SRP: Project or Pain?

By: Dagney Palmer
TUSCARORA HIGH SCHOOL – Some students hear the acronym and cringe, some sigh in relief that it’s over, and some have yet to find out what it means. It’s the SRP, or Science Research Project, a rigorous long-term research project that all honors biology students are required to complete. Each year the projects are presented at the Intel International Science Fair, where students have the opportunity to advance through regional science fairs and to win a variety of prizes and scholarships. The 2011 Science Fair will be held on February 10th, with an alternative date in case of snow on February 16th.
Students begin by choosing and researching their project during honors earth science (in ninth grade), while the actual experimentation and data collecting for the project is done the next year in honors biology. However, some ambitious students take honors biology in ninth grade, but this is not recommended in the Student Handbook (accessible online from the Tuscarora “Science” home page, under the tab labeled, ‘Science Research Project’) as students will have to complete most of their background research over the summer and may still be behind once they start the project in school.
Surprisingly, it’s often easier for students to take honors biology in their freshman year. This is because they have the opportunity to prepare fully and at their own pace over the summer before they begin high school. Students taking this course in tenth grade often have issues with the transport of materials between their earth science and biology teachers. The tenth graders often come into honors biology unfinished with the SRP assignments that should have been completed in honors earth science. The transport and adjustment to the new class can be confusing and frustrating for students.
Students’ overall opinions of the SRP vary, but most seem to agree that it is a stressful but rewarding project. 10th grader Kylie Ritz can give some insight into the average SRP experience; “I feel like there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but I’m on the right track,” she says about her current progress on the SRP. Ritz’s project is about Cepheid Variables (pulsating stars) and she came up with the project with help from her honors earth science teacher along with getting ideas from online.
The Science Research Project is an individual project, done almost entirely outside of school. The project consists of about 15 individual assignments that lead up to the actual project, all of which must be completed outside of class. These assignments can range from simply researching a topic and finding sources to writing the 1000 word Literature Review. Students have between one and three weeks to complete each assignment.
Although the project and accompanying assignments are independent from the honors biology curriculum, each part of the project is graded and counts towards the overall grade for the class. The Science Research Project occupies such a large percentage of the accumulated grade that if a student chooses not to complete part (or all) of their project, they will most likely fail honors biology.
Students in the midst of their project have to stay organized and manage their time wisely, as it is important for them to keep their biology class work separate from their SRP assignments. The deadlines and due dates for each SRP assignment are posted on the school website as it is important to know what is due when. The SRP due dates are set by the county – they cannot be extended or postponed easily by the honors biology teachers.
Although the project is to be completed outside of class time, students are welcome to use many materials and resources located in the school science labs. Students must ask permission from their science teacher before using these materials, and may need to be supervised by a qualified scientist when working with potentially dangerous items.
There are many regulations, and guidelines to take note of for all stages of the SRP which can be accessed online from the Tuscarora website.
It’s important that students choose a research project that interests them, because they will be working on this project for over a year and a half from the time they choose the project to their presentation in the science fair at the end of their sophomore year. The project needs to be on a high school level intellectually because it is supposed to present a challenge. But it is important that students don’t choose a project that is too complex, such as those involving plants, animals, or humans. These projects are allowed, but not strongly recommended.
What may be the most important thing to consider before starting the SRP is the International Science and Engineering (ISEF) ethics statement, which says:
“Scientific fraud and misconduct are not condoned at any level of research or competition. Such practices include plagiarism, forgery, use or presentation of other researcher’s work or as one’s own and fabrication of data. Fraudulent projects will fail to qualify for competition in affiliated fairs or the Intel ISEF.”
The Intel International rules and guidelines clearly state that all projects must adhere to the ethics statement. Forgery and plagiarism are absolutely prohibited.
There are many consequences, both good and bad, of taking honors biology and committing to the Science Research Project. Some students handle the challenges better than others, and students should not take honors biology unless they are prepared to commit to doing the SRP. One 10th grade student was asked whether the SRP has been a good experience for them; her response was simply, “No; the SRP has been a trauma-filled, stress-inducing project so far.”
The SRP takes time, and a lot of it; an average student could spend upwards of 30 minutes every day on planning, research, and experimentation throughout most of the first semester of taking honors biology students are completely responsible for their own project, including finding supervisory adult aid, following the ISEF rules, and doing the experimentation and data analysis. Students and their parents are responsible for the purchase of any materials needed for the project, which can be very expensive; most projects end up costing between $50 and $200.
Honors Biology teacher, Dr. Benjamin Kagan, warns future honors biology students not to take the honors level class, “unless you are willing to commit to doing it because it’s, well, it’s a hard time.”
Again, some students handle the SRP better than others, and if they feel too overwhelmed, there is always the option of dropping down to academic biology. Dr. Kagan says that he’s had plenty of students drop his Honors Biology class because of the SRP. But dropping isn’t the only option for struggling students. For instance, the teachers are always willing to help! “Come to me with any questions or help and hold fast; it’s almost over,” Dr. Kagan advises any students who are struggling with their project.
So what are the benefits of taking honors biology and doing the Science Research Project? What are the drawbacks? Well, it’s obvious that the SRP is hard. Let’s face it; the SRP can be a living nightmare for some students, but just because it’s horrible for some (or most) students doesn’t mean it has to be nightmarish for everyone. With lots of hard work, perseverance, and preparation, the SRP can be a rewarding and beneficial experience. Heck, you might even learn something by the time you’re done