At a school where interest in science is clear, competitive science teams seem to be lacking in numbers
Science Olympiad and Science Bowl combine two of the things hundreds of students at this school seem to be all over: sport and science. It would seem intuitive that many of the 839 students signed up for an AP science course or science elective would be racing to sign up for a competitive science team. However, like many things in science, reality challenges intuition. Fewer than 60 people try out for Science Olympiad every year and annually Science Bowl only gets 10 to 20 new students.
Why does this discrepancy between participation in competitive science and AP science exist? Both clubs have been described as great experiences that teach trust, problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. Science Olympiad is a nationwide competition where students work with a partners on several different events, including making labs, blueprints, written tests, and much more. Since the scores from all the pairs on a team are averaged, teammates must be able to count on each other to do well enough to boost the overall average above an opponent’s. This idea of teamwork is also applied in Science Bowl, which has competitions of a different style. Its national matches take place on a stage similar Family Feud, complete with buzzers and microphones. The tournaments are extremely fast-paced. Teams have 5 seconds to answer a toss-up question, and if they answer it correctly, they get a bonus question. Competitors have often answered the question before the host has even finished reading it.
It is not like students dislike science either. Take Shreya Nagpal, a junior who is not in Science Bowl or Science Olympiad despite expressing enthusiasm for her AP physics class.
“I like being able to create,” said Nagpal. “There’s no one solution to a problem so it’s fun trying to find a more efficient solution than the last.”
Besides being fun, many students agree that science is important. Whether it be deciding whether an online article is true or not or incorporating realistic elements into a video game, students realize science is apparent in everyday life. Yet many of the people who emphasize this fact do not compete in science.
So why is there such a discrepancy between science class and science competition?
Well, there are multiple factors. Some students are merely unfamiliar with these clubs, like Sarah Provancha, a junior who wants to pursue a career in forensic science.
“I have heard of the science bowl/olympiad,” she said. “But I don’t really know much about it so I’m not sure if I would be interested.”
This lack of publicity leads to serious missed opportunities for not only the club, but many students as well. Shreya Ramachandran (9), the founder of non-profit organization The Grey Water Project and winner of the President’s Environmental Youth Award, regrets not taking a shot at one of the competitive science teams.
“I didn’t really consider it at the start of the year, so I didn’t join up,” she said. “Looking back, I might have missed an opportunity there.”
The problem with learning about competitive clubs later on is that it becomes increasingly harder to get a spot on the team after freshman year. The consequences of scant promotion become even more severe. Hopeful students often become intimidated by their lack of experience.
“There is some preference sometimes given to people who are already on the Science Olympiad team, [who] have already done it in years past,” said Ms. Liu, the Science Olympiad adviser. “They are already familiar with the system and the expectations … It is a steep learning curve.”
Another factor to the relatively low interest in science competition is fear of not just the learning curve, but of not being good enough to get on the team in the first place.
“I didn’t think I had enough raw factual knowledge,” said Ramachandran.
That is not the only fear, however. Many students simply do not like competition because of either the amount of effort it requires to win or the fact that it calls attention to the competitor.
“Although I do find science [intriguing] and important, I found it challenging. Compared to others, I do not think I would be able to compete with their level knowledge,” said Ashley Ton (10), who devotes her interest in STEM to Girls Who Code, a non-competitive club.
Is students’ reasoning against trying out for a competitive STEM team unfounded? Not completely. Club members admit that taking time out of their already busy lives to win competitions can be challenging, though it gets easier later on.
“Some of the clubs are very hard to begin,” said Ojasw Upadhyay (9), who joined both Science Olympiad and Science Bowl because he wanted a challenge. “[But] as you become a smarter person and get used to the format, it becomes a more manageable task.”
So if you want to give Science Olympiad or Science Bowl a shot, the learning curve issue is now aside. Unfortunately, getting on the team is a huge obstacle. Science Olympiad only has two teams of fifteen and Science Bowl is even more exclusive with the first cut only selecting two teams of five.
“Science competitions are difficult, and generally require preparation beyond the hardest science classes,” said Pranav Nagarajan (12), the president of the Science Bowl.
Regardless of the challenges ahead, science competition club presidents and advisers agree that everyone should at least give tryouts a shot.
“If you’re not worried you’re not ready for it, you should just try out to see,” said Ms. Liu. “If you don’t even try out, you wouldn’t know if you’re able to do it or not.”
Caption: A student in Chemistry Honors records observations as magnesium reacts with hydrochloric acid.