Kirtana Vallabhaneni reflects on her experience of the National Science + Engineering Competition and how she became to win the prestigious title of UK Young Scientist of the Year 2012.
Winning the Young Scientist of the Year Award was one of the most unexpected, overwhelming and amazing experiences of my life so far. When my name was read out on stage, I think it was pretty obvious how surprised I was to everyone! After being judged twice and presenting my project to the attendees of The Big Bang Fair, it was such a great feeling to be recognised for the hard work I put into my project, and a massive honour. I had a brilliant time, but my journey to the Finals of the National Science + Engineering Competition started almost a year beforehand.
Originally, I carried out a Nuffield Bursary placement at the Liverpool NIHR Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit. I was lucky enough to be awarded this placement after specifying that I had developed an interest in oncology after learning a little about genetics as part of the A level syllabus. Cancer is such a widespread disease that affects most people to some degree, whether they suffