A science research project can be one of the most unique and exciting extracurricular activities that high school students can do. Like many other activities, there are some conditions for success:
some advanced knowledge of a science subject
a set of materials needed to conduct the experiment (based on your hypothesis and experimental design)
a long-term commitment of several months
There are multiple stages of a successful research project, including experimental design, conducting the experiment, analyzing the results, and presenting the conclusions. The project all starts with a refined and specific hypothesis. Without a concrete hypothesis, there is no project. Science Buddies has a great page on how to conduct scientific research.
The experience of designing and conducting an experiment independently is invaluable. Unfortunately, most high schools and learning centers do not offer science research programs, which means few students get this opportunity. In high school science classes, students are given cookie-cutter labs in which all the instructions, hypotheses, and other information are provided already. That is why they are considered labs rather than research experiments. Research, on the other hand, can involve anything that is observable and testable, so students are free to explore topics and be curious.
There are many benefits of doing scientific research as a high school student, and below are the top seven.
1. It is one of the best ways to stand out in college applications. Since it is seldom offered in school, students don’t usually take the initiative to conduct their own research. Even when they do, they often run into roadblocks because they are not sure where to get certain materials or lab instruments that they might need, or they might not know if their hypothesis is truly testable based on the materials they have access to. That is why the students who do succeed in completing a science research project really stand out to college admissions. Completing such a formal research project also shows initiative, curiosity, creativity, and commitment. Essentially, college admissions at the most competitive universities are aware that students who successfully complete such projects (and often compete in science fairs) have certain skills that set them apart from others.
2. It allows students to apply the scientific knowledge that they might have gained from classes they took in school. Since they know the information already, it is wise to use it for something with a bigger purpose. Learning information is different from knowing how to apply it in real life, and college admissions know this. Understanding how to apply knowledge to solve useful problems is a crucial skill and will help students succeed in the long run. It is also something that college admissions are happy to see when they review students’ applications.
3. Being involved in science research allows students to experience and observe science for themselves. This is far more effective than learning and memorizing information from a textbook and PowerPoint slides. Students get to experience phenomena that they have learned in class for themselves when they conduct a well-designed experiment. It creates a positive and memorable experience that students will carry with them to college and beyond. The new skills and information they learn will also stick in their minds, unlike the lists of vocabulary terms that students often cram in before an exam.
4. Doing scientific research helps students develop and practice crucial skills that are needed to succeed in a wide range of careers, in addition to high school and college. It pushes students to think creatively with a strong sense of curiosity. This mindset fosters brilliant, innovative ideas in the future. Some specific skills that students learn from science research are:
Data analytics, which involves recognizing patterns and outliers, as well as drawing insights from them
Experimental design, and understanding how to test and answer questions
Communicating results and highly technical information to a broad audience, who may or may not be familiar with the topic. This is an extremely important skill and it is often overlooked because “communication” appears to be a very broad, vague skill. However, communicating with others and persuading them using data will help individuals build credibility anywhere they go and rise quickly in their future careers.
5. Students have the opportunity to share and communicate their knowledge and work with others. Typically, a research program will require students to participate in a final science fair. This allows students the opportunity to present their work to others and learn about others’ research topics. A science fair is an event in which many brilliant, creative students come together to share ideas and hypotheses with each other. Just like how there are high school sports teams for athletes to showcase their skills and talent, there are science fairs for students interested in advanced science to showcase their knowledge and talent.
6. Going through the full research process and writing a formal research paper prepares students for the research papers they will inevitably be assigned in both high school and college. These research papers could be for an English class, an organic chemistry class, or even a philosophy class, but the process and skills utilized will usually be the same. How can students craft an original yet testable hypothesis? How do they write the abstract, discussion, and conclusion sections of the research paper? How do they search for the right published literature in a giant database such as JSTOR or Google Scholar?
7. It allows students to design and lead a big project independently. Students are the leader of the project at every stage. Throughout the research process, they will need to practice time management, resourcefulness (defining and finding the information and materials they need and using those effectively), and project management. The latter two skills are especially unique to a research project.
Completing a science research project is a significant accomplishment. Not only will it bring students recognition and set them apart in college admissions, but it will also help students develop the key skills needed to succeed in high school, college, and their careers.