A Guide For Pursuing Independent Scientific Research Opportunities In High School

Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla: these famous scientists are known for their innovation and intellectual curiosity. For students who also dream of becoming innovative, nothing prevents them from exploring research while still in high school through an independent research program (IRP). When done well and presented properly in a college application, the project can help a student stand out among the masses.

According to US News and World Report, “High school students who have an impressive personal project in which they work independently often impress colleges because their commitment to a successful solo endeavor conveys initiative, self-discipline and originality.”

IRPs can show critical thinking, initiative and research. These projects can be used to distinguish the student from their peers, especially in STEM-related disciplines, which is often difficult to achieve.

Students can do an independent research project to stand out when applying to competing schools.

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Ways to search for an independent research project

There are many different possibilities where students can pursue an independent research project. For many, an easy way to get started is to access resources in their high school, either through a research-based classroom or independently with a teacher.

Lindsey Conger, an independent college counselor at Moon Prep, often directs her students to reach out to local teachers to work with them on their current research projects. Recently, one of her students collaborated with a university professor to begin a project on how jet lag affects intelligence and intends to complete a research project by the end of the summer. The long-term goal is to publish this work in a high school research journal.

Many students may prefer a more structured environment by attending a research-focused camp, while highly motivated students may choose to pursue a project independently. No matter which students you choose, the ultimate goal should be the same: publish in a high school research journal and promote your work.

Research projects through your high school

One of the first steps to consider is whether your high school already has a research program or a research-based curriculum that you can use to start a project. There is a built-in advantage to this approach, because the student can use school resources and guidance from his instructors. Some high schools have research classes with independent project elements that can be submitted to local science exhibition competitions. Students who win their school science report must always look to achieve their next level and compete in the state or national report. Always looking for ways to continually progress in their projects, students can demonstrate in colleges their motivations and skills.

Other school ways to conduct an IRP include AP Capstone. This program from the College Board consists of two Advanced Placement (AP) courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Both courses guide students through a research project, writing an academic dissertation and making a public presentation.

The AP seminar, an annual course, encourages students to explore real-world issues. By the end of this course, students will have completed both a group project and an independent assignment and presentation. AP Research allows students to explore any research topic or issue they are interested in. After a year of research, students will write a 4,000 – 5,000 word paper on the topic.

Work with a college teacher

Finding a mentor to work with you on a research project can help you gain access to resources, guide you through the data collection process, and help you draw conclusions.

One way to find a mentor is to contact college teachers who are researching or studying a similar topic you are interested in pursuing.

To get started, students can follow these steps:

  • Make a list of your future career interests.
  • Begin to record potential research topics related to your interests.
  • Search for current research studies, by professors and graduate students, on local college professor websites.
  • Contact faculty members whose research interests you (a sample email is provided below as a guide).
  • Include your resume to let the school know more about you and your interests.

Sample email:

Dear Dr. Andrews,

My name is James Smith, and I’m now a student at Central High School. I aspire to study microbiology while in college and I am willing to advance my knowledge in the field through practical research that includes immunology. I have taken many challenging courses and received an “A” in AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Calculus and AP Physics. As a Texas native, I have long been familiar with the University of Texas research resources and find your current TB research particularly interesting. I would love to have the opportunity to learn more about your research. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss possible cooperation opportunities. Is it possible to schedule a short call this week?

Thank you for your time and attention,

James Smith

Watch a structured research project

Students may be reluctant to face an independent project because they are overwhelmed by the process. Choosing the right topic, finding resources, or hiring a mentor can be daunting. In addition, because students are gifted with rigorous lessons, extracurricular activities, and preparation for standardized exams, gaining momentum can be a difficult hurdle.

Therefore, STEM-focused research programs can be a more structured path to an independent research project. Students are guided by an experienced instructor through a program and can sometimes even earn credit in college. Students can then continue to advance their research after the end of the course or use their new skills as a springboard for other research projects.

Rising Researchers is an online research-intensive classroom designed to provide students with an introduction to the principles of scientific research. Before the lesson begins, students are sent a laboratory kit, including a microscope. While it is an online classroom, students will not sit in front of a Zoom screen, learning static. Through small group discussions and hands-on experiments at home, students explore the microbial world by learning from a leading scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Many students who complete the Rising Researchers program continue to publish their independent research in scientific journals.

By completing interactive experiments, students will gain the right use of the scientific method to answer a research question, make observations and interpret the results. Students can then use what they learn throughout the program to take their research to the next level through a passion project.

Sample Passion Work Ideas include:

  • Publish a book or guide on Kindle / Amazon
  • Start a podcast
  • Run an information campaign on social media
  • Start a YouTube channel
  • File for patent
  • Blog post
  • Book a workshop or online course

Publish your work in a high school research journal

Once you have completed an independent research project, the final step is to publish it in a high school research journal. This can take months, as there is often a rigorous processing and approval process. Students should plan accordingly to ensure that the document is published before submitting their applications to the college.

However, students who are still in the process of writing their research can find other ways to participate in research journals. Some journals allow students to critique an article or write a blog post about current research. Writing a complete research paper is not always necessary to demonstrate research skills.

Sample high school science journals:

1) Journal of Emerging Researchers (JEI)

Founded by Harvard University graduate students, the Journal of Emerging Investigators (JEI) aims to help guide the next generation of scientists. An advantage of this program is that students can receive feedback from the university doctorate. candidates and research experts on their subject. Their feedback can help students extend their research question or interpret the results more accurately.

Younger students are also welcome to apply – the JEI will accept research from middle and high school scientists.

2) Columbia Journal of Junior Science

The Columbia Junior Science Journal allows students to publish on topics in the natural sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and social sciences. Students can submit original one- to two-page research papers or two- to five-page review articles. Due to its shorter length, it makes it more convenient for students to complete the research paper.

Students do not necessarily need to complete independent research. can check a published article. The journals are published annually, with each document undergoing a rigorous peer review process.

3) The National High School Gazette (NHSJS)

NHSJS is a free, online, peer-reviewed online peer-reviewed journal aimed at high school students. Students do not need to do independent research to be published in this journal. They can also submit a review or short article, making the NHSJS a good starting point for students interested in research.

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