Science competitions are blowing up all across the globe. Students from nearly every nationality participate in major science competitions every spring. In 2017 over 4 million K-12 students competed for over $8,000,000 in awards just in STEM competitions! And it's only getting bigger. At ICS we track hundreds of STEM focused competitions. There are programs for every interest from environmental conservation to rocketry to city planning! You can find the competitions best suited for your skills and interests on our ICS database here.

 

Spring time is when many of the big science competitions have their final tournaments, fairs, and presentations. We compiled this list of when some of the big ones are happening, and we'll be following the action closely to report on which schools are rising to the top of the STEM leaderboard after each competition. Here's what's coming up in the big science competitions:

 

ISEF 17-May Public day Exhibition of Projects
Regeneron Science Talent Search 11-Mar Public exhibition of awards
Discovery 3M Young Scientist 19-Apr Deadline to Submit Entries
Science Bowl April 26-30 National Competition
Ocean Sciences Bowl April 19-22 National Finals
Science Olympiad May 18-19 National Tournament
iGEMS 16-Feb Early registration deadline (final reg deadline is April 30th)
BioGENEius June 4-7 International final competition

 

We'll follow up on this post as new award winners are announced to update the leaderboards! 

 

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.

 

Be Different.

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.

 

Be Interested!

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.

 

Be Specific!

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.

 

This summer, the world of academic competitions was abuzz with what was perhaps the most buzzed about high school STEM competition ever. Not only was there a series of firsts in the competition itself, but there was a mix of politics, international intrigue, and yes even a President stepping in with a last minute game changer! The perfect makings for the next big J.J. Abrams hit movie!

When 6 teenage girls from Afghanistan wanted to come to the United States to participate in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge – a robotics competition geared towards promoting a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the leaders of tomorrow – they were stopped dead in their tracks when their visas were denied.

Even though their robot had made it to the competition, after several attempts to gain entry, the 6 young Afghan engineers were probably ready to give up as the competition date neared. Then something unexpected happened, something extraordinarily out of the ordinary (at least for this political cycle). President Donald J. Trump – the man who’s every word led us to believe he would be the last person to do so – intervened to permit the girls entry for the competition.

This news got our team at ICS thinking – since everything these days seems to be about politics – we needed to ask, why did President Trump choose to intervene on these girls’ behalf while attempting to ban millions of other Muslims from entry to the country? Was there ever a danger of letting them in to compete? And taking it a step further, this question quickly expands to the broader notion of, “How should the United States handle educating the next generation of scientists and engineers from foreign countries?” What if we know they are not going to be staying in the US and contributing to our economy? Does that matter in the long-run? 

We wanted to bring this up not to push our own opinions on what is right or wrong, but to attempt to have an open discussion on how academic competitions at the international stage like this can have an impact not only on the participants, but on the fundamental nature of our society. More so than sports and international athletic competitions, academic challenges have the potential to change the future because of their affect on who will be the next leaders in important technological areas such as science and engineering. With such amazing power to change the world, ICS is on a mission to bring out scientific knowledge about how can we maximize this power for good.

So, we decided to have a short thought experiment (admittedly a fairly surface-level experiment given the complexity of the topic) on this question by posing basic arguments from both sides. So here they are, our surface-level arguments for and against educating with our arms wide open. We would love to hear your input.

 

Bring them on!

On the one hand, we can say, “Yes, bring them on!” The United States should be positioning our country as the global leader in STEM by bringing future leaders here and showing them our American culture and expertise. Having a global challenge where our students compete against the best and brightest from other nations ultimately improves everyone’s skills, so we all win. There are innumerable accounts of foreign scientists, engineers, and mathematicians coming to the US and adding to our economy, not to mention global prosperity (we can attribute much of our technologies today to foreign immigrants).

So, what if we expand the question to where we know the foreign students will not be returning to the US and contributing to our economy? Is it the case that any knowledge they gain from their educational experiences here will be going back with them to their country? Well, we then might make the argument for allowing them to participate by stating how the issues and problems that many international competitions challenge students to solve are global in nature. In these cases, figuring out solutions doesn’t just make a participant’s home country a better place, but will make the world a better place. And we will all win.

Furthermore we could argue that these experiences in the US for foreign students are a great way to highlight American culture, and to help encourage students to bring American values back to their home countries, thereby indirectly helping us avert future conflicts. Unfortunately, we can never know for sure how the knowledge gained in these programs will be used, but there are many obvious benefits to allowing and encouraging these global opportunities to share knowledge. So this brings us to the other side of the coin.

 

Where's the wall?

On the other hand, the argument can be made that by encouraging students in other countries to embrace and excel in STEM we risk falling behind in those areas ourselves – areas critical to our national defense and economy. If we fall behind too much, we risk becoming dependent on other nations for new technologies, and risk having inferior technology for national defense and other economic drivers.

So should we shut the doors and focus on educating our own to be the best they can be? On this side of the argument, defenders of the wall may highlight examples of foreigners who were educated in the United States and went on to join terrorist groups – perhaps the most recent high profile example being “Lady Al-Queda” an MIT-trained neuroscientist from Pakistan who was convicted in 2010 of attempting to murder Americans and sentenced to 86 years in federal prison. We can never know what any individual will do with their education, so is it worth the risk bringing foreigners here to get trained through our programs? This is the ultimate question, do the benefits of global knowledge sharing and bringing people around the world together behind education outweigh the potential risks to our national economy or society? 

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This article is not an attempt to plant our flag and state which argument we believe is right. This article is an attempt to bring about open discussion to help understand the nuances of this very complex issue and to hopefully highlight some more specifics and detailed data from our community in the comments and social media. We always believe in open discussion and think that international competitions like FIRST’s Global Challenge (and many others) may benefit from better understanding on how to manage potentially sensitive situations on the international stage. Situations that do have long-term implications for the future stability of our country and society. Education is a powerful force – perhaps the most powerful change-maker we have over the long-term – and one thing we do believe at ICS is that we must work hard to maximize its value for global good.

So what do you think? Should we close the doors to bringing international students to the US for these kinds of competitions? What if we know they’re going back to their home countries rather than staying and contributing to our economy? Or should we open the gates in an understanding that the benefits of sharing our culture and values will outweigh the potential detriments?

We’d love to hear your comments on both sides of the argument!

And don’t forget to signup for a free account with ICS to stay up on all the action with these and other interesting topics in academic competitions. We treat academics like the rest of the world treats sports and are working hard to bring more of these programs to the public sphere.