For students interested in the STEM fields, there are many extracurriculars to choose from. You might join the Math or Science Olympiad team, you could join the Computer Science Club, or you could even volunteer as a naturalist at a local conservation area.
If you are interested in scientific research, you might pursue the opportunity to secure a research assistant position or shadow various scientific researchers. But if you truly want to take the helm and guide your own research, your path may lead you to participating in the science fair.
The science fair is a traditional component of many high school science programs, with participation ranging widely from school to school and science fair to science fair. At some schools, the science fair might be a rite of passage expected of every student. At others, it attracts a handful of dedicated science die-hards.
Regardless, most science fairs feature presentations by students who have completed experiments, demonstrated scientific principles, or undertaken an engineering challenge. Participants are judged by a panel of experts who score each presentation according to a rubric. Traditionally, awards are presented for the top-scoring projects.
There are many science fairs beyond school-sponsored fairs, too. Regional, state, national, and even international fairs are open to students who qualify through their schools and work their way up through the science fair circuit. Others, like the Regeneron Science Talent Search, are open through an intensive application process.
If you are considering entering a project in the science fair, you will need to think carefully about your subject matter, your experimental design, and the relevance of your work before committing to a project. Many science fairs will even require that you complete a formal research proposal to demonstrate the level of thinking you’ve put into your experiment before beginning it.
In this post, we will outline the purpose of a research proposal for the science fair, the common elements of such a proposal, and how you can go about writing a comprehensive research proposal that is sure to impress.
What is the Purpose of a Research Proposal?
A research proposal has three primary purposes. The first purpose is to explain what you intend to do. This is essentially what you will do in your experiment or project, summarized into a basic overview.
The second function of a research proposal is to explain how you intend to accomplish this. You will give a brief summary of the methods and techniques that you intend to employ, and list the materials that you will need to do so.
The final point of a research proposal is to explain why this project should be done. Here, you will discuss the important or relevance of this study. Basically, in this portion of your proposal you’ll answer the question, “so what?”
Now that you know the aim of a research proposal, you can begin to prepare to write one.
Step-By-Step Guide to Creating a Research Proposal
1. Narrow down the subject area.
Before you go into your project in any sort of depth, you’ll need a fairly good idea of what your project’s focus will be. In order to narrow this down, you should consider a few different angles.
First, ask yourself what you’re interested in. You will be more likely to feel engaged and passionate about a project that is genuinely interesting to you, so take some time to carefully consider the areas of science that you find the most fascinating. Even if they don’t seem particularly well-suited to a science fair project at first, you never know what you might be able to come up with through some collaboration with mentors or through some background research. Keep a running list of areas of science that sincerely fascinate you.
Next, consider any specialized labs or equipment to which you might have access. Does your best friend’s mother work in a lab with highly specialized tools? Does your school have a state-of-the-art wind tunnel or fully equipped greenhouse? These are all possible resources you can utilize if you want your project to truly stand out. Of course, it’s completely possible to choose a project that shines on its own without any specialized equipment, but if you’re looking for every boost you might get, having access to specialized technology can be a great advantage to make your project truly unique.
Finally, consider if you know a teacher or other professional who might be willing to mentor you. You can also seek out a mentor specifically if you can’t think of anyone obvious. Having a mentor in your field will provide you with invaluable insight into practice and past research in the field.
In the ideal world, you would find a project that maximizes all of your resources, including your interests, access to equipment, and an enthusiastic mentor. Don’t worry if you can’t secure all three, though. Plenty of science fair participants go on to do quite well relying on only their own dogged determination and commitment to their subject matter.
2. Decide How Your Experiment Will Be Done
If you have a mentor, teacher, or adviser willing to consult with you, schedule a time to sit down with them and discuss what you’d like to do. If you can’t find someone more experienced than you, even discussing your ideas with a trusted classmate, parent, or older sibling is a good idea. Sometimes the outside perspective will help to fine-tune your design or identify areas for improvement.
You should also begin some research at this stage to learn how similar projects have been conducted in the past. Use the results and limitations from these experiments to help guide your own experimental design.
As you do so, keep in mind any limiting factors. Remember to consider what equipment you have at your disposal, the time commitment you’re able to make, and the materials that you’ll need to acquire.
In addition, be sure to check the rules of the specific science fairs you’ll be attending. Some have strict regulations designed to keep you safe, like limiting the ways in which potentially hazardous chemicals can be used. Other rules are designed to keep the environment safe, like placing restrictions on how you dispose of foreign substances or non-native species. There are also ethical rules that govern the use of human participants or vertebrate animals in your studies. Make sure to check which rules govern the fair in which you’re participating and how they might impact your ideas before you put any more thought into your project.
Setting Science Free from Materialism (pdf)
Rupert's Latest Article from Explore 2013; 9:211-218 & 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
The Public Understanding of Science
Rupert's article from The Oxford Magazine Fifth week, Trinity Term 2008
The Science Delusion
Rupert's article on the Huffington Post blog, November 2012
Family Planning (pdf)
Nature Vol, 250, p 180 July 19 1974
Letter from Rupert to Nature
Public Engagement in Science Funding
Public Engagement in Science Funding
Nature, 18 November 2004
Set Them Free
New Scientist, April 19, 2003
Really Popular Science
New York Times, January 4th 2003
One per cent for Fringe Scientists
Die Zeit, July 11, 2002
New Scientist, July 19, 2001
Are we active? Or should the passive be used? / PDF
School Science Review, 2004 86, 8-10
Be More Active in Reports / PDF
Times Educational Supplement, January 7, 2005
Rupert's Latest Article from Resurgence/The Ecologist
Prayer: A Challenge for Science / PDF
Noetic Sciences Review (Summer 1994 ). 30, 4-9
The Crop Circle Making Competition (pdf)
Rupert's article from Michellany: A John Michell Reader, (2010) pp72-76, Michellany Editions, London.
The Unbearable Brightness of Being Right
Rupert reviews Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell.
Rupert's Replies to the Reality Club Questions
Every year, the New York literary agent John Brockman asks a question of scientists and science writers.
2009: What will change everything?
Rupert's Reply: The Credit Crunch for Materialism
Answers from other members
2008: What have you changed your mind about? Why?
Rupert's Reply: The Skepticism of Believers
2006: What is your dangerous idea?
Rupert's Reply: A Sense of Direction Involving New Scientific Principles
2005: What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?
Rupert's Reply: Most of The So-Called Laws of Nature Are More Like Habits