By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at The British Science Association


The summer holidays are fast approaching (unless you're in Scotland or Northern Ireland where term has already ended), which means time for a well-earned break for all school students after what has been a turbulent (to say the least) academic year. For young people in sixth form, about to take their first steps into the adult world, the holidays are also a great opportunity for them to explore their interests and think about what career path they might want to embark on.

The last year of secondary education is something of a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment for older students, making big decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. Filling in application forms for universities, apprenticeships or internships and jobs can be a daunting process and demonstrating genuine passion for a subject in a competitive world, with only school years behind you, can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. But we can help!

CREST Awards is a nationally recognised scheme for student-led project work that covers all sorts of scientific disciplines and touches on other subjects too. There are projects for young people ages 5-19, with the Gold level being for the oldest students. Gold projects should take around 70 hours to complete, require real-world research and investigation, and most importantly look fantastic on a UCAS or job application form. In fact, UCAS lists CREST Awards as something admissions staff would love to hear about in a personal statement.

The summer holidays are the perfect chance to complete a Gold project and submit it to our assessors, in time to include the Award in an application. For most undergraduate courses starting in September 2022, the deadline for applications is 26 January 2022, with an earlier date of 15 October 2021 for Oxbridge and medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses. Gold Award assessment can take two to six weeks following payment, so be sure to submit your CREST project in good time!

Our CREST resource library is full of ideas for projects, including ones that might appeal to students with ambitions in creative fields like music and fashion design, as well as the traditional sciences. But students interested in doing a Gold project (or a project at any level) needn’t feel limited by the resources we offer. Achieving a CREST Award can be an opportunity for students to really think about what inspires and excites them and design their own project around that subject.

How to design a CREST project   

The first step is for the student to decide on their area of interest. Gold projects are lengthy and in-depth, so it needs to be a topic that can hold long-term attention. Inspiration for the topic can come from anywhere - personal experience, favourite subjects at school, the news cycle, documentaries, and even science-fiction.

Next, the student needs to decide on a specific question that is realistic to explore through research and experimentation. A handy way of doing this is using the five Ws and one H: what, why, when, who, where and how. For example, if a student is passionate about baking and cooking with chocolate, they might think about what happens to chocolate when it melts? How do different percentages of cocoa solids affect chocolate’s reaction to heat? When does chocolate burn? This could lead them to a project where they examine the ingredients of different types of chocolate and measure their responses to different temperatures, which is in fact a chemistry experiment examining the behaviour of molecules.  

An experiment involving chocolate would be categorised as an investigative project, one of the four types of CREST project alongside build and design, research and communication. A student who loves outdoor activities might think about kite-flying. How does a kite fly? Where is the best spot to fly a kite, and when? These questions could be the groundwork of a project in which the student designs and build the perfect kite, exploring engineering, aerodynamics and even weather patterns in the process.

Research and communications projects could prompt students to think about current issues and the sorts of technological innovations we might need in the future. Climate change is a hot topic that will impact generations to come, so some students might choose to research eco-friendly energy resources and how society can make impactful moves to adopt them, or perhaps produce communications for their peers on the benefits of recycling. Research conducted by the British Science Association also found that more young people are interested in a career in science as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students might therefore choose to research how viruses mutate, evolve and spread as a Gold project, or perhaps think about technology that might have been helpful during lockdowns, and who it could have benefitted.

The options really are endless and can give school students a taste of the sort of independent, student-led work they might carry out at university level or in the workplace. Depending on which sort of project they choose, a student will have to consider questions like ‘Is there an experiment I can conduct that will support my solution?’, ‘What trends am I looking for?’ and ‘Do I want to explore a topic that relates to a specific audience?’. Developing these sorts of thought processes and applying them to practical work is a skill that would be valuable to any young person, regardless of their plans and ambitions for the future.

Gold CREST Awards allow students to demonstrate passion, tenacity, creativity and initiative and provide experiences to prepare them for the wider world, whichever path they choose to take.

Find our CREST question generator here along with more details on how to design a project, and check out the resource library for some ideas and inspiration.