STEM Scholarly Writing Challenge

Scholarly Writing for High School Students: Bridging the Gap through STEM Fellowship

Written by Mohammad Hossein Asadi Lari, Michelle Chung & Varun Kundra

If you are a high school student who is interested in taking that extra step in science or writing, this article is for you. At STEM Fellowship, we have developed an initiative, the Scholarly Writing Challenge, specifically to get you engaged in scholarly writing.

What is scholarly writing? 

The very wording of scholarly or academic writing seems out of touch with most students. In reality, scholarly writing is just a genre like any other genre in literature, albeit one that is incredibly crucial in academic pursuits. Essentially, scholarly writing is telling a story about research that you have conducted. Like any story, you introduce your work and foreshadow the “events” with your hypothesis. By describing your methods, you set the stage for the action, which are your experimental findings. Finally, you make your conclusions and end your story. Examples of scholarly writing include reports on novel research and literature reviews.

Why is scholarly writing important?

Scholarly writing isn’t just for research projects; it is a critical component of academic communication. It is a foundational skill that is a necessity for writing grant applications, reports, ethics guidelines, patents, manuscripts, etc. Effectively, it is a genre that most students would have to master for success in academic pursuits.

Why aren’t students as engaged in scholarly writing?

There are many innovative students who go to science fairs to present their work and some win prizes; however, a very small fraction of this work is published. Despite the great ideas students have presented and their robust methods employed, students are not publishing their work.

This lack of publishing stems from a number of issues. Firstly, you may not view scholarly writing as a priority. While there are several highly promoted symposiums for undergraduate research, there are fewer undergraduate journals that are as highly promoted. This is problematic, since “out of sight” results in scholarly writing being “out of mind” and limits the research that could be shared with others.

Secondly, you may feel intimidated by the scholarly writing and manuscript submission processes.  Since you may not have taken classes that explicitly teach students how to perform scholarly writing, nor had the manuscript submission process explained to you, you may feel that scholarly writing is untouchable and beyond you at this time.

 Bridging the Gap Through the STEM Fellowship Journal

Giving students the courage and the tools to engage in scholarly writing earlier on is a form of empowerment. It allows you to step beyond the normal boundaries and reach a new degree of professionalism.

The STEM Fellowship Journal is an open access, peer-reviewed journal offered by Canadian Science Publishing (CSP). Our mission is to empower students to engage in scholarly writing.

While we have published high school work from Canada and even Iran, our high school submissions still pale in comparison to those from undergraduate students. This can be explained by the lack of required skills for high school students. So the question is, how do we bridge the gap here?

The Scholarly Writing Challenge

The STEM Fellowship Scholarly Writing Team wanted to help students improve their scholarly writing skills and effectively communicate their work. This goal gave rise to the STEM Fellowship Scholarly Writing Challenge (SWC).

The STEM Fellowship Scholarly Writing Challenge aims to empower you with an opportunity to be recognized for your hard work, advance your skills and prepare for academic writing.

How does the competition work?

All submissions will be judged by a joint committee of the student editorial board, reviewers and the scholarly writing challenge team consisting of high school students. Submissions will be judged on the basis of originality and creativity, clarity and organization of writing, and application of scientific concepts. The full rubric is below.

While the competition will recognize exceptional pieces of scholarly writing, the most important aspect of the SWC is to enable all participants to gain useful feedback and tips from our judging committee. This feedback will help improve their scholarly writing skills. We want all competitors to feel like they have learned something about how to better their manuscripts to make them more precise, engaging, and organized.

Who can submit an entry?

The competition is open to high school students in Canada and around the world. This includes students who have just completed grade 9 and those who have just graduated. The deadline for submissions is August 31st, 2016 and we will announce the winning submissions in the fall.

What are the prizes?

The top submission per category (Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Mathematics, and Environmental Sciences) will be awarded a certificate, while the best overall submission will be awarded a monetary prize of $500 from Canadian Science Publishing and a one year subscription to a Canadian Science Publishing journal of their choice.

All participants will receive feedback on their articles to improve their scholarly writing skills and a certificate for participation.

To improve your chances of winning, follow the guidelines of our rubric below.

For more information about the challenge, please visit the STEM Fellowship website.

