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Top 8 Neuroscience Competitions for High School and Middle School Students

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If you are currently exploring a research project in neuroscience, just completed one, or you’re even thinking about starting one, you should definitely consider participating in a neuroscience competition! A competition can be a great way to continue learning about neuroscience, while also giving you the opportunity to produce a final product much like you would for a passion project! It can also be great if you like to compete, and sometimes the extrinsic incentives can help motivate you to do your best work. However, just the entire process of starting from an idea and working your way to a competition submission can be a fulfilling and informative experience in itself. In this article, we’ll cover the top neuroscience competitions out there for high school and middle school student researchers.

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How Do I Decide Which Type of Neuroscience Competition is Right For Me?

Not all neuroscience competitions follow the same format! As you’ll see in our list below, some may involve submitting a research project, while others might involve submitting an essay or piece of art. In deciding which competition is right for you, think about which competition would give you a unique experience that you might not have gotten through school. Also consider which competitions might help you learn the most about neuroscience or its various subtopics, and where you can learn in a way that’s enjoyable for you!

What are the Best Neuroscience Competitions for High School and Middle School Students?

#1 American Academy of Neurology - Neuroscience Research Prize

Hosting institution: American Academy of Neurology

Format: Written research report 

Prizes: 3 winners will receive a $1,000 prize, certificate of recognition, and the opportunity to present their work during a scientific poster session at the AAN 76thAnnual Meeting in Denver, CO. 1 winner will receive a $1,000 honorarium, certificate of recognition, and the opportunity to present their work during a scientific poster session at the 2024 Child Neurology Society Annual Meeting.

Application deadline: Closed in November. Opens again in late June

Individual or team competition? Must be individual

This award encourages high school students to explore the world of the human brain and nervous system through research. Research projects are evaluated based on their relevance to neuroscience, including topics like anatomy, physiology, pathology, and function. Behavior and psychology projects are discouraged. Submissions are also judged based on the hypothesis and methodology, as well as the interpretation of data. Judges are a panel of physicians and scientists who are actively researching neuroscience, so this is a great opportunity to get your work in front of leading experts!

#2 International Brain Bee

Hosting institution: International Brain Bee

Format: Written and oral exams

Prizes: Winners of virtual championships cna participate in 2024 in-person event in Vienna, Austria

Application deadline: World Championship will be in Oct 2024, but application deadline unannounced

Individual or team competition?: Individual

The International Brain Bee competition was founded in 1998 by Dr. Norbert Myslinski with a mission to build better brains to fight brain disorders. With this rich history, the International Brain Bee has inspired thousands of student researchers to study and pursue careers in neuroscience. The International Brain Bee has a three-tiered competition: students start by signing up for a Local Brain Bee competition (a lot of which are hosted by universities around the country), the winners of which compete in their country’s National Brain Bee. Every year, National Brain Bees send one representative to compete at the IBB World Championship, where over 40 countries are represented. In this competition you participate in a series of oral and written exams, and IBB will provide you with the study materials. As a result, you’re sure to learn a ton about neuroscience just through the process of participating.

#3 The Art of Neuroscience

Hosting institution: Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

Format: Art submission

Prizes: N/A

Application deadline: TBA

Individual or team competition?: Individual

This fascinating competition allows you to explore the themes of neuroscience and the brain in the form of art! This competition has been around for 11 years and includes submissions from neuroscientists inspired by art and artists inspired by neuroscience. For example, the winning project from 2022 was a film that recorded the artist falling asleep among the silver, treelike antennas of the Square Kilometer Array at the Mullard Radio Observatory in Cambridge, England, while her brain activity was converted into radio waves and transmitted directly into space. This is obviously a winning project that requires a significant amount of time, but you could also explore other less demanding art forms like a drawing or painting, which have received awards in the past for this competition. There’s a lot of room for creativity in this project and the opportunity to combine artistic expression with scientific principles.

#4 Neuroscience for Kids Poetry Contest

Hosting institution: University of Washington

Format: Poem

Prizes: Winners will be awarded a book or other prize to be determined later

Application deadline: February 1, 2024

Individual or team competition?: Individual

This competition is divided into 5 different age groups, with different poem requirements for each age group. For example, for Grades 9-12 your poem must be in the form of a limerick. All poems must have a neuroscience theme such as brain anatomy (a part of the brain), brain function (memory, language, emotions, movement, the senses, etc.), drug abuse or brain health (helmets, brain disorders, etc.) 

#5 Neuroethics Essay Contest

Hosting institution: International Neuroethics Society (INS) and the IYNA Journal

Format: Essay

Prizes: Essays will be posted on the contest website. Prizes also include a 1-year INS student membership ($15-30 value), a registration waiver to the next INS Annual Meeting ($150-200 value), and a travel stipend to attend the next INS Annual Meeting in-person ($500-1,500 value). See past winners here.

