Science Wants YOU! A guide to getting involved in science BEFORE college

by Megan Harberts

Did you know that you can be a scientist right now?  You don’t have to have a college degree to be curious about how the world works.  You can expand your knowledge and maybe even the knowledge of humanity simply by asking questions, doing experiments, and making observations.

Of course, it helps if you have some resources and other people to talk with about your ideas.  This is why science professors apply for grants to fund their projects and often work together with other researchers. So what resources are available for people in middle and high school or even elementary school? Well it turns out there are many national and local organizations and events out there!

Just as every university does not do the same types of research, not every single one of these opportunities exists in every town or city.  You might have to do some research to find out which groups are available in your area.  If there aren’t any, perhaps you could help start a group of your own!

Science Fairs

Have you ever had a question that you wanted answered?  For example, which local weather station does the best job at predicting the weather?  Or, do you really have to follow the high altitude directions when making a cake at a high altitude?  Those are just a couple of the questions that I turned into science fair projects when I was younger.

Megan toads science fair project 001

My first science project involved determining which of our pet toads jumped the farthest.

How do you get involved in science fairs?  See if your school holds one, you may be required to participate or maybe it is optional. You can also ask your science teacher if he/she knows of any science fairs in the local community.

There are a ton of resources out there, like this one, that have guides on the scientific method and how to display your project. There are also lots of websites with ideas for projects, but honestly I think the best questions are the kind that you are really wondering, like whether or not you can actually taste food that you don’t like (such as a piece of onion in a casserole) if you are blindfolded.

One benefit to participating in science fairs at any level is that you can win things! Most local and state science fairs offer awards as well as special prizes from local companies and groups, and if you participate in the International Science and Engineering Fair, you can even win scholarships!

Science Olympiad

When I was in school I also participated in Science Olympiad. While the events may have changed since then, their mission has not and more and more schools are competing every year.

Science Olympiad is described as an academic track meet with 23 events. It is split into middle school and high school divisions.  The events change every year, but always include events from many disciplines of science and engineering. Teams of two students compete in most of the events, but each student has the opportunity to compete in several different events.

It is a ton of fun because you compete in hands-on activities, for example egg drops, making balsa wood bridges, or identifying mystery powders, as well as academic competitions such as answering factual questions about amphibians and reptiles (my favorite).  Science Olympiad events are judged by volunteer teachers, scientists, and parents. The rules and criteria are set by the national body and teams get together to practice and work on building projects in preparation for big competitions involving many different schools at the local, state, and national levels.

How do you get involved?  Find out if your school has a team and when they practice.

megan science olympiad

Left: I am competing in the Egg Drop Competition for Madison Middle School.
Right: A teammate and me (I am on the right).

FIRST Robotics

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Robotics is a competition where students work together with professionals to achieve the goal of making a robot.  It is a great way to learn engineering, computer programming, and teamwork.

There are several different levels for different age groups as well as FIRST Tech Challenge (grades 7-12) and FIRST Robotics Competition (grades 9-12) with competitions at the regional and national level.  There are also scholarships available if you compete on a FIRST team.

How do you get involved? On the FIRST website you can  search for teams and events in your area, or you can check out the information on how to start a team.

CSGRoboticsCaptains-meredith pic

Our new high school board member, Meredith Meyer (2nd from the left), showing off her team’s robot at the Ohio State Fair.

But my school doesn’t have any of these things…

The National Girls Collaboration has compiled a list of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) clubs.  You can search by your state and city to see what other clubs are in your area. There are also options to participate in science activities through many of the major nationwide clubs like Girl Scouts and 4-H, and you can also participate in the National FFA Agriscience Fair. Other opportunities are available through organizations such as Sally Ride Science, formed by and named for the first American woman in space, which hosts day long festivals filled with science and fun, and Expanding Your Horizons, an organization that holds conferences that provide hands-on activities and interactions with female role models.  Or you can start your own club.  Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) provides great resources for starting your own club.

And even though school just started, don’t forget about all the summer camps you can attend next summer, including OSU’s own GRASP.   This year, there will be a follow-up BRIDGES workshop for past GRASP campers and other high schoolers aimed at getting their hands on physics instruments and introducing them to physics research at OSU.  Contact Prof. Amy Connolly (connolly (at) for more information.  There are many other camps as well, such as Girls Who Code, SciGirls Summer Camp, and Google’s Maker Camp, just to name a few.

If you are a part of another great organization out there that I didn’t mention, just leave a comment below and tell us how to get involved with your group!


About Megan Harberts

megan bio pic 9-10 blogI participated in my first science fair when I was in the 2nd grade.  After many years of science fairs, Science Olympiad competitions, and taking science classes, I decided in high school that I wanted to study physics in college.  I am now close to finishing my PhD in physics and I stay involved in these fun activities by helping to judge local science fairs.  I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the Science Olympiad national tournament last year.  I really enjoy being on the other side of the competitions as a volunteer because it reminds me of how much fun I had when I did those activities!  You can follow me on Twitter at @meganharberts.