High School Research Projects

Though some high schools offer research programs, many do not. However, even without a formal program, it’s very feasible to conduct an independent project. These can be small scale and primarily for personal interest, or large scale and intended for publication.

First, brainstorm ideas of intriguing topics and questions. These can be broad or specific: anything from migration movements, to birds’ song repertoires, to feeder bird behavior is fair game. If you think of a whole topic, next begin asking more specific questions.

Whimbrel chick with banding equipment, photo by Hope Batcheller.

Whimbrel chick with banding equipment, photo by Hope Batcheller.

Once you have some ideas, begin exploring the internet to find what’s already known about that topic. Often this is best done at a library that offers access to scientific publications. You may be surprised to discover how little is known in some areas!

For starters, you may want to check the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA), which contains past articles from the main North American ornithological journals. Additionally, some schools offer access to JSTOR, which is an excellent online resource for accessing scientific publications.

After you’ve done some background work, you may have a sense of who the leading experts in the field are. Then, you should contact them! People are often eager to advise ambitious high school students in conducting independent projects.

There are also many research competitions you can enter. Some of these include:

For more information on North American ornithological journals:

American Ornithologists’ Union: the largest and oldest society; publishes The Auk.
Cooper Ornithological Society: historically based in western North America; publishes The Condor.
Wilson Ornithological Society: historically based in eastern North America; publishes The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
Association of Field Ornithologists: field-biology oriented; publishes the Journal of Field Ornithology.

Most professional scientific societies hold an annual meeting that includes many research-related talks and poster sessions along with social and career-building events. Scientific conferences are a great place to learn about the hot research in the field, to meet other students and researchers, and to scope out potential colleges. Forthcoming meetings are listed on the societies’ individual web sites, and a master list can be found here.