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How to Win the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is the most prominent science fair in the US with government backing. STEM students looking for a competitive and prestigious opportunity to display their research skills should definitely look at JSHS.


In this guide, we will give you all the information you need to participate at JSHS and have a shot at winning it.


What is the JSHS?

Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is a national-level science fair held annually in the US. The program is sponsored by the Department of Defense and encourages high school students to conduct original research in STEM fields.


JSHS regional and national symposia are held during the second half of the US academic year and reach more than 8,000 high school students and teachers throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and DoD-affiliated schools in Europe and the Pacific. Students must first participate in their regional symposium where they compete for a spot at the national symposium each year.


While one of the main aims of the program is to promote research and experimentation in STEM at the high school level, it also aims to increase the research and development capabilities of the future U.S. workforce. An important detail to note is that JSHS is only open to American citizens and permanent residents (Green Card holders). Students of other nationalities can look at other prestigious competitions open to them here.


Ironically, while the name suggests otherwise, Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is not, in fact, open to humanities research. The various categories, all STEM-focused, can be found below:

  • Environmental Science

  • Biomedical Sciences; Cell/Molecular Biology

  • Life and Behavioral Sciences

  • Medicine and Health

  • Engineering and Technology

  • Math and Computer Science, Computer Engineering

  • Physical Sciences, including Physics, Astronomy, and Internet of Things

  • Chemistry, including Physical Chemistry, Materials Science, Alternative Fuels, Geochemistry

Who is eligible?

  1. High school students enrolled in grades 9-12.

  2. You must be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or U.S. territory.

  3. You can compete in only one regional symposium. Your school/organization’s address determines the region.

  4. You may continue a research investigation if you participated last year; however, a study that merely adds data from a previous year’s project is not considered a strong continuation project. If a continuation project is submitted, you have to discuss how the project was expanded (e.g., methodology, new variables).


Is JSHS Prestigious?

The JSHS is a highly prestigious competition, likely only second as a science fair to ISEF. As per the JSHS website, 8000 students usually compete across the various regional symposia for only 245 spots in the final round. This makes the acceptance rate to the finals around 3%, which is higher than ISEF (where thousands more compete for a mere 1700 finalist positions).


JSHS attracts some of the best scientific minds in the country and brings them all to one place. It is not uncommon to find students competing at both ISEF and JSHS at the same time (and winning too). Being a category winner in the oral competition is something that will stand out as a demonstration of expertise in scientific research at the school level.


What is the timeline for JSHS?

The deadlines vary based on your regional competition but you can find some important information about what the general timeline looks like here.

Time Period

Event

September – December

JSHS Regional Symposia invite student applications and teacher nominations. Regional symposia deadlines vary.

January – March

JSHS Regional Symposia held

April – May

National JSHS held


How do you participate in JSHS?

JSHS is a sequential fair. This basically means that you do not participate directly in the national-level symposium. You have to qualify and get invited to attend it. However, compared to some other ones, JSHS has a relatively easy structure to grasp.


There are only two levels, the regional symposia, and the national symposium. Based on your performance at a regional-level symposium, you will get invited to the national symposium alongside finalists from each regional symposium. Regional-level symposia are usually based on the state you are a resident of but sometimes your location might require you to participate in the regional symposia of a neighboring state (Please check the relevant fair for you here).


If you have read some of our other ultimate guides (like that on ISEF), you would know a bit about how sequential fairs work. JSHS is similar to that. Let us dive deeper into both these levels separately. However, before that, let us first quickly take a detour to understand some documents required as part of the application.


What documents are required during the registration?


All JSHS applicants must submit a 250-word maximum abstract in electronic format. This will be required during the registration at both the regional and the national level (if you clear regionals). This abstract should accurately convey the essential nature of the research conducted and the most significant conclusions reached. There are guidelines on how you should structure your abstract here.


The abstract is a lot more important than what it might seem initially. Some regional fairs require you to submit ONLY your abstract in the first round of screening. This means that many regional symposiums will offer you a chance to present at their fair, based ONLY on your abstract. We have given more guidance on what makes a winning abstract later in this guide.


