By now, most of us know that when it comes to getting into a good college it takes more than just making the grades and a high SAT score. Colleges like to know that there is more to you than just how well you can take tests. They want to see what kind of person you are and know well you can work under pressure. Can you think on your feet? How good are your problem-solving skills? What it really boils down to is this— are you a well-rounded person who can think? Can you problem-solve the challenges that are likely to come your way?
Luckily, this is where academic competitions really stand out. Science fairs are the standard STEM based competition that just about every middle and high school is involved in one way or another. At one point, nearly every student completes a science fair project these days. However, just like quarterbacks, pitchers, and sprinters, academic athletes shouldn’t just go out and jump into these competitions without preparation. To perform well takes meticulous training, careful preparation, and a lot of planning. So we put together four helpful tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your next round of science fairs! Following these tips can help you get jump-started and lead to a dramatic rise in your academic performance so that you will be the one getting noticed for future college and career opportunities.
First of All, Be Proactive.
If there is one thing that most of us mere mortals are prone to doing, it’s failing to realize when we need help. Youth are notoriously bad at this. When we’re young we want to prove that we can do it all on our own. We don’t realize that even the smartest among us need a helping hand. And when we’re young, having the right mentor can be the difference between just completing a competition, and getting to nationals. Mentors help us get over hurdles that we didn’t even know where there.
So the question is, how do you find the right mentor? Can’t our teachers be our mentors? Often-times yes. High School educators or local college or university professors can be great mentors. But students have to be proactive in seeking them out. Our educators are swamped with things to do. And if it looks like they just won’t have the time or ability to be a good mentor to you or your team, go beyond the school. There are many non-profit organizations in the STEM fields that are focused on providing quality mentors from STEM industries. According to the science education organization Science Buddies, 85% of all Science Talent Search participants had to find their own mentors.
So don’t wait for your teachers to dive in, be proactive and search out your own mentors. Check out the Science Buddies article for some more details on where you can go, but to start out with, your local college or university is a great place to begin. The professors there are usually very excited to help their local high school students, or if they don’t have the time themselves, they will know who can.
There are a lot of great science projects out there that have been done again and again. Simply putting a new twist on the old volcano top project won’t get you into the winners circle at any meaningful level. If you really want to have a great shot at winning, come up with something new and different, or make sure you really have a unique addition to a standard project. If you go with the table top volcano project, make sure you have new research on a specific structure of the volcano that could add to our understanding of their explosions. Or that you have examined specific ways to stop or modify lava flows. Even the old-school projects can lead to great success, but you have to be different, unique, and detailed! If you can, come up with a project that is something the judges haven’t seen before or haven’t seen much of. They will be more likely to remember your project than someone else’s they’ve seen done a hundred times. When they are trying to decide who the winners are, it helps to be memorable.
Passion is the buzzword on everyone's lips when it comes to career success and happiness. You have to be passionate about your job. One of the most famous quotes about this is from the #1 all-star of science, Albert Einstein. He said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” So take it from uncle Al and be passionately curious. This goes the same for your science fair project. Someone could suggest or you could find a project that is fresh, complex, and challenging but if it doesn’t interest you, you need to move on. It may be the kind of subject material that winning projects are made of. But if you are not interested in it yourself, your project will suffer. Don’t let someone else choose your science fair project! It has to come from you.
When it is something that you are interested in, you attack the project with more intensity. You put forth more effort into testing your theory than you realize simply because you like what you are doing. When it comes time to present your project, you will do so with more vigor because you are invested in it. That passion will be apparent to the judges, and it will make you and your project appear more interesting and more likely to win. Check out this article from the Huffington Post if you want more quotes from some of the most successful people in the world on how they view passion as the most important part of their careers.
Make sure you don’t choose a topic that is too open-ended or broad. An open-ended project may seem interesting enough, but the judges will want more than just your surface level data. They are going to want a definitive conclusion; not just a statement that “more research will be necessary.” Science fair projects should be able to have discovered something, even if you think it is very small and trivial, make sure you have some specific key findings at the end.
Stay organized, stay with it, and see it through to the end: If you are unorganized, you will have a hard time realizing everything that you know and keeping track of it. It will be just as hard to know what you need to find out and should be looking for. Nothing will be more frustrating than realizing you just repeated something because you couldn’t find your original results.
The best projects will not be easy. They will challenge you and you will have moments where it will look like you have failed. But the judges will appreciate your persistence. Just because the first 25 trials were failures doesn’t mean No. 26 will not be right. Judges look for specifics. They want to see that you have been able to understand your project and the topic better than anyone else.
So take these tips home and remember: Be Proactive, Be Different, Be Interested, and Be Specific to tackle your science fair project and have the best shot at getting to the top.