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


One of our favourite things about the secondary CREST Awards projects is that students can design them themselves. It allows budding scientists to bring together the different strands of STEM* that interest them most, and demonstrate unique connections.

For Gold CREST Awardee Richard Turay, those strands were nutrition, mental health and app technology.

During a work experience placement facilitated by In2Science, Richard came up with the idea to design an app that lets you track how the foods you eat affect your mood, which could help people manage symptoms of depression.

Richard’s placement at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, part of University College London, gave him the opportunity to work with neuroscientists. They helped him learn more about the nervous system and hone his idea. The result was a fascinating Gold Award project that bolstered Richard’s C.V. – he is now doing an accounting apprenticeship at KPMG UK!

As we marked the 10th annual Time to Talk Day on 1 February, we spoke to Richard about his project, why the topic of mental health is important to him, and how receiving a CREST Award helped him after he finished school.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go through a hard time with mental health”

So how did Richard come up with his idea?

Speaking to us about his project, he explained that he has always been interested in fitness and nutrition, understanding how food impacts your body. With the help of his neuroscientist hosts, he decided to think about food, not just in the context of physical health but mental health too.

I was interested in mental health as well because I’ve seen a lot of people go through a hard time with mental health, like friends, and that’s something that’s sensitive to me so I decided to think about it… I knew what you eat has an impact on your mood so I was trying to make that connection.

Richard surveyed men and women to find out if an app which tracks the link between diet and depression could help people. He asked questions including ‘Would you be willing to change your diet to improve your mood?’

When the answer to the question ‘would you consider using this app, if it was created?’ was an overwhelming ‘yes’ from both men and women, Richard knew he was on to something.

Watch below to hear more from Richard on how he came up with his idea.

“As a man, you have societal expectations”

Richard created pie charts of his survey results and noticed that, while men and women answered most questions similarly, there was a stark difference in the answer to ‘How frequently do you feel down?’. The percentage of women who answered ‘rarely’ was 11.4%, while for men, the figure was 27.3%.

In his analysis of the results, Richard noted that the men’s answer “may have been influenced by social conditioning to believe that masculinity entails emotional fortitude’. Richard told us more about this:  

As a man, you have societal expectations, you don’t want to show yourself to be mentally weak. You have to be strong for yourself when you’re going through life, and for the ones around you, so there’s kind of pressure in that sense.

Richard envisioned his app as one that could help anyone, including men, to understand the link between nutrition and mental health, to know that everyone struggles sometimes, and to feel confident and comfortable taking steps to feel better.

The food you eat can have an impact on your mood and how you feel, and addressing that part of life, it could hopefully improve other parts of your life.

“I had to learn new skills”

The Gold CREST Award is the highest CREST achievement, the projects require real, in-depth research and typically take around 70 hours to complete.

For students to earn the Award, certain criteria have to be met, sometimes criteria they haven’t had much practice meeting before. This was certainly Richard’s experience. He told us that after he completed his surveys, he was unsure how to analyse the results. This is how he overcame that obstacle:

I spoke to my hosts at the placement, I spoke to teachers, I watched some YouTube videos on how do I go about anaylsing the survey results, what tool should I use? From that I learned a lot, more analytical skills, which was very helpful as now at my accounting apprenticeship, I use Excel a lot.

Students who complete Gold CREST Award are usually coming towards the end of school, about to enter the world of work or higher education, where they may be expected to learn new skills independently. Working on a Gold project gives students an opportunity to problem-solve, as Richard did, and take on new challenges that might come in handy later on.

“They were very interested in knowing why I did it”  

We all like to have unique talking points in interviews that we hope make us stand out to potential employers or universities. For students taking their first steps as independent adults, this can be even more important.

As Richard explained, "It’s hard when you’re a sixth former applying for these big companies, you don’t have much to speak about for yourself."

A Gold CREST Award is a fantastic achievement for students to discuss in interviews; it demonstrates an interest in a topic, the aptitude to complete the work to a high standard, and the commitment to a long-term project.

Richard told us how proud he was of his Award; he included it on his C.V. and found that interviewers took a keen interest:

Interviewers probably hear generic answers, ‘I did this, I did that’…because of me doing the CREST Awards project, it was a unique thing and they were very interested in knowing why I did that and what I learned.

Watch below to hear more from Richard about how he spoke about his Award in interviews.

“I would definitely say do it”

As well as the opportunity to explore the relationship between nutrition and mental health, Richard developed skills that will hold him in good stead as he progresses through his career. When we asked him if he would recommend to other students to do a CREST Award, he was effusive:    

A hundred percent, because you take the time, you learn new things, you learn new skills, it helps you…You have the opportunity to learn a lot about science, and upskill yourself so yeah, I would definitely say do it.

Watch below to hear more from Richard about he she recommends CREST

Other blogs you might be interested :

Bringing youth voice on mental health innovation to the table with CREST

How CREST Awards can boost UCAS applications and university admission interviews

Dunking a biscuit in tea? That can be a CREST Awards project!

Check out news coverage of Richard's project:

Sixth former designs award-winning app to promote better mental health - Educate Magazine

'Food for thought': Sixth Former receives national science award for nutrition app that promotoes better mental health - Education Today

More links:

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*STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths