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8 Research Paper Competitions in STEM You Should Consider as a High Schooler

Research paper competitions offer a number of advantages and opportunities – including learning how to present your findings, gaining valuable experience in your field of choice and of course, challenging yourself to build your knowledge and skills. 


Participating in a research competition that requires you to submit a research paper comes with these benefits and more – you’ll pick up scientific writing and science communication skills too, which will be super useful in the future!


Even if you don't win or place in the competition, your participation can show what you learned about your chosen field and how you explored your passion for the subject.


For those who have a budding interest in research, participating in competitions can be a transformative experience. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into 8 research paper competitions in STEM for high schoolers.


Hosted by the Society for Science, ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition – receiving thousands of entries from across the globe every year. To participate in ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional level fair and will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that takes place in a hybrid format each year. It has at maximum a 2-5% acceptance rate at qualifying fairs, making it extremely competitive and selective.  


You participate by presenting original work that has been going on for no longer than 12 months - the more recent, the better. Some subcategories you can present your research include atomic, molecular, and optical physics, astronomy and cosmology, cellular and molecular biology, and microbiology. Working on research projects and getting shortlisted to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity and a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students such as yourself. 


Tip: Here’s our detailed guide to participating in the ISEF!


Location: Hosted in different cities every year. ISEF 2024 will be in Los Angeles, CA.

Dates: Local and regional-level fairs have different dates. Please find the list here. ISEF 2024 will be held in May 2024 (tentatively, based on the 2023 schedule).

Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering are encouraged to apply. Students can participate individually or in teams.

Cost:  On-site registration of $25 for each participant.

Prizes: Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, and scientific trips, as well as cash prizes of up to $75,000 are awarded to winners. 


Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program for high-achieving students, seeking to support and guide research conducted by some of the brightest minds in STEM. Winning teams are awarded prizes of up to $50,000 to support future research work or academic advancement. To apply for the Fellows Program, you must submit original work that covers any of the following criteria:

  • An exceptionally creative application of existing knowledge

  • A new idea with high impact

  • An innovative solution with broad-range implications

  • An important advancement that can be replicated and built upon

  • An interdisciplinary discovery

  • A prodigious performance

  • Another demonstration of extraordinary accomplishment


You must enter in teams of not more than 2 students, and submit work that is at, or close to, college graduate level in terms of depth, understanding of the subject, and quality of presentation. The program invites applications across various subjects, you can check out guidelines for science submissions here.


Location: Virtual

Dates: Submit your applications by February 14, 2024. Results will be announced by July 2024.

Eligibility: All high school students under the age of 18, who reside in the US can apply.

Cost: There is no cost to participate.

Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $50,000 and the title of a 'Davidson Fellow'. 


Conducted by a group of undergraduates at MIT, the THINK Scholars program caters to students who have done extensive background work on a potential research project in a STEM field and are looking for additional guidance in the early stages of their project. This competition does not require participants to have already completed the project.

After a semifinal round where applicants are interviewed, finalists are announced. Those whose projects are selected receive $1,000 funding and mentorship from MIT students. They also get a paid trip to MIT's campus to meet professors in their field of research, tour labs, and attend MIT's xFair. 


Location: Virtual

Dates: Registrations typically close in January. Semifinalists are announced by January-end, and finalists by the beginning of February. Finalists are expected to complete their projects by June. Eligibility: High school students living in the US are eligible to apply.Cost: There is no cost to participate.

Prizes: $1,000 is awarded to finalists to execute their projects. Additionally, when possible, finalists will be invited to a four-day all-expenses paid trip to MIT's campus, where they tour labs, present their research to MIT students and faculty, and interact with members of the THINK team.


The ExploraVision challenge is hosted by Toshiba and the National Science Teaching Association. The challenge invites high school students to work on real-world problem-solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision has seen entries from over 450,000 students from across the US since its first edition in 1992. 


In a team of 2-4 students, you will be expected to pick a current technology, conduct research on how it can be improved, and present your thoughts on how it might look in 10 years. You can draw from your knowledge of physics, tech, and AI, to name a few, and present your idea of tech in 10 years, its development steps, pros and cons, and obstacles. Here are a few examples of past projects that you can take a look at!


Location: Virtual

Dates: Applications are typically due in January. Regional winners are typically announced by April and national winners by May. The ExploraVision Awards Weekend is typically held in June.

Eligibility: All high school students studying in the US and Canada can participate.

Cost: There is no cost to participate.

