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


This article first appeared in the Summer Term 2024 issue (P38-39) of VITTA Magazine

While for many of us, the summer holiday offers a chance to take a well-earned break following a busy academic year, for older students with one eye on their next steps after school, summer is also a great opportunity to work on projects that could boost UCAS or job/apprenticeship applications and employability.

What are CREST Awards?

CREST Awards, the British Science Association’s (BSA) flagship education programme, offers investigative, open-ended STEM activities and projects for ages 3-19. The most advanced projects for older students – Gold Awards – are the perfect long-term projects for young people to work on over the summer break. They boost employability skills and are recognised by universities and employers alike.

Gold CREST Awards are usually completed by students aged 16+ and take around 70 hours to complete – they’re no mean feat! Earning a Gold Award truly demonstrates a student’s interest in a subject, their aptitude and drive, and determination to complete a STEM project.

On the CREST Awards website you’ll find the resource library, which offers a host of project ideas for all levels, including Gold. However, students are in no way limited to the project ideas offered in the library.

Students following their passion 

One of the brilliant things about the secondary CREST Awards (Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels) is that students can just choose an area of STEM they’re most interested in, or a scientific question they’ve always wanted to know the answer to, and turn that passion into a project of their own.  

Last year, the BSA spoke to three Gold CREST Awardees about their projects and how their Awards helped them as they graduated from school into the world of work and higher education.

While Gold CREST Awards can be done independently, all three of the Awardees did their project as part of a summer programme or competition – a great way to stay productive over the long summer break!

Richard and his mental health-nutrition app

Richard Turay, now an audit apprentice at KPMG UK, earned a Gold CREST Award in 2022 for his project ‘Creating an app to deal with depression’. Richard developed the idea for his project during his work experience placement at Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, facilitated by In2Science.

Richard’s hosts were neuroscientists, which inspired him to work on projects related to how our brains work. His interest in health and nutrition, as well as his experiences of watching loved ones struggle with their mental health, led him to design an app that would help people track the impact their diet had on their mood.

Having this project under his belt proved to be an asset during interviews for apprenticeships, Richard told the BSA:

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.

Read more about Richard and his Gold CREST Award

Mara and her investigation into underrepresentation

The summer after she finished her GCSEs – Mara, currently a sixth form student at Rickmansworth School in Hertfordshire, was keen to use her time productively.

Thinking ahead to her UCAS application form, Mara entered the Techfest STEM Next essay competition. She researched and wrote a comprehensive piece entitled ‘Why are women underrepresented in STEM?

On the recommendation from the Techfest team, Mara submitted her essay for a Gold CREST Award, for which she also had to write a project report. Mara told the BSA:

Producing my project report for the Award gave me an opportunity to reflect on the skills I had developed, including researching, writing and referencing for my essay. I was able to improve my essay and identify strategies to implement in future academic writing.

“This Award is highly regarded by universities, so will form a valuable aspect of my UCAS personal statement.

Read more about Mara and her Gold CREST Award

Toby Hill and his traffic control system

In the summer between Years 12 and 13, Toby Hill, now a trainee patent attorney at Mewburn Ellis, undertook a Nuffield Research Placement, during which he worked on his Gold CREST Award project.

With a burgeoning interest in engineering (which he went on to study at the University of Cambridge), Toby was based in the smart laboratory alongside PhD students, and designed and built a mini electronic traffic control system. Toby told the BSA:

I think completing a CREST Award demonstrates to universities that you're committed to your subject because whenever you say something, you want to try and back it up with evidence. ‘I enjoy engineering’ is OK. But why do you enjoy it? Why do you want to study it? 

“So, I've gone and spent four weeks of my summer in a lab working on an engineering-related project.

Read more about Toby and his Gold CREST Award

Recommending to your students that they make the most of their summer and get a CREST Award under their belt could make all the difference when it comes to UCAS/apprenticeship application forms.

If you’re interested in learning more about CREST Awards and being part of a network of teachers who run CREST with their students, join the Engage community, run by the BSA. You’ll be invited to attend the annual Engage Teacher Conference, apply for the Engage Grants to help fund running CREST Awards, and much more.

Other blogs you might be interested in:

CREST Awards and design & technology - perfect bedfellows 

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

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

To stay up to date with all our latest blogs and CREST news, sign up to our monthly education newsletter.

Sign up here