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Regeneron Science Talent Search - Everything you need to know

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is a unique and prestigious opportunity for high school seniors who want to test their scientific competence by going beyond the conventional science fair model. From a scientific report to test scores, STS will allow you to showcase your entire profile in order to win prizes up to $250,000.


In this guide, we will give you all the information you need to know about how to stand out in this search for top-up-and-coming American talent in science.


What is Regeneron STS?


The Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS) is the oldest and the most prestigious science and mathematics competition for high school seniors in the US. It is a forum for presenting original research and also showcasing your overall expertise in the STEM fields.


The important thing to keep in mind and what differentiates STS from many other science fairs/competitions is that your research project, while important, is not the only factor for award decisions. STS utilizes broad selection criteria to gauge your overall scientific and academic aptitude through various application components like test scores, recommendations, essay questions, etc. Each year, nearly 1,900 students enter the STS!


STS is run by the Society of Science, a 100+ year-old non-profit based in Washington DC that was founded in 1921 as Science Service by journalist Edward W. Scripps and zoologist William Ritter. Most people know them as the organization that runs the magazine, Science News, and that organizes ISEF, the world’s largest science fair.


Many students are often confused between ISEF and STS, but they are fundamentally different competitions. At a procedural level, STS is open only for high school seniors while ISEF is open to high schoolers of all ages. At a more substantive level, the nature of competition is very different. ISEF, like most science fairs, judges you primarily on your research project and its presentation (visual and oral). STS is more holistic and gauges your overall scientific competence by evaluating components other than research too. It is easier to think of STS as an academic fellowship or scholarship competition in comparison to ISEF, which is a science fair.


If you are interested in science fairs for 9th to 12th grades, you can check out our guides for the ISEF and JSHS instead.


How it works


Each year, nearly 1,900 students enter the Regeneron STS, submitting original research in 23 scientific fields of study. Out of these applicants, 300 students are selected as scholars each year and out of those 300 scholars, 40 student finalists are invited to Washington, D.C. to participate in the final judging to win the top prizes.

Let’s break down the selection process now. Every eligible submission is evaluated by

three or more doctoral scientists in the appropriate discipline. Entries are evaluated in four areas:

  • Research Report and Scientific Merit

  • Student Contribution to the Research

  • Academic Aptitude and Achievement

  • Overall Potential as a Future Leader of the Scientific Community

These top entries are further reviewed by an additional judging panel that selects the 40 finalists. These 40 finalists compete for the top 10 awards in Washington, DC. In DC, finalists undergo two types of judging--project judging, relating to their research, and panel judging, designed to evaluate the depth and breadth of their general scientific knowledge. Hence, as we can see, the judging process is not just testing the finalist’s grasp of their research project, but also their broader scientific knowledge.


How prestigious is STS?


Winning the STS is very prestigious. While becoming a scholar is something noteworthy in your application, getting into the finals or winning an award is what will stand out and boost your profile significantly.

Many people often conflate and compare STS with ISEF, given that both competitions aim to evaluate top scientific talent and are run by Society for Science. However, comparing STS’s prestige to that of ISEF is tricky due to differences in the nature of competition. In our analysis, becoming an STS finalist is comparable to becoming an ISEF finalist. However, this comparison does not hold true for the winning prizes where winning at the ISEF is arguably more prestigious than winning at STS.


STS’s prestige is also bolstered by its impressive hall of fame. Since 1942, alumni have made extraordinary contributions to science and have earned many of the world’s most distinguished science and math honors, including thirteen Nobel Prizes, eleven National Medals of Science, and two Fields Medals.


Who is eligible?

  • Any student who is living in and attending their last year of secondary school in the US and its territories may apply, regardless of citizenship.

  • Students who are US citizens living abroad may also qualify.

  • Students attending American schools abroad, but who are not US citizens, are not eligible.

  • Only independent, individual research is eligible. Students must have completed an independent scientific investigation and have results to report.

  • Most students who meet the aforementioned criteria are good to go but there are more details regarding eligibility that you can read here.

What is the timeline like?


While the STS website only mentions the dates for the upcoming cycle, you can assume that the timeline would remain similar for any of these competitions in the near future.


The application for the finals in March will open in June the year before. That is, applications will open for the 2024 cycle on June 1, 2023. Applications are only accepted through the online system and by the deadline, which will fall in mid-November of the relevant year. Based on last year’s competition, we estimate that the top 300 scholars and the 40 finalists will be announced by January. The finals week will be held in March, where the winners will also be announced.


