At the core of the Sanofi Biogenius Canada experience is scientific research. All projects at SBC competitions are experimental in nature, and students have the responsability to come with an idea that they can test in a real-life.
Coming up with an SBC project can be scary, but it can also be very collaborative. Ideas are not born in a vacuum; they can be inspired by personal experience, but also through discussions with friends, teachers, parents and others, including professionals already working in health sciences and biotech. We’ve found that it’s a common mistake to try to go it entirely alone; you should always feel open to feedback from others, as it might open a door you’ve never considered.
It begins with your personal interests and a basic understanding of life sciences and biotechnology. What do you find interesting, and how does it connect to the field? Write down those interests and begin some background research into biotech — what it is, what sciences it involves, most recent advances, controversies, and the like. There’s a wide variety of sources such as your local newspaper, industry newsletters, magazines like Scientific American and Discover.
Proposal Development: A Case Study
For example, you might be concerned about pollution and have found that certain bacteria consume or absorb harmful chemicals in our local water supply. Armed with this knowledge, you might develop a research proposal that would investigate how these bacteria could be used to improve water quality in your community.
The next step is to specify what you plan to investigate in the form of a problem and possible solution. You might even come up with several questions that will require you to obtain experimental data to support the corresponding answer.
For example, your question might be “How much of bacteria X is needed to remove chemical Y from Toronto’s water supply?,” or “How can enough bacteria X be produced to treat all of Toronto’s waste water?”.
From among many possible solutions, you will have to choose which one you think is most correct and can realistically be investigated by you (the two may not always coincide). Then, identify the type of experiment(s) you would need to test your solution. In addition to the experimental methodology, the research design should include:
- the kinds of equipment and supplies you might need;
- the costs for your experimental and display materials;
- expert advice from a professional mentor you may need.
Remember that you are not looking to repeat an experiment that has already yielded specific results. You are instead trying to answer a specific question that will need scientific investigation and experimental techniques. The research experimentation methods you choose may be original or may follow a pre-described methodology. In either case, the rigour of good scientific methods should be followed, both in the experiment and in the analysis of resulting data yielded from the investigation. Your teacher and mentor can advise you about proper procedures and techniques.
Is it related to biotechnology or life sciences?
On a final note, make sure that your topic falls within the definition of biotechnology as “the use of the knowledge of biological systems to produce goods and services.” If you proposed using an inorganic chemical rather than bacteria to treat the polluted water, for example, the project would not involve biotechnology and wouldn’t be eligible.
Is it realistic?
Many good projects don’t succeed because students simply ran out of time to complete their experiments and data. It’s essential that you develop a realistic project schedule that allows you enough time to complete your project.
Some projects submitted are too ambitious to be carried out with the time and resources available. Through consultations with a mentor and other experts, students can modify their projects to give them a more realistic chance of success.
Here’s an example of the first step in the evolution of an idea. This original proposal by Calgary student, Harry Zhou, is posted here with his permission. While it was accepted in principle, the project was modified after much consultation with researchers in the field. Harry did not work on producing a gene therapy vector nor testing it, but rather, studied radiation-induced cell death with different levels of the tumor suppressor protein p53. A gene therapy project is simply not feasible.
SBC Proposal Requirements
Ready to get started? Your 1,200 word proposal should include the following elements:
- Title: A scientifically informative title. The proposal must be 1,200 words or less and must be submitted online. What is hoped to be accomplished in the investigation? What question is trying to be answered? (1 or 2 sentences).
- Introduction: Background information on the organism(s) or process(s) that will be investigated. (1 or 2 short paragraphs).
- Relevant Application: Explanation of how the idea was arrived at, or justification of why such an investigation is worth doing.
- Experimental Design: Detailed description subject groupings; explanation of variables being controlled, manipulated and measured; phases of experiments if they are to be done in stages.
- Results and Interpretation: Explanation of the form of results and suggestion of possible mechanisms.
- Appendices: Materials and Methods. Detailed explanation of the methods and techniques required for proposed research work; list of materials, instruments and equipment that your school will be able to provide toward this project.
- Timeline of Project: Indication of plan of progress toward the SBC competition.
- Mentorship Support: Name and contact information for supervising teacher; name and contact information for your mentor. Need a mentor? Learn more about getting placed with a mentor here. (Link to mentor page)