Raghavendra Selvam is our competitions & outreach assistant, overseeing the competitions we run here at the RSB
It is Monday morning and thousands of school students from across the world are logging into their computers to complete an optional biology paper. Why? They are all curious about the natural world.
This year, I have been administering three school competitions for the Royal Society of Biology, targeted at different age groups: the Biology Challenge (13-15 year olds), the Intermediate Biology Olympiad (16-17 year olds), and the British Biology Olympiad (post-16 students).
The RSB runs the competitions with an aim to encourage as many students as possible to take an interest in biology beyond the school curriculum. This is why they are accessible as online papers and open to all types of schools.
The competitions run between January and June, but preparation for them begin months in advance. My role includes helping register schools to take part, liaising with teachers, and promoting the competitions. I also work closely with a dedicated team of volunteers, the RSB’s Special Interest Group UK Biology Competitions (UKBC), who develop the questions for the papers, as well as actively supporting student training in subsequent rounds the British Biology Olympiad.
So far in 2017, more than 47,000 students from over 600 schools in 28 countries have taken part in the competitions. This is the highest number and most diverse range of participants we have ever had. One reason for this is allowing teachers the choice to run the competitions at times convenient to schools during the competition dates.
Students who do well in the competitions are awarded gold, silver and bronze certificates and get invited to an annual RSB awards ceremony in London. All students also receive a year’s free BioNet membership and are encouraged to put their participation in the competitions in their personal statements and university applications.
However, beyond these prizes, the competitions are a fantastic opportunity for students to expand their talents. For example, the Biology Challenge rewards those students whose subject knowledge has been increased by reading books, watching natural history programmes and generally be aware of biology news media. Similarly, the top four students in the British Biology Olympiad also get to represent the UK at the International Biology Olympiad each year.
The competitions present students with a chance to demonstrate and challenge their biology knowledge.
Nevertheless, what excites me the most is that, much like the RSB’s other opportunities in science communication, specimen drawing and photography, these school competitions encourage more and more individuals to recognise the value of the wide-ranging subject that is biology.
If you are a teacher, you can still sign up your students for this year’s Intermediate Biology Olympiad.