If you’re a high schooler with an aptitude for biology and biotechnology, then you should already be gunning for the numerous STEM and research competitions out there.
Challenges/competitions are a great way for you to gain exposure and see how you stack up against your peers, while being able to showcase your performance in front of an expert audience. They are also great opportunities to get a few feathers in your cap for college admissions and beyond!
In today’s blog post, we will be deep diving into one of the largest biotechnology competitions in the country, the BioGENEius Challenge.
What is the BioGENEius Challenge?
The BioGENEius Challenge, hosted by the Biotechnology Institute, is a competition that provides high school students the opportunity to compete and be recognized for outstanding research in the field of biotechnology. Through its state and local challenges hosted by the Institute’s 13 state partners as well as their own At-Large challenge, it aims to provide a platform for students to explore and contribute to the biotech industry. If you clear one of the initial challenges, you’ll have the opportunity to present your work at the main event, the BIO International Convention, to over 16,000 attendees and a panel of industry and academic subject matter experts. Whether you’re interested in the applications of biotechnology in healthcare, sustainability or the environment, this is the platform for you.
The Biotechnology Institute is an educational non-profit for students in grades 3-12, with a mission to “engage, excite and educate young people about career prospects in biotechnology and catalyze their potential to heal, feed, and fuel the world”. The BioGENEius Challenge is their “flagship” program, where they partner with prestigious biotechnology associations and foundations across the country to showcase the research of some of the most brilliant STEM students working in the field.
Who is eligible to apply to the BioGENeius Challenge, and what does it involve?
The BioGENEius Challenge is only open to high schoolers in the US or Canada.
You will have to first register with and send your application to one of the state partners or the At-Large BioGENEius Challenge if your state doesn’t have a local challenge. Each has its own deadlines and competition dates, which are listed on their respective websites.
The application itself is common, and requires the following:
Basic information about yourself, your parent/guardian, your school and your mentor.
Detailed information about your project:
Project Abstract in 250 words or less
Project Description in 55 words or less
A PDF poster of your project. This is your main submission and should effectively communicate the research question, methodology, results, and conclusions in a visually appealing and concise manner.
You will need to submit three authorization forms: from yourself, your parent / guardian, and your mentor. The latter two will receive a link to allow them to authorize.
Once again, make sure to adhere to the rules and deadlines of the respective local challenge you’re entering in!
How is the BioGENEius Challenge structured?
The Challenge is broken down into three categories, of which you will have to select one track that is best associated with your research project:
Healthcare: A project in this category on the outcomes of novel work in healthcare related sciences. Some examples include research into novel proteins or small molecule therapeutics, vaccines, nanobiotechnologies, or data analytics related to human health.
Sustainability: A project in this category focuses on the agricultural applications of biotechnology. Examples can include exploring beneficial symbiotic relationships to enhance crop yield, research into soil improvements, animal disease control, and food security.
Environment: This category is for the applications of biotechnology in industrial and environmental areas. Projects may be geared towards bio-based degradable materials, bioremediation, new or improved biofuels, or the reduction of toxic emissions and greenhouse gasses.
Your project will be evaluated based on several criteria, including scientific content, originality, relevance to biotechnology, clarity of expression, and the poster presentation. Judges look for depth of understanding, innovative approaches, and practical applications. There is one grand prize for each category.
Gene Pool Competition: As an additional component, the BioGENEius Challenge includes the Gene Pool Competition, an onsite, spontaneous contest that all finalists participate in. This segment tests the ingenuity and quick thinking of the participants in a less formal, yet competitive environment. While there are no details available on their website presently, there is mention of cash prizes!
Is it prestigious?
The BioGENEius Challenge is a prestigious event that not only draws talented students from across the nation and even internationally, but also brings in experts from both industry and academia in the final event.
Even making it to the BioGENEius Challenge final event is a testament to your research skills, as only the top student from each of the state challenges qualifies to present their research at the Conference.
The At-Large Challenge, open to all students outside the State Partner network, recommends that you already be placed in the upper 5% (!) in your local or regional science fairs before applying! What this means for you is that if you reach the main event, you can already certify yourself as one of the sharpest minds in the biotechnology field in the country, doing wonders for your future college applications. Being able to interact with industry leaders in person will also help cement your place in this field, providing a valuable network with which to jump start your future career.
8 tips to help you win the BioGENEius Challenge!
If you’re sold on participating in the BioGENEius Challenge, here are some tips to maximize your chances of winning:
Understand past winners' projects to know what’s expected: Both the local challenge websites as well the main BioGENEius website list the projects of previous winners. These are powerful resources for you to understand the kinds of research subjects the judges are looking for, and the depth of work required. It will also help you get an understanding of how your research that may have taken you years can be accurately and adequately condensed into a single poster.
Choose a unique and relevant topic: Select a project topic that is not only unique but also relevant to current biotechnological challenges. Originality is key, and may be showcased in the form of a novel approach, a new compound, or even an original way of interpreting data.
Find and work with a mentor: The BioGENEius Challenge is so competitive that the importance of a mentor to guide you with your research cannot be overstated. Whether at school or at a local research laboratory, find and reach out to a biotechnology expert and ask to work with them, and have them help you with identifying, charting and working on a strong research project.
Have a plan and stick with it: Following on from the previous point, plan your research meticulously. Ensure that your methodology is sound and your objectives are clear. Set clear milestones with your mentor, document your work and keep the end goal in sight. While your mentor will be able to help you with the planning bit, the execution is what will make or break your project, and that’s in your hands.
Learn some graphic design: Remember that the key part of your initial submission is your poster, that will be used to convey the essence of your project. As such, it behooves you to learn the best way to design an engaging and informative poster that will instantly capture the judges’ attention. There are several courses on Udemy, Coursera and Skillshare to help you with this.
Make sure your presentation tells a story: A well-presented project can be the difference between winning and losing. Once your poster is designed and you clear the initial round, you’ll need to be able to present your research to the panel. Spend some time with your mentor in crafting the story of your research, conveying what you set out to achieve, how you achieved it, and the ramifications and potential applications of your work. Run it by your teachers at school for a clarity check.
Prepare for the Q&A sessions: Anticipate questions judges might ask and prepare your answers. Being well-prepared for the Q&A session shows your depth of knowledge. These may not be limited to just your project either, which leads to the last tip.
Deep dive into biotechnology trends: Stay updated with the latest trends and breakthroughs in biotechnology. While this knowledge can inspire innovative project ideas, it may also prove to be crucial in the Q&A session if judges ask about the implications of your work in the context of recent industry breakthroughs.
Is BioGENius right for you?
If you like more of the academic, olympiad style competitions, then this may not be the best choice for you. We’ve covered a bunch of different options in this blog!
If you do like the research project element and have a competitive spirit, you should definitely give BioGENius a chance!
If you like the research project element but would prefer to focus on the research, rather than compete, you should check out:
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on various topics in STEM including biotechnology and life sciences, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I 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.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
Image Source: BioGENEius Challenge logo