mentors. Communication is the key. The ISTF Program Office has always cautioned students that their advisors are busy professionals and teams should not contact them too often. However, this year most mentors wished that their team or teams had contacted them more frequently. In fact in a list of concerns provided in the technical advisor evaluation, the #1 concern was that students did not ask for mentors' opinions on information that they found on the Internet.

The technical advisor should set the communication boundaries and take an active role in informing the students about how communication should be handled. For instance if the technical advisor feels it would be beneficial to exchange e-mails twice a week or have a list of the web sites the students are searching sent to them, or receive regular updates on where the team is in the ISTF process, these requests are certainly logical.

It is up to the technical advisor and team members to agree on how they will communicate and how often they will communicate. As the team becomes more comfortable in contacting their technical advisor, communication often improves dramatically.

Project Focus:

We learned that 70% of this year's technical advisors reviewed the entire ISTF web site, but only 33.3% reviewed the Content Guidelines that are the heart of the ISTF. For future reference, technical advisors might want to review not only the Content Guidelines but also the following URL:


This site explains what students teams are expected to do.

The ISTF process suggests that students send a short description of their project to those they are asking to be their technical advisor. It seems that at this point the focus of the topic the team will research becomes an issue. Initially:

  • about 27% of the technical advisors felt the students understood the problem and the technical solution they proposed
  • 60% of the technical advisors felt that either the students needed to narrow the focus of their overall project or that, though they understood the problem, the students had not proposed a relevant technical solution.

It is in this defining stage that the technical advisor can be most useful to the students. Aiding students to focus on one technical application within a wide range of possibilities helps direct them to perform more defined research.

Since most students have had little or no experience in the area of contacting a professional with a request for help, this is a crucial stage for many team members. Some technical advisors had worked with student groups in the past and had developed a comfort zone working with students. On the other hand, as one mentor stated:

"I was unprepared to deal with students with limited knowledge of the subject. As a professor in this area of science, I was unable to direct them to literature sources that were at their levelů"

No mentor should hesitate to question, probe and gently remind students to stay on task, especially in the early stages of the ISTF. This is the period when the students need the most help as they become familiar with performing research and exploring technological applications on the Internet.

Again, we wish to thank all those technical advisors who participated in the 2002-2003 ISTF for their thoughtful evaluations. We are looking forward to having you with us again in the 2003-2004 ISTF competition.