Prizes: Winners will receive:

  • Up to $240,000 in savings bonds ($10,000 savings bond for each first-place team member and $5,000 savings bond for each second-place team member) 

  • An expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, in June for the ExploraVision Awards Weekend (for the the student and one parent/guardian)

  • A technology/science-related gift for each regional winning student


The Genes in Space Competition invites students (in teams of up to 2) to design a DNA experiment that addresses challenges in space travel and deep space exploration. After choosing a topic of interest, you must define a hypothesis, choose a creative approach, and present your case for why the International Space Station (ISS) is a facility that could carry out this experiment. 


Many awards are available for creativity and feasibility. As a finalist, you’d receive mentorship from Harvard and MIT scientists on your work! Furthermore, if you perform well in the competition, you’ll have the opportunity to present your research at the ISS Research and Development Conference in Seattle. To present your work at a conference of this caliber while in high school is an impressive feat that is sure to impress colleges.  


Location: Virtual/Seattle, WA

Dates: Applications must be submitted by April 15, 2024. See the detailed timeline here!

Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to apply.

Cost: There is no cost to apply.

Prizes: Awards vary by rank. Take a look at the award details here.


The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is one of the the most prominent science fairs in the US with government backing. The JSHS regional and national symposia are held during the second half of the US academic year and invite more than 8,000 participants throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and DoD-affiliated schools in Europe and the Pacific.


You must first participate in their regional symposium and then compete for a top spot at the national symposium each year. The challenge is highly competitive, with an acceptance rate of less than 3% for the final round.


This challenge also has a unique mentorship feature. The JSHS Virtual Mentorship Program connects students and mentors online, a resource is available year-round to support you throughout the competition season and the non-competition time of completing research or improving continued projects.


Note: You can check out our comprehensive guide to winning the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium here.


Location: The location for regional contests varies, the National Symposium will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Dates: The registration deadlines vary from region to region, you can check out more details here. The National Symposium will be held May 1-4, 2024, while dates for the regional contest may vary. 

Eligibility: High school students who are permanent residents of the US can apply

Cost: Free registration

Prizes: Prizes include over $192,000 in scholarships, along with other awards and national recognition.


The Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) is the oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for US high school seniors. It offers a platform not only for presenting original research but also for demonstrating broad expertise in STEM fields. The selection process evaluates multiple components, including test scores, recommendations, and essay responses, to gauge overall scientific and academic aptitude. Each year, approximately 1,900 students take part in STS.


Note: Only independent research is accepted, requiring completed investigations and results. Only independent, individual research is eligible. Students must have completed an independent scientific investigation and have results to report.


Tip: We’ve covered everything you need to know about Regeneron STS here!


Location: Challenges are held across the world.

Dates: Applications for the 2024 cycle are now closed, but are expected to open in June 2024 for the 2025 cycle.

Eligibility: 

  • US residents in their final year of secondary school and US citizens abroad are eligible for application regardless of citizenship. However, non-US citizen students attending American schools abroad are ineligible.

  • While most who meet these criteria are eligible, further details on eligibility can be found here for a comprehensive understanding.

Cost: There is no cost

Prizes: Each of the 300 scholars in Regeneron STS will receive a $2,000 award for exceptional research. Out of these, the 40 finalists are awarded a minimum of $25,000 each. The top 10 finalists receive prizes ranging from $40,000 for 10th place to $250,000 for the first-place winner.


The AAN Neuroscience Research Prize acknowledges exceptional high schoolers exploring the brain and nervous system through research. It awards students and supportive teachers for their remarkable contributions to neuroscience. With a highly competitive nature, winning this prize demands rigorous research efforts. Recipients get the chance to present their work at AAN Annual Meetings and engage with industry neuroscientists. We’ve broken down all you need to know about the AAN Research Prize here.


Note: Only individual submissions are accepted. No team projects are eligible. Teachers are encouraged to guide as needed but must allow each student to demonstrate their creativity. The judging criteria includes:

  • Investigate brain or nervous system-related problems, avoiding standalone psychology projects unless linked to neurophysiology.

  • Prioritize original problem-solving approaches.

  • Present well-organized research reports with readable figures/tables, addressing potential pitfalls in methodology and interpretation.



Location: Virtual

Dates: The dates are yet to be announced. Applications typically close in November.

Eligibility:

  • Students must be enrolled in secondary school (grades 9–12) in the U.S., regardless of age.

  • Applications must represent original research as well as the original written work of the applicant.

  • Projects do not need to occur in formal or traditional lab settings.

  • Each project should be the work of an individual student.

  • Family members of the judges, the AAN Science Committee, or the AAN staff are not eligible to apply.

Cost:

Prizes: $1000 prize, the sponsored opportunity to present their work during a scientific poster session at the next AAN Annual Meeting in a different city, and the sponsored opportunity to present one’s work at the 2023 Child Neurology Society Annual Meeting.



If you’d like to participate in a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you may want to consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!


Tenzing Dolma is a master's student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelor's in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!


Image Source: Genes in Space logo

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