Written By: Ciara Judge
The world of teenage science fairs. It’s an interesting place, full of groundbreaking youth-led research, impressive pyrotechnic award shows, and corporate sponsorship, where everyone seems to know each other. It can certainly be an intimidating world to venture into. Now, I’ve been around my fair share of science fairs, so here’s my advice for someone with ambitions in the land of science fairs.
First of all, I understand better than most that it’s very difficult to find structured ways of getting involved in science as a young person. It’s much more straightforward for someone interested in sports or music, where you can just join your local sports team or orchestra. For those in science, depending on how involved your teachers or guidance counselors are, those opportunities can be significantly more hard to find. So first of all: how do you find them?
The biggest solution to this is to network as much as you can with other like-minded young people. There are a plethora of Facebook groups online in which young people share opportunities and initiatives you can take advantage of. By simply searching ‘young founders’ on Facebook, groups like this are easily found.
So you’ve found a science fair or competition you want to enter, but you don’t know where to start. Well, it all starts with an idea. This is the initial spark which causes you to start an investigation, and it can be as small as wanting to find a way to keep your coffee warm for longer, or as ambitious as wanting to cure cancer. The best ideas to work on are undoubtedly ones that you have a personal interest in, perhaps by trying to solve a problem that you come across in your day to day life. Or even if you don’t have personal ties to your idea, try and bring your areas of interest into the execution stage, and use your interests to accomplish your goal in that way.
Another important piece of advice – or rather, a caveat, is that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the work you see ahead of you at the start of the process. However, this can easily be overcome if you divide that workload into small pieces. Break it down into the research stage, experimentation stage, data analysis stage etc. Suddenly, what appears to be a mountain of work seems like a much more manageable climb. I remember a question my dad used to pose to me when I was younger if I ever felt like I was facing an impossible obstacle or conundrum: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer of course, “one bite at a time.”
Finally, never underestimate the importance of working on the communication of your project and ideas. You should take the opportunity to explain your work to everyone who will listen, be that your mother, father, brother, sister, neighbor, I mean you can even practice by talking to yourself in the mirror! More and more young people nowadays are coming up with fantastic new developments in science and technologies at these science fairs, but what distinguishes them is their ability to present and communicate their work to judges and the general public.
Although it can be scary, the science fair world can also be a welcoming one, where young people with an interest in science can meet like-minded people from all over the country and indeed, the world. Not only is the area an exciting hub of youth-led discovery, but it’s also somewhere where you can find a safe space to be yourself, and make friends for life.
So take the leap, dive in, and ask yourself: what will your big idea be?
Ciara Judge is a twenty-year-old scientist and entrepreneur from Kinsale in Ireland. She has previously won the BT Young Scientist, the EU Young Scientist and the Google Science Fair with her colleagues Emer and Sophie for their research on the work of Rhizobium with cereal crops. In September of 2014 Time Magazine named her as being one of the 25 most influential teens worldwide. She was also listed by thejournal.ie on their 20 under 20 to watch for 2015, and Huffington Post as one of the Most Fearless Teens of 2014. Now, she serves as co-director of her first company, Germinaid Innovations, with her best friend Emer. During her teenage years, she founded a diverse range of startups, initiatives, and organizations, some of which I am still working on today.