What do you win?


Each of the 300 students named a scholar in the Regeneron STS will receive a $2,000 award for their outstanding scientific research. Out of those 300 scholars, forty finalists are selected. All forty of them receive at least $25,000. Students who place in the top ten, instead, receive awards ranging from $40,000 for tenth place to $250,000 for first place.


What does the application consist of?


The application for the STS resembles a college application to a highly selective institute’s STEM program. It consists of essay questions, questions about your project, a maximum 20-page original scientific paper, recommendations, transcripts, and optional test scores. However, this holistic criteria is also what makes this a unique science competition as it goes beyond your expertise in a particular dimension to gauge your overall scientific competence.


Let’s break down the important components to understand each better:


Essay questions

There are around 8 questions that you have to answer in about 200 words each. These questions will mostly be about your project, the inspiration behind it, and its impact (some questions are optional). Some are picked directly from the Common App (although you have to answer in fewer words), indicating an intentional alignment with the college application process. In our opinion, the essay questions make you think beyond the scientific rigor of your research and will help you zoom out to look at how it actually impacts the larger society. Some interesting questions are

  1. "Tweet" about your project! Tell us about your project in 280 characters or less.

  2. What is a major scientific question in your field whose answer you believe will have a significant impact on the world in the next 20 years, and why?

  3. What have you done that illustrates scientific aptitude, leadership, curiosity, inventiveness, and/or initiative?

The questions force you to think about yourself as a scientist and what your goals are for the future. Most students enjoy thinking about this while answering them!


Science Research Description

This component is meant to get an understanding of your research beyond its scientific dimension. The questions ask you about both the routine and more descriptive aspects of your projects. Questions range from what category your research falls into to how you got the idea for your research project and its limitations. We think these questions will be fairly straightforward for you to answer after months of working on a particular project.


Research Report

The Research Report is evidence of research ability, scientific originality, and creative thinking. It is an opportunity for you to demonstrate competence in planning and completing a project in your chosen subject.


Please keep in mind that the research report is not the same as a research paper that is usually submitted to academic journals, but they are very very similar. As the website mentions, students “write a research report that would model a journal article explaining their experiments and conclusions”. The formatting guidelines of the research report are slightly different and you can look at them here.


Preparing the research report will definitely be the most time-consuming aspect of your application and you should allocate a majority portion of your time towards this.


Recommendations

You will need to submit three types of recommendations: Educator Recommendation Instructions (a high school teacher), Project Recommendation (a mentor who is familiar with your research), and a High School Report. However, an STS recommendation differs from the traditional recommendation that is sent as part of college apps. A recommendation for STS is NOT a form letter. It requires that your recommender answer a series of questions about you and/or your research in our online application system. To give you a better idea, check out some of these questions:

  1. For Educators: How long have you known this student, and in what capacity? How does this student compare to students you currently teach and also to those you have known during your teaching career?

  2. For Project Mentors: Provide a brief description of your laboratory/research environment and what the student’s role was within this group.

  3. High School Report (To be filled out by school counselor): What is the graduation rate of your school from entering students to graduation?

As you can see, these questions are different from conventional recommendations. Here, the responses have to answer very specific aspects related to the student and the project as opposed to a more generic overview of the student's profiles.


Rules and Paperwork

Certain types of research might require pre-approvals and specific paperwork. Please check the rules, particularly if you worked with humans (including surveys and any engineering project tested on humans), non-human vertebrate animals, human or animal cell lines/tissues, or potentially hazardous biological agents.


Inside your online application, the third task will ask you a series of questions that determine what paperwork you need to share. If you are asked to share IRB approvals, IACUC approvals or wildlife permits, make sure they are signed and completed properly! Remember, parents/guardians and close teachers cannot be members of the IRB that approves your project.


Read these rules in detail to make sure that you are on top of the documentation requirements for your research. As we explain later, IRB and paperwork in general are highly underestimated by many applicants. In fact, incomplete paperwork is one of the most common reasons for disqualifications in STS!


Other components

  1. Previous Research: STS also requires you to mention previous research experiences, if you have any. There are some basic questions that ask you to list conferences or journals where your work has been featured. If you do not have many previous research projects to share, that is not a problem. For many successful entrants each year, the research they submit to Regeneron STS is their first project.