Affiliated regional symposia require the submission of a research paper at varying times during the application process. Regional symposia sometimes require submission of the research paper at the beginning of the application process or may invite papers after the first review of abstracts is completed. For instance, the Alaskan regional fair requires the research paper along with the abstract in the first round itself.


Another form required by students is the Statement on Outside Assistance which asks students to disclose in detail their role in the research process. This is to gauge the level of student contribution to the paper along with other people involved (if any).


Round #1: The Regional Symposium

The JSHS experience starts with a Regional Symposium. JSHS has partnered with local universities and organizations to host this event in their areas. The competition covers all 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the Pacific (This means that even American citizens/residents attending DoD schools abroad can participate in these competitions). You can find the relevant regional fair for your geographical area here.

Students apply to JSHS by submitting a written report (abstract and/or research paper as required by the region) of the completed research, and the Statement on Outside Assistance through CVENT (an event management software). Registering to participate in a regional JSHS event is of no cost.


Upon registering, a first round of judging/screening is conducted by host university faculty to select those who will compete in the regional symposium. Here is where things get interesting at JSHS. Selected students may be invited to present their research in an oral competition, or poster competition, or attend as a student delegate (non-competitive). Both oral and poster presenters are competing at the regional symposium for the opportunity to advance to the National JSHS.


The top five finalists from each Regional Symposium go to the National JSHS Symposium to present their original research, all expenses paid. The first two places out of those five will be competing in the oral presentation category for National JSHS scholarships whereas the other three would compete in the poster presentation category at the nationals for cash awards.


Based on the regional fair you are attending, how the top five places are decided may vary. As mentioned above, at the regional level, selected students may be invited to present their research in an oral competition, or poster competition, or attend as a student delegate (non-competitive). This categorization at the regional fair is important not just because of a difference in the mode of presentation but because this, in turn, may also define the prizes that you will be competing for in further rounds.


The key information to keep in mind is that in almost all cases, being an oral presenter is more prestigious in comparison to being a poster presenter (at both the regional and national levels). This is because all oral presenters compete for a separate pool of awards that involve a higher amount of scholarships.


In some regions, you may receive a decision on whether you are a poster or oral presenter after the screening round itself. However, in others, you may have to undergo another level of competition (Example: The Northern California Regional JSHS).


The point is that your regional symposium guidelines may vary in how they select students for what category, for the regional as well as the national symposium. Make sure you read those in detail.


Apart from selection to represent the region at JSHS nationals, a total of $4,500 in undergraduate tuition scholarships is disbursed by each region.

  • 1st Place receives $2,000

  • 2nd Place receives $1,500

  • 3rd Place receives $1,000


Round #2: The National Symposium

All students who make it through their regional fair will receive an invitation to attend the national-level symposium. The National JSHS brings together 245 high school students who qualify by submitting and presenting original scientific research papers in the regional symposiums held at universities nationwide.


A total of $192,000 in undergraduate tuition scholarships is presented to the top three finalists in the National Symposium research paper oral competition in each subject category.

  • Each of the 1st Place finalists receives $12,000

  • Each of the 2nd Place finalists receives $8,000

  • Each of the 3rd Place finalists receives $4,000

Cash awards will be presented to the top three finalists in the National Symposium research poster competition in each subject category. This cash award is significantly lower than the scholarships offered to oral presentation winners (around $300).


Example Student Journey - Shannon


Let’s look at a case study to understand this better. Consider the example of a hypothetical student, Shannon, who might be interested in participating at JSHS. Let’s assume that Shannon is based in San Francisco and see the trajectory that she might end up taking if she were to clear all stages.


How can Shannon present at the JSHS starting in Northern California?

  1. Shannon has to be in grades 9–12 and has to select an area of research out of the following categories:

    1. Environmental Science

    2. Life and Behavioral Sciences

    3. Medicine and Health

    4. Biomedical Sciences, Molecular/Cellular

    5. Engineering and Technology

    6. Math and Computer Sciences/Computer Engineering

    7. Physical Sciences

    8. Chemistry

  2. October 7, 2022 – Application and submission open. Once she has decided where her interests lie, Shannon will conduct original research in her chosen area. Given the January end deadline, Shannon will have to allot enough time to finish her work before that. We recommend around 6 months of research work before submitting the application.

  3. January 29, 2023, 11:59 p.m. PST – Application submission deadline. Shannon must register and upload her submissions here. All Northern California and Western Nevada high school students are invited to submit a research paper for consideration in the regional competition.

  4. February 20, 2023 – Research applicants are notified of acceptance status. All papers will be evaluated by a pool of judges drawn from the faculty at San Francisco State University. If Shannon is accepted here, she would receive an invitation as a poster presenter, like all other students.

  5. March 10, 2023 – Northern California Regional JSHS competition hosted by San Francisco State University. Shannon will compete here as a poster presenter first and then as an oral presenter (if she performs well). Based on what rank she secures in the top five oral presenters, she will either go to the national level symposium as a poster or oral presenter.

  6. April 12-15, 2023: National JSHS in Virginia Beach, VA. Depending on how Shannon performs here, she will either receive a tuition scholarship or a cash award!

JSHS Mentorship Program

JSHS has an interesting feature that practically no other science competition offers - a mentorship program. The JSHS Virtual Mentorship Program connects students and mentors online, so all students have the same opportunity to benefit from mentorship. The mentor resource is available year-round to support you throughout the competition season and the non-competition time of completing research or improving continued projects. This program is run on Chronus, an online mentorship software.


The platform has mentors from diverse backgrounds and experiences related to STEM, such as science and engineering, education, and Department of Defense Subject Matter Experts. Virtual Mentors can answer your research questions and provide feedback year-round.


You can still use Chronus to connect with additional mentors for consultation or have your local mentor sign up to connect with you on Chronus to access some of the features offered on the platform.


This mentorship program is a fairly unique feature and to dive deeper, we created an account to show you how this works. Once you sign up and start filling out the details, you will be asked questions specific to your own research. This will be used later to give you personalized recommendations on mentors you could connect with.


After filling out this information, you will receive mentor suggestions that match your interests and other personal information. You may choose to connect with any one of them by using the given options.


Most competitive students work with a mentor to magnify the quality and impact of their project, so this mentorship program is a great way for students lacking external mentors to level the playing field.


5 Winning tips from Lumiere:

  1. Pay attention to your abstract: Your abstract is one of the most important submissions that you will make in the competition. It is the first document that the judge will read about your research and will make a significant impact on your work. Not only that but being able to succinctly describe your research in 250 words can be seen as a sign of academic sophistication and clarity. We highly recommend that you read the abstract handbook of the previous national-level participants. It will give you great insight into the crisp manner in which students have summarized their key insights. Note how the students are summarizing the different parts of their research in one paragraph and how many words are spent on each section based on its importance!

  2. Make the most of mentorship opportunities: JSHS is one of the only programs to offer mentorship services. Students should aim to make the most of these. However, despite this resource, it can be hard to find someone who is aligned perfectly with your interests. It is important to note that JSHS does not require you to use mentors only in their database. Hence, you may also seek external mentorship opportunities if the ones offered by the program are not suitable for you. Remember, good mentorship can be a game-changer.

  3. Go through winning projects: Looking at what previous winners have worked on will give you an idea of the kind of research that performs well in this competition. From using neural networks to diagnose Parkinson's disease to methods of detecting exoplanets, there is a wide range of topics that past winners have focused on. Given that you have to perform original research, going through these winning projects can inspire you in the right direction.

  4. Remember your sponsors: The JSHS is sponsored by the US Department of Defence and for some students that might influence the kinds of projects that they may work on. For instance, previously, some projects have been ones that have applications for the military. While it may be a stretch to say that this may influence winning chances, it is still important to keep in mind that some students might have adopted this strategy.

  5. Plan your research in advance: Even if your regional symposium requires you to only submit an abstract as registration, you must ensure that your research is on track to be completed. Hopefully, if you clear the screening round, you shouldn’t have to hurry through the research paper to meet the deadline of the regional conference. We recommend that students start working on their projects at least 6 months before the deadline.

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!


Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 


The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas. The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 


The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.


You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship.


In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!


Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!


Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests.


The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 


The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here


Location: Virtual

Cost

  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 


Want extra support? The Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for a mentor to participate in a science competition like JSHS or want to build your own independent research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.


You can see our admission results here for our students.


Manas is a publication strategy associate at Lumiere Education. He studied public policy and interactive media at NYU.

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