Glenn Zwanzig,Science Teacher,Dupont Manual High School Regional Fair
Developing In-depth Knowledge
Doing research in high school has many benefits. The first thing it does is, show a college recruiter that you are serious about your education. Colleges look for the extra-curriculars that students are involved in to see the type of student you are. Colleges want serious students. Personally, pursuing a research interest is going to give you a strong depth of knowledge in the area you are studying. It will allow you to expand your knowledge base. You learn more because you do not have someone telling you to learn this or learn that. You learn because you want to know the answers.
Participating in science research competitions beyond your school fair (regional, science state, Junior Academy of Science, etc) allows you to make contacts with other students. You make friends with students with like interests and make contacts with scientists and other people that can enhance your career.
The Secret to Winning
Winning at the competitions depends on several things. The type of research, the application of the research idea, how well you present the research, and your data analysis. The best research addresses a current topic or problem, addressing something that is in the news, something that is not being done year after year. If you are working in a professor’s lab make sure the research you are doing is your work. Did you come up with the idea or did you suggest a new approach to something that is being done? If all you did was to repeat something that is already being done in the lab, don’t expect the judges to receive it well. Don’t worry if it is sophisticated enough or not. That will come as you get into the research, meet others doing research, and as you become a more matured researcher. The important thing is that you are learning from the research. If the research becomes your passion, it will become more sophisticated. Just do it.
Parents can be a big help in helping students to pursue their interests. They can help by making contacts at their places of employment for mentors. They can help by reading the papers the students write and help them edit the papers. They can help them financially if the student needs special materials. But, parents should just not do the research for the student. That does not help anyone and quickly becomes obvious when the student starts making the first presentations in competitions. Parents can be a good audience for students to present to. If you can make your parents understand what you are doing, you are doing well.
Making your presentation can be a big part of winning at the science fair. You can have all of the other pieces in place but if you cannot present the work well, you are not going to get selected by the judges. First off, you are going to be nervous. Just admit that and start practicing. The more you practice your presentation, the better you will get. Don’t memorize, know it. Remember you are the expert. Practice presenting to yourself in a mirror. It is harder than you think. After you have gotten practice there, switch to your parents. Give it several times to them. Simplify your language as best as you can. If you can make a non-science person understand what you did, the judges will like your presentation better.
The only reason someone should do a research project other than being required to do one is because you want to learn more. Take that idea you are interested in and start reading about it first. The next step is to look at what kind of research is being done on the topic you are interested in. If what you want to do requires a lab, look up the list of staff/professors at a local university, a hospital, a related industry, public works, or even a government agency. Most will have scientists of some sort working for them. Find someone who has done related studies. Go talk to them about your ideas. Don’t be shy about asking for help getting started. Show initiative and interest. The rest should fall into place. People love motivated young people.
You will get so much more out of doing research in high school than what you put into it. The connections you make are invaluable. It gives you great resume filler. You make yourself more marketable. You will open up more college options and will increase your chances and the amount of scholarships you will be eligible for. The most important thing from doing a research project is the amount of knowledge you will gain.
Learning from Failures
I have been working with science fairs for about 28 years. I have been a fair director for about 15 of those years. Because I did not have a strong research background going into teaching, I have participated in several research projects during my summers and even worked on research in Antarctica. My interest in science fairs began in graduate school. As an undergraduate I had to do an independent research project without ever having any experience or guidance in doing it. I learned by doing it. In graduate school I refined my research skills. It would have been nice to have learned how in high school.
Jennifer Hellier,Associate Director of Programs,University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Amy Schauer,Program Coordinator,West Linn-Wilsonville School District