At STEM Fellowship – we believe that the Scholarly Writing Challenge should be more than a competition, but, also a learning process! We look forward to seeing your entry!

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Scholarly Challenge Rubric:

Title (/5):

  • Demonstrates clear and descriptive information that would inform readers about the important contents and results about the paper.

Abstract (/5):

  • Clearly summarizes key information such as study purpose, introduction, types of methods used, key findings and impact of findings.

Introduction (/15):

  • Includes all the background information to make sure the topic is properly explained and introduces the research purpose in a clear and concise manner. Must also highlight issues or gaps in knowledge and discuss the study’s purpose in adding knowledge in this gap.

Methods (/10):

  • Includes all relevant information and analytical techniques in a clear, methodical format, such that the experiment could be replicated and that all important information is presented for a clear interpretation of results.

Results (/15):

  • All data is recorded and presented in an organized manner.
  • Tables include descriptive headings, units and uncertainties.
  • Qualitative observations are also recorded. Data is processed through appropriate and correctly executed calculations, with sample calculations included.
  • Trends (or lack thereof) are identified and represented in suitable choices of graphs with standard units that are appropriate for the specific field. If statistics are used, all relevant quality control information is presented.
  • Data is presented in a figure/table when necessary in order to display the trends and most significant findings in a visually clear manner.

Discussion (/20):

  • Trends in the data are explained and compared to scientific theory (about possible mechanisms) and current literature. Significant findings are discussed in context of the purpose of the study and also how it adds to the current body of literature. This would entail a detailed analysis of current literature and findings would be directly compared and rationalized.
  • Any anomalies are discussed, explained in terms of mechanisms leading to anomalies and also compared to other studies.
  • Systematic errors are discussed and their effect on the data’s precision and accuracy is weighed.
  • Specific improvements to the experiment’s method that would lead to greater accuracy in data collection, better control of variables, and ease of conducting multiple, reproducible trials are suggested.

Conclusion (/5):

  • A clear, logical conclusion supported by the results and trends is stated. There is good commentary on the significance of the findings. Potential follow-up research questions and areas for further exploration are noted.

References (/10):

  • All outside sources referenced in the paper are cited correctly (according to Vancouver style) and are from reputable sources.

Stylistic points (/15):

  • The actual format is displayed to maximize coherency and clarity.
  • Grammar and sentence coherence, clarity and conciseness in word choice.
  • Formulas, graphs are formatted into a clear visual with appropriate spacing.
  • Consistent font size and usage.
  • Paragraphs are arranged in a clear and logical manner, presenting a flow of arguments that pertains to the main thesis.
  • Manuscript is formatted for optimal clarity, such as proper spacing, title emphasis, figure placement, no breaks within a table/figure.
  • Clarity of results/explanations that includes all the relevant information for a proper interpretation of results.
    Results and conclusions are logical and supported by data.
  • Thorough discussion of the limitations, impact of study and rationale of possible mechanisms.
  • Quality of figures/tables (clarity of portraying intended scientific data, visual appeal, professionalism, units, clear purpose, caption with adequate information to understand figure).
  • Overall impression.

Overall rubric adds up to 100 points

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About the Authors:

Mohammad Hossein Asadi Lari is a third year student in the Honours Cellular, Anatomical and Physiological Sciences program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and an aspiring clinician-researcher. Mohammad has been a student researcher since grade 10. He holds a patent, a first authored publication in nanochemistry and has upcoming publications in cancer stem cell and neurosurgery research. He is a founding student member of STEM Fellowship, and is currently the Managing Director for Scholarly Writing and Publication and a Steering Committee member.

Michelle Chung is a committed first year engineering student at the University of Calgary and a recipient of the Seymour Schulich Community Service/Entrepreneurial Award.  She hopes to bring biomedical engineering principles into the patient setting as a physician.  As Michelle hopes to encourage more high school and undergraduate students involvement in STEM, she serves as STEM Fellowship’s Outreach Director and acts as a Steering Committee Member.

Varun Kundra is a Grade 11 AP student living in Calgary, Alberta. He is heavily involved in his community and volunteers with organizations such as the Calgary Public Library, Canadian Blood Services, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Varun also conducts biomedical research with his mentors at the University of Calgary. Varun is the student team lead on the High School Scholarly Writing Challenge.

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