Application deadline: Has passed for this year

Individual or team competition?: Individual

In this essay contest, essay submissions can cover any topic in neuroethics and should address a focused problem at the intersections of the mind and brain sciences, ethics, and law. Example topics include, but are not limited to: neuroenhancement, neurolaw, neurology, moral psychology, moral philosophy, neuro/brain stimulation, ethics of neurodegenerative illness, neurogenetics, and much more. If you’re still unsure about your topic, reading the essays of past winners and honorable mentions can be a great start. There are also several different contest categories you can participate in, including the neuroethics essay, the essay for a general audience (a piece that might be found in a magazine or news outlet), the academic essay (suitable for publication in an academic journal), and the video essay. In choosing what category to participate in, it really just depends on what type of writing you prefer and what audience you want to write for.

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#6 Brain Awareness Video Contest

Hosting institution: Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

Format: Video

Prizes: First place: $4,000 plus complimentary registration for one* person to attend Neuroscience 2023 in Washington, D.C. Second place: $500. Third place: $250. People’s Choice: $500.

Application deadline: Has passed for this year, but should be July 2024 for next year

Individual or team competition?: Individual

Video submissions must focus on a neuroscience concept and be no longer than 5 minutes. You can watch SfN’s video on how to create and submit a video to the contest, but in general it’s important that the video is entertaining, unique, and catches the viewer’s eye. You can look through SfN’s website to also see what kinds of videos have been done in the past. The one challenging part of this contest is that you must be an SfN member to submit or have an SfN member sponsor you. While becoming a member is difficult as a student, you can try to find a sponsor by checking out SfN’s Find a Neuroscientist database. You can reach out to them via email or LinkedIn and explain your interest in neuroscience and tell them about your video idea! In reaching out, it’s important that your passion for neuroscience comes through.

#7 IYNA Ideathon

Hosting institution: International Youth Neuroscience Association

Format: Research project proposal

Prizes: N/A, but recognition from an established organization

Application deadline: Has passed for this year, but check website soon for 2024 details

Individual or team competition?: Can be both group or individual

This virtual, week-long competition allows participants to develop a proposal for a basic or clinical research project that tackles a real-world problem in neuroscience. One of the unique aspects of this competition is that it’s accompanied by training sessions, mentorship, and the opportunity to meet with experts in the field of neurodegeneration. You’ll have unique direct exposure to mentorship, unlike other STEM competitions where you may submit a project but never actually meet the judges or selection committee.

#8 Rising Scientist Award

Hosting institution: International Youth Neuroscience Association

Format: Research project

Prizes: A $2,000 scholarship for college expenses… opportunities to share your research and attend various symposiums and awards ceremonies..Invitations to attend a special educational event with representatives from the Child Mind Institute’s research programs and to shadow a Child Mind Institute researcher for a day

Application deadline: 2023 award closed, check website for 2024 details

Individual or team competition?: Individual

This competition/scholarship requires students to have completed scientific research studies or independent research in one of three areas: psychology, neuroscience, or biomedical engineering. In order to qualify for the award you must be nominated by a school faculty or school administrator, so part of this process is finding someone at school who might be as excited about your research project as you are, and who may have played a part in helping out with your project! As mentioned on the website, strong candidates also participate in extracurricular activities related to science.

How Can I Prepare for Neuroscience Competitions?

All of these research competitions are great ways to learn, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward when you participate. Remember that when you are submitting research involving human subjects for STEM competitions, you will need to get IRB approval before conducting your research. If your competition involves a research project submission, be sure to start as early as possible so that you can give yourself buffer time to make adjustments and improvements to your project. If you would like any help conducting research that you want to submit to a competition, please apply for our flagship mentorship program here. You can also check out these articles to learn about research opportunities for high school students, internship opportunities for high school students, and creative ways to explore your passions. If you need some inspiration for your local or international competition submission, check out our list of top neuroscience passion project and research ideas.

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Have Polygence Students Completed Neuroscience Research Projects?

We also wanted to highlight some great neuroscience research projects that Polygence student alumni have completed in the past. Hopefully these projects can inspire your own journey and exploration into neuroscience!

Angela’s project involved a literature review of how technology functions in the lives of people with neuro-disorders such as autism and ADHD. Angela’s review looked at research papers mainly from 2008-2021, and through this review she also identified several treatment avenues for people with neuro-disorders. Angela shared her paper with multiple scholarly journals and also presented her findings at the Polygence Symposium of Rising Scholars.

Olivia’s project was a literature review of two innovative theories in childhood brain development, and how these theories interpret the impact of socioeconomic status and early caregiving adversity on early child brain growth. 

Zachary explored the link between gut microbiome and cognitive function. Zachary found that there may be a link between poor gut health and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. His paper underscores the need for further exploration of the gut-brain axis, and it was published in Curieux Academic Journal and presented at the Polygence Symposium of Rising Scholars.

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