High School Essay Contest

Background of the Essay Contest


The Community Outreach Committee is constantly trying to make interest in biology more widespread in San Diego. Our annual essay contest gives us an opportunity to impact high school students in particular, encouraging them to think about biology in a larger context and helping them to work on science communication skills. The winner of the contest is featured along with their essay in the winter edition of the SQ Insider, while the runner-up’s essay is published online at www.sqonline.ucsd.edu. Both students are invited to the UCSD Division of Biological Sciences’ annual research showcase in the spring. This is a great opportunity for high school students to think about biology not as an isolated field but rather as a subject with many applications and connections across multiple fields.

For inquiries or ways to participate, please contact:

Alexandra Babakanian
Community Outreach Chair



In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how many global issues are tied closely to biology or made worse by misunderstandings of biology in how the disease has spread and how information about the disease has been misunderstood. Pick a global issue affecting the world today and explain how it is connected to biology. Topics can include health care inequality, education, housing and food insecurity, environmental issues, or a different issue of your choice.
For example, you can talk about how cholera is connected to contaminated drinking water and explore how this is related to both environmental issues and socioeconomic issues.
See this form for general and submission guidelines
Submission information:
-Optional Feedback Submission Deadline: January 22nd 2021
-Final Submission Deadline: February 21st 2021
-The submitted essay must remain within a 750 word limit
-Submit your essay via email to sqoutreach@gmail.com

Prompt: It is estimated that by 2060, nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be over the age of 65. Advances in pre-screening for and treatment of diseases, better nutrition, and lifestyle habits have allowed for the average lifespan to reach the highest it has ever been.

As a result, geriatrics, the branch of medicine concerned with the healthcare of the elderly, has become a topic of attention. The current number of geriatric caregivers does not adequately supply the increasing demand of the expanding elderly population.

Consider the methods currently used in geriatrics today. Analyze the advantages and disadvantages of a current technique and its impact on society. Modify this technique or describe a unique vision you have for the future of geriatrics which promises an even greater impact on society.

The submitted essay must remain within a 750 word limit.

Click here for general information.

Click here for submission guidelines.



Prompt: Many influential companies and organizations in the past decade have devoted themselves to creating an interplanetary future. Some see this as the only way to secure humankind’s long-term survival and start anew, while others consider it to be a dangerous waste of money. Still others see tension between the prospect of extraterrestrial colonization and efforts to preserve a decent environment on our planet.

Write a one-page response on whether you believe we should focus our resources towards space exploration or towards preservation here on Earth, and how you envision this future could be achieved through the intersection of biology and other disciplines.



Prompt: One thing that scientific discoveries are capable of doing is creating new jobs. For example, the discovery of DNA helped introduce the occupation of genetic counselor, a person who assesses an individual’s risk for hereditary conditions.

Write a one-page paper discussing a biological discovery–either one that has already been made or one that has yet to be made and the potential jobs that can be created as a result. How would said job affect the world?



This year, we decided to tackle an issue at the forefront of bioethics discussions: biotechnology. Scientists in this interdisciplinary field have made some amazing advances that benefit society, like creating Golden Rice, modified rice that has more vitamin A than normal rice to combat blindness in poorer countries. However, with new advances comes with new possibilities for ethical debate, like whether research into certain organisms should be allowed, or whether there are negative unforeseen side effects of positive advancements. In this way, we help students become better scientists by asking them to think beyond the immediate or intended effects of research.

Prompt: Biotechnology is a rapidly growing and important field of biology. Advances in biotechnology have resulted in cures for diseases, more efficient processes for biofuel production, and more nutritious crops, and much more. Biotechnology has the potential to help society approach new and pressing challenges, but what are ethical and societal issues these advances may create, and how can these issues be resolved?



In our second year of the Essay Contest, we noticed environmental issues were being heavily discussed in the news, and thus decided to use that for our topic. We asked students to write about environmental biology and integrate that knowledge with another area of interest to demonstrate that biology can be heavily involved with other topics like medicine, engineering, or art. This approach also reframes students’ conceptions of biology to think intersectionally and across disciplines in a time when cross-department research and partnerships are growing. We were excited to receive multiple submissions from students at Serra High School, Gompers Preparatory Academy, The Preuss School, and San Diego High.

Prompt: For thousands of years, humans have been dependent on our planet’s resources to survive and continuously improve our quality of life. This highly one-sided relationship has significantly disturbed the natural world. Among other issues, changes in landscapes and ecosystems, shifts in weather patterns, and depletion of natural resources have elicited a call-to-action to reduce our ecological footprint. The integration of environmental biology into subjects like engineering, education, and policy offers non- traditional solutions to this modern day challenge. Write a response about what you believe to be a pressing environmental issue and how you think a solution can be reached through the intersection of biology and other disciplines. Topics include, but are not limited to, conservation, sustainability, medicine, engineering, research, public health, policy and law, writing, education and art.



Last quarter, we, the Community Outreach Team, successfully completed our first project: a high school essay contest. Interested high school students wrote and submitted a 500-750 word essay about how they wish to incorporate biology into their future, and each essay was evaluated based on creativity, content, and presentation. We narrowed down the essays to the top three, which were then distributed to the SQ core staff for further evaluation. The staff members picked the best two out of three essays; these essays were presented to Hermila Torres and Dr. Gabriele Wienhausen of the Biological Sciences Department, who would provide feedback and ultimately decide the winner and the runner-up by the end of Week 8 of Winter Quarter.

E3 Civic High School was one of the several schools that participated in the contest. We visited the school and met with teachers Jeffery Newman, Noel Leon, Mason Shaner and Dean Sheila Krotz. During the visit, we gave a presentation on the process of the essay contest. The focus of the meeting was to work with the faculty to decide what the best way to promote and implement this contest at E3 would be. The teachers all agreed that this was something that could be promoted in the science and writing departments and could possibly be made into an assignment for students to work on over the winter break. All of the faculty at E3 were extremely receptive to the importance of having students work on a project that integrated both science and writing. Also, giving their students the opportunity to become published was extremely exciting. E3 was eager to participate and even invited us back in the future to cover the biology/science related projects that they would be working on later during the year.

Prompt: Biology is a subject which is intimately tied to other fields of study. There is enormous room for growth, exploration, and discovery in this field that can change the way we sustain life, cure disease, and protect our natural resources. Write a statement of what you dream of doing in the future and how you can apply the broad field of biology to your career. Topics include but are not limited to: conservation, medicine, research, public health management, law school, writing, and art.

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