I remember competing at my first big science fair in 8th grade. It was at the Northwest Science Expo. I was standing in front of my poster on which chips are greasiest (the story of how I came to do this project is too long and tear-filled to explain). I didn’t win any awards that day, but I did realize that I had a love for science fairs.
One year later, I was competing at the Gresham-Barlow Science Expo for high-schoolers. I had done an experiment on an antibiotic herb, and I was so nervous standing next to some truly amazing projects. Honestly, I felt a little… lame (I’m not supposed to say that). I vividly remember a sophomore girl standing by a poster that was taller than my dad. She was wearing a perfectly pressed suit - with a tie! I asked her what her project was about and listened, eyes wide, as she talked about a drug she developed for cancer (I only understood the word “cancer”). I stood there for a while, hoping the genius would rub off on me. She never cracked a smile. Not even once. I’d be grinning like an idiot the whole day with a project like that.
I got honorable mention in my category that day, which was a little disappointing. But I did have a blast. I got to meet other students and amazing scientists, and I got a lot of tips and ideas for next year. I was hooked on science fairs, and it became my sport.
I guess the point of me telling you this story is to lead up to this: you must enter a science fair. Okay, a lot of you might hate science, but please, please, please believe me – you do NOT need to like studying science. Doing a science fair project on something you love is so fun (yes, I do realize that sounds incredibly dorky). No matter what you’re interested in, even if it’s nail polish or Youtube, there’s a science project you can do about it.
For those of you out there, especially the nerds and non-nerds, here are the top seven reasons you should enter a science fair.
1. You can win awards!
The thrill of sitting on the stadium and watching the awardees get called is incomparable. I love the feeling of adrenaline and nerves waiting to see if my name will be called. If you get an award, it’s so awesome to get to walk up the stage and hear everyone cheering for you. You can win a lot of scholarship money; plus, who doesn’t want to wear a bunch of ribbons and get interviewed by local news reporters?
2. Participate in cool activities
Most science fairs have fun activities for the students to do during their breaks. You could tour a university, peek into some high-tech labs, watch a scientist at work, or even just play some weird/cool games. Not your definition of “cool”? Never mind, just move on.
3. Meet like-minded teens
At any given science fair, there is a huge variety of students, from the nerds to the preps to the jocks. But they all have one thing in common: they’re very passionate about what they’re doing. You get to meet other teens and chat with them between judging sessions. Who knows, you might make a life-time friend.
4. Free food!
Okay, kind of a lame reason, but sometimes true. Most science fairs give you free snacks (don’t count on this 100%; eat a humongous breakfast).
5. It looks great on college applications
Colleges LOVE science fairs. They love to see applicants who have competed at science fairs, especially more than once. This will give you a big bonus in applications!
6. Gives you practice in planning, managing, and communicating
DON’T SKIP THIS ONE! I can already hear you groaning, but it really is important to develop these essential skills. Doing a science fair project will force you to plan out and manage your project, and you’ll really have to win the judges over with some good speaking skills (make sure to practice in front of your family or, if you’d rather, your stuffed animals).
7. And the best for last: you can win a trip to ISEF
Okay, this is the greatest reason to enter a science fair. The International Science and Engineering Fair is the Olympics of the science fair world. It’s what every young science nerd aspires to achieve. If you place first in one of Oregon’s regional fairs, you’ll present your project at the state fair. Six projects are chosen from the state fair to take an all-expense paid trip to ISEF. It’s a week-long, televised event that is absolutely amazing. Just watch this video and tell me you’re not smiling!
One last very, very important thing: no matter what project you decide on, do NOT look at everyone else’s projects and compare them to yours. You’ll just end up staring at your project, getting depressed, moaning and groaning, and generally feeling that you’re worthless. But remember: a lot of these students worked on one project for years and had access to high-tech labs. And I know some project titles might sound like Russian and make you hate science even more, but the project is probably simpler than you think. The point is, dive into a topic that interests you, come up with an original idea, and you’ll have fun without even trying!