The secret to a successful Young Scientist pitch

Competition is tight, so here’s the inside track for students hoping to make it to the exhibition

BT Young Scientist: find an innovative idea with a tight focus, for a spot at the RDS. Photograph: Colm Mahady

BT Young Scientist: find an innovative idea with a tight focus, for a spot at the RDS. Photograph: Colm Mahady

 

The deadline for applying for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is September 29th. Last year there were more than 2,000 entries for 550 places, and this year is likely to continue the trend. Judges say the standard of entries is always very high and competition for one of the spots at the RDS in January is fierce.

How can you give your project the best chance of success? The submission form is the most important part of the process: it’s your opportunity to sell your idea to the judges and convince them you deserve a place in the exhibition. As such, students need to put their best feet forward. Some judges and past winners have offered their advice and tips for putting together a quality application.

1 An innovative idea
This is key to your submission. It should be something that makes the judges think, “Wow, that’s interesting, I wonder what happens when they do that?” Try and avoid ideas such as, which washing powders wash whitest? Or, does dyeing your hair weaken its strength? The judges see these all the time. That’s not to say that you can’t submit such an idea, but it should have an interesting or new angle that hasn’t been investigated before. It’s worth going through the online BT Young Scientist archive to see what subjects have been tackled previously. You could aim to carry out your research on an important topic that really affects people, such as climate change or racism.

2 A feasible project
Your idea must be doable. The judges often read proposals that simply aren’t feasible, for example, setting out to measure the annual rainfall in Dublin. If you’re only starting your project now, you can’t complete an annual measurement by January. It would be better to carry out a measurement of rainfall during the winter months, as this is easily achieved. Similarly, a project on whether or not Jupiter is inhabited by living creatures is not suitable. Your research question needs to be answerable by the research methods available to you.

3 Access to equipment
You need to have access to any equipment needed for your research. If it’s not available in school, maybe an industry lab or university can run tests for you. But you need to make it clear to the judges that this is possible. It’s great to have an innovative idea, but you also need to be able to carry it out.

4 Focus
Don’t try to cover too many angles in your project; keep it focused. Do one bit well instead of trying to cover a large amount of ground. For example, instead of doing a lab experiment and a questionnaire, just carry out the questionnaire which will give you more time to interpret the results and present a solid project. Judges often find people underestimate how much time it takes to complete tasks and they advise you don’t take on more than you can handle when writing your submission.

5 Literature review
It’s very important to have read some literature in advance and to demonstrate a good understanding of work carried out in your chosen area when completing your submission form.

6 Clear and concise communication
When it comes to filling in the form itself, you only have 500 words to play with. Give yourself plenty of time to complete it. You may need to do a couple of drafts before you are happy you’re really getting your idea across in an accessible way. You must explain as clearly as possible what you are proposing to do in the timeframe. The judges will want to know why you’re doing this research, how you will do it and what will it answer? They want clear thinking from you, and that needs to translate on to the page.

7 Talk to your friends and family
Explain your idea to friends and family. Do they get it? Ask them to read over your submission. Is it clear to them what this project is about? If you can covey your idea to others in an effective way, then you’ll be conveying it clearly to the judges too.

8 Show you care
Your passion and enthusiasm for your topic needs to shine through. If you’re not excited about your work, it will be hard for the judges to be excited too.

See btyoungscientist.com

Tips and hints are from Dr Tony Scott (founder of the exhibition and a judge in the chemical, physical & sciences category); Prof Joe Barry (judge in the social and behavioural sciences category); Eimear Murphy (winner 2015); and Ronan Larkin (winner 2004)

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