5 Preparation Tips for the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge

America’s 2016 Top Young Scientist will be selected on Tuesday, October 18. After a summer of finessing their goals and honing their research skills with the help of their 3M scientist mentors, the ten 2016 finalists will soon be put to the test. The finalists are always an impressive group of students, so tune in live for their final presentations and the awards ceremony. These tweens and teens are sure to inspire you, which is great because about two months after the 2016 Top Young Scientist is named, the search will begin for the 2017 winner! Here are five tips to help you come out on top in 2017.

Five Preparation Tips for the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge


Use your senses

You don’t need fancy lab equipment or a supercomputer to launch a scientific inquiry. The process begins quite simply with observations and questions. Unplug your devices and experience the world around you. Look for problems that need fixing and listen to people’s concerns. You might literally sniff out a problem http://dogsdetectcancer.org during your exploration phase. Ask lots of questions as you explore from a very personal perspective. A few basic words will get you going: what if..? Why does..? Can this..?

Choose with your heart and your mind

Past winners often mention the importance of choosing a project that ignites a personal spark. Are you passionate about the environment? Concerned about the dwindling population of Monarch butterflies? Do you want to travel to Moon or help establish the first human colony on Mars? Any of these passion points can lead to a meaningful research project. 

On the other hand, maybe you can find a compelling subject closer to home. After all, it’s easier to test the soil in your yard than the soil on Mars. In fact, family pets have provided winning inspiration as have local water issues, like floods.


Get Organized

For many eager scientists, the challenge isn’t finding a problem to investigate, but rather charting a clear path to find the solution. I like to record my thoughts on Post-It Notes™ because I can write down my ideas in whatever random order they occur, but then easily re-arrange and group my notes together logically before recording them. Of course, it’s easy to rearrange thoughts in a digital document at any stage, but I’m a big advocate for putting pen to paper when it comes to brainstorming and planning.


Know Your Stuff

Now that you’ve selected a problem and have organized your thoughts, it’s time to dig into research. What can you learn from others who have already tackled your topic? How will your hypothesis or research vary from or build upon theirs? Parents and teachers may be able to guide you. I know it’s easy to rely on Google searches, but tap into real-life resources, like local libraries (especially reference librarians, who relish a challenge) and nearby universities or research institutions.


Tell the World

Now that you’ve organized your thoughts and done your research, you should be able to communicate your great new hypothesis with ease. Start spreading the word about your project. Each time you talk to your friends, teachers, and family members, make note of the questions they ask so that you can incorporate them into your next overview. By the time you record your entry video, you’ll be a smooth-talking pro. 

The journey to become America's Top Young Scientist begins with a single idea or question. Get started on yours today so that you'll hit the ground running when entries open in December.