A Gold Award to do good: CREST success in response to COVID-19 By Rachel Boswell, Communications Manager (Education) at the British Science Association --- How do you respond to a problem? Do you evade its gaze, hoping it will leave you alone and solve itself? Or do you meet the problem eye-to-eye and take proactive steps to overcome it? COVID-19 was – and is – a problem of staggering proportions. To comprehend (let alone combat) this problem has been a tough task for everyone, and yet still there are countless inspiring individuals who continue to do their bit to help the world learn and rebuild from the virus. Motivated to join this effort, secondary students Supratha and Martin undertook a joint CREST project that set out to improve access to potentially life-saving COVID-19 research. Thanks to the flexibility of the CREST Awards, Supratha and Martin were able to construct and complete an investigation that solved their own key questions, earning them not only Gold Awards but a wealth of skills to help them flourish in the world of science. We spoke with Supratha and Martin to learn more about their CREST Gold Award project – ‘COVID-19: A detailed overview and explanation’. Can you give an overview of your project and the inspiration behind it? Supratha and Martin: Our inspiration came easily, as we were constantly surrounded by news of COVID-19 or new restrictions and lockdowns. Initially, we simply wanted to learn more about COVID-19 and found many detailed articles and case studies which, even if only minutely, contribute towards research on vaccine and treatment developments that essentially save lives. Amongst all the upsetting and worrying news on COVID-19, this was really inspiring for us and encouraged us in turn to contribute to a positive, hopeful cause that could benefit others. This is what inspired us to create our CREST project. When undertaking initial research, we found it difficult to find a single document quickly summarising the main topics associated with COVID-19 to a medical student standard, so creating one became our aim for the project. From our research, we compiled a general summary of various COVID-19 topics including treatments, risk factors, vaccines and the structure of the virus, all to a medical student standard, utilising self-made models and diagrams to further aid explanation of our project research. What was your favourite part of the CREST project? Supratha: My favourite part of the CREST project was completing our initial research section, where we decided what topics we wanted to explore. Unlike other specific projects, CREST projects do not require you to research set areas, so your topic can be on anything you like in the STEM field! This really gave us the opportunity to create a project catered to our specific interests and inspirations which made our project feel very personal, and which I really enjoyed. This project gave me the chance to answer and deepen my understanding of the numerous questions I had, such as ‘Why do specific factors increase the risk of COVID-19?’, and ‘What is the most promising treatment for COVID-19 currently?’. This experience really helped me to realise that I enjoy learning and further developed my enthusiasm for biology. Martin: My favourite part of the project was when we had the opportunity to research vaccines. This was interesting to me as I got to broaden my knowledge about something our country depends on so much from a biological standpoint. Did you face any challenges whilst running the project? If so, how did you overcome them? Supratha: In a group project teamwork and communication are vital, but due to the pandemic it was difficult to enhance these skills as we could not have in-person meetings. Ideas and feedback had to be discussed online. Alongside the use of platforms like Zoom, I feel what significantly helped us to overcome this problem was the use of our project network diagram, which we created during the initial stages of our project. This clearly laid out our deadlines and the tasks we had to do and allowed us to stay organised and manage time effectively, even though we could not meet face-to-face. Martin: The biggest challenge for me was time management and quality control. Since two people were working on the project, with work being divided between us both, we needed to adhere to any deadlines we had set. Once we reached the deadline, we would review the work each of us produced and evaluate whether it had achieved our goal of being in-depth whilst also being easily understood. If we thought the work produced didn’t align with our goals, we quickly created more targets to achieve by a certain time to ensure we ended up with what we intended on producing initially. This kind of quality control can be tedious, but it played a crucial role in getting our project to where it is now. What did you learn from the project and what skills did you develop? Supratha: I think this project helped to develop our teamwork, problem-solving and organisational skills. For me, the most important skill I gained was the ability to scan long texts and pick out the relevant information. This is useful as it goes beyond the scope of my project, as I can see an improvement in my exam technique for both my A-levels and the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). Martin: The project allowed me to develop my skills in 3D rendering, as well as my research skills (in terms of conducting research using various sources and summarising key points in a way that anyone can understand). It also provided me with the opportunity to develop my team-working skills, which would help me in any future team projects I decide to undertake. The project allowed me to learn about the pandemic we are currently in, from how the virus affects the body to the various ways of gaining protection from it. Do you hope to continue studying or working in science when you leave school? Or perhaps continue working on COVID-19 research? Supratha: Yes, I hope to pursue a career in medicine when I leave school. This project has also developed my enthusiasm for and interest in virology, so I would really enjoy working on even more COVID-19 research in the future and contribute towards helping others. Martin: Studies into science is something I am keen on doing. Right now, I am hoping to pursue a career in medicine to further my understanding of illnesses and associated treatments. This career would also allow me to use my knowledge to positively impact other people’s lives. If you’re a student looking to solve your own scientific problem this summer, and perhaps make that first, kernel of a discovery that will go on to make a big, global difference – who knows? – download our free ‘Generating questions for CREST’ resource now. The options for CREST have no bounds!