Biotechnology is a highly specialized STEM field that high schoolers may feel daunted to enter. The advanced nature of this area means you may not know where to begin, especially if you lack a mentor who can guide you on where to go.
If you are looking for an engaging pre-college program in the field of STEM, specifically biology, Project SMART may be one option you would want to consider. With the program’s focus on animal, human, plant, and microbial biotechnology, you’ll be able to gain an interdisciplinary view of the field of biotechnology and how these concepts apply to society.
In this blog, we will cover all there is to know about Project SMART, its structure, eligibility, and cost, as well as our review of whether you should apply.
What is Project SMART?
Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training) aims to challenge, educate, and motivate high school students entering grades 10-12 in science and technology. Specifically, the program’s focus is on “animal, human, plant and microbial biotechnology,” which students will gain exposure to through lectures and discussions.
The program is usually held on-campus at the University of New Hampshire, but for the past years, the curriculum was taught virtually due to COVID-19 complications. During the duration of the program, students are expected to live in dorms and try hands-on lab experience, but if the program is carried out online on Zoom, then students will attend morning lectures (EST) on the Biotechnology and Society module.
What do you do in the program?
You will participate in lectures and discussions to learn the process of research in biotechnology with UNH faculty and graduate students. For example, there will be discussions of lab protocols with the scientific research behind those topics. There will also be plenty of opportunities to form life-long bonds with colleagues from all over the world within Project SMART.
What topics are covered?
Topics can change from year to year, but they will focus on biology and its technological applications in society. In 2022 and 2023, for example, some topics that were covered were Genes and Genetics, Plant Cloning and Genetic Engineering, and Nanotechnology and Its Biological/Biomedical Applications.
When does the program take place?
The program will usually take place for 2-3 weeks throughout July. In 2023, the program ran virtually from July 10, 2023, to July 28, 2023.
Is Project SMART prestigious?
Yes – the nature of the program is unique in how it provides an advanced overview of biotechnology and its societal implications for high school students, such as lab experience. Although there are no public statistics on the acceptance rates of Project SMART, the website states that “there is a high degree of interest from across the globe” for the past 3 years, so we can assume applications are competitive. Their acceptance pool is only 25 students, and they fill those seats quickly!
How much does it cost?
For the past several years, the program fee has been $500. For those who find the cost to be prohibitive, partial or full scholarships are available.
Who is eligible?
Project SMART is open to all high school students entering grades 10 through 12. They should exhibit talent or curiosity to learn more about science and technology. International students were eligible to apply, but it’s not confirmed whether they’d be able to apply if the program is in-person as opposed to virtual.
In the pre-application stage, where students will submit information to the admissions team in order to be considered for registration, interested applications will need to submit a list of science courses they have taken in high school along with answers to short questions like “Why are you applying to Project SMART” or “How do you hope to benefit from the program?” Therefore, applicants should show passion and dedication to pursue science as they apply for Project SMART.
When is the application deadline?
The pre-application deadline will be due around a month before the start of the program. For example, in 2023, the pre-application deadline was June 10, 2023, a month before the start of the program on July 10, 2023. However, it appears that students are selected before the deadline, so it’s recommended to apply as early as possible to ensure the highest probability of getting a spot.
Pros and Cons of Project SMART
Now that we’ve learned more about the program, let’s organize the different pros and cons so we can thoroughly analyze whether the program is a good fit for you.
1. You’ll learn more about biotechnology and its economic and societal impact.
Because of the program’s specific focus on biotechnology and its broad implications in everyday life, you’ll attend interesting lectures and discussion sections. Considering how the biotech field is poised for immense growth and innovation in the future, you may gain forward-looking knowledge that can help shape your potential college and career path.
While science and technology are standard classes that you can find in your high school, biotech is much more specific and advanced, so attending a program like Project SMART with organized modules on this topic may be better for you.
2. You create connections with UNH faculty and graduate students.
Project SMART is spearheaded by experts who have a lot of experience in the field. While information on who will be leading the lectures and discussions is not public, the program promises that its faculty will be involved and guest speakers from professionals will be invited. In addition, graduate students will also help high school attendees learn more about research, and if you’re interested in attending graduate school or getting laboratory experience, you can talk to a peer who is directly undergoing such an experience.
3. You can create bonds with like-minded peers from all over the world.
Establishing a peer network can be helpful as you navigate the industry, and luckily, you get a start at Project SMART. During the month the program is active, you’ll be expected to meet and forge bonds with passionate students from all around the world and from different backgrounds, and even if you go to different colleges or career paths, you can rely on each other for support or information. Don’t underestimate the power of networking – sometimes, knowing the right person can get you very far in life, and you’ll get a unique opportunity to do so in Project SMART. Biotech is a very tight-knit community, so meeting with others within this field may open a lot of professional and academic opportunities for you.
4. You may gain lab experience if the program is in-person.
While the program has not had an in-person experience for the past few years, students usually attend laboratory sections with faculty members to try scientific experiments in a professional setting. For those who prefer a tactile experience with biotech, this is a welcome activity on top of attending lectures and discussions.
Although the program has not released information on whether summer 2024 will be in-person or not, we hope that students may be provided a chance to work in the lab if it’s possible.
5. You may see the college campus if the program is in-person.
High schoolers are often very excited and curious to learn about what a campus environment is like, and Project SMART is a great chance to gain a sneak peek of university life if it’s in person. Through living on-campus with friends, attending lectures, and working in a lab setting, you’ll be able to live a college student’s life at the University of New Hampshire. Information gleaned at this campus can help inform you on what your preferences are for your future college career, like whether you’d like to apply for UNH in the future.
1. The program may be remote.
There is a possibility that the program will be held remotely again due to COVID-19 complications, which may be a disappointment for many students. Considering how much of the world has returned to an in-person or hybrid environment, online meetings may not be appealing. Although this con may not apply for summer 2024 if the organizers are able to host the program on-campus, the risk is there – so it will be important to check the website for any updates.
2. The cost may be prohibitive.
For some families, the program fee of $500 may be too expensive for them. Luckily, scholarships are provided for those who demonstrate financial need, but otherwise, you may find that the program’s value does not match its cost.
3. You may prefer a general overview rather than a specifically focused one.
If you prefer a program that has a more general view of science and technology rather than one that has an intense focus on biotechnology, then Project SMART isn’t a good fit. Some students are deciding whether they’d like to enter into the STEM industry in the first place, and only those who have made the firm decision to enter have the freedom to choose which field they’d like to pursue. In that instance, you may want to consider other programs in science and technology that cover broad topics rather than the pointed ones that Project SMART has.
Project SMART at UNH - Should You Apply?
The program overall is well organized and has a lot to offer. If you want to deepen your experience in biotechnology, meet with other interested peers, and talk with expert faculty members, then Project SMART is for you. However, if you feel that the program’s scope is too specific and you want to guarantee an in-person experience, then you may need to look elsewhere.
Ultimately, the choice is yours, and before you apply, make sure to fully think about your priorities and whether they match with Project SMART or not.
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in biotech and engineering then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with 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.
Lydia is currently a junior at Harvard University, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. In high school, she was the captain of her high school’s Academic Decathlon team and attended the Governor's School of Engineering and Technology. In her spare time, she likes to create digital art while listening to music.
Image Source: Project Smart logo