  2. Extracurricular Activities: The reasons why we think that the STS application resembles college apps. STS wants to know more about you and your day-to-day life, how you spend your time, and why.

  3. Test Scores: Sharing your standardized test scores is optional and your decision to not share will not be held against you. You may enter scores for the SAT, SAT IIs, ACT, AP exams, and IB exams.

Case Study: Learn from a student’s mentor


The best way to understand and learn more about STS is to talk to somebody who has experienced it very closely. We spoke to Matthew Olonoff, who mentored Anna Jang in her STS journey. Anna was part of Lumiere’s research fellowship where she researched hearing loss in elementary school children and how it impacts musical ability. Matthew is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in bio-psychology from Northwestern and worked closely with Anna for months, guiding her from start to finish.


  1. ​​How long did Anna's project take? Her project took 6 months from start to finish, and it would have been much better to have at least another 2 months. This includes starting with figuring out a research question, preparing IRB materials, implementing the study, to writing.

  2. What were the main challenges faced during the entire process? The main challenge was the IRB because we were at the mercy of other people's schedules.

  3. How important do you think mentorship is for doing well at STS? Mentorship and choosing the right mentor is the MOST important step. This is because Anna's study was generating questions for a self-report survey and submitting human subjects research IRB material. I specifically have done this process twice from start to finish, including preparing my own IRB material and I knew what an IRB looks for in these studies.

  4. What advice would you give to others interested in STS? Student advice would be to be prepared to do almost double the work. This is because they will need to generate IRB documents in addition to managing a scientific study and the article writing process. For mentors, it would be, to be honest, and realistic about the study timeframe. I told Anna in the beginning that to do STS, we will have to work really hard and that 6 months is a very tight timeframe for a brand-new project. Also, if a student can truly make a study off of an existing study, it will probably make the process a lot easier.

  5. Any other tips you would like to share with us? Mentors need to be well-versed in IRB processes. Even if a student attaches themselves to a current study to collect data or analyze data, the existing IRB needs to know about this and the mentor has to take responsibility for finalizing documents and communication. I planned for a tentative timeline of 1-2 months generating the project, 2 months IRB prep, and 2 months data collection/writing. 6 months can seem like a long time, but for STS the mentor has to really understand research timelines.

  6. Finally, the biggest piece of advice is that if you are committed to doing STS, it will be vastly easier if you are a little farther along in your research idea before you sign up for mentorship. This reduces time and allows you to choose a mentor that closely matches your interests and can help you through the hurdles of science research from start to finish.

(Parts of the interview have been paraphrased/edited for brevity)


What it takes to win the STS


Much like college applications, STS requires a well-thought-out strategy, where all the different components should fit together like a coherent unit. Here is what we would recommend:

  1. Have a mentor: STS requires a multidimensional approach. A mix of scientific rigor to thrive in your research and introspection to answer some of the reflective questions properly. Having a mentor guiding you through the entire process will add significant value to your application. We recommend finding a mentor who is an expert in the field you are working on to get the maximum value. For example, as we saw in Anna’s case, her mentor was able to guide her through the complexities of the IRB approval only because of his own prior experience in the field.

  2. Plan ahead: As Matthew mentioned in the interview, you have to be prepared to do almost ‘double the amount of work’. In our experience, underestimating the time it would take to complete such a lengthy application is a mistake that many students make. We recommend that you plan to spend almost 8 months on your project.

  3. Pay attention to the non-STEM aspects of your application: Recommendation letters, test scores, and essay questions all play a role in determining your result. While the research report will end up taking most of your time, make sure you allocate a sufficient amount of time to focus on these different aspects too. We recommend setting aside at least 2 months to work on the non-research components of the application.

  4. Be curious: You are judged on your overall understanding of the scientific discipline and not just your research project. This is an area that is hard to prepare in a small time frame and it requires a long-term approach. On the other hand, being curious in general about your discipline will give you an edge here. Make sure, that during your research you also keep an eye out for information that builds on your overall understanding and knowledge of the discipline. If your research is on carcinogens, also make sure that you know some basics about the history of carcinogen-related research or cancer treatment studies.

  5. Remember - it’s not a science fair! This is a culmination of all the points mentioned above. Planning for STS like any other science fair would lead to you approaching it from a perspective that’s not efficient here. You might underestimate the essay questions as mere biographical details or not pay enough attention while selecting recommenders. However, if you approach the competition like a comprehensive and holistic application, you would pay attention to all the cogs.

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 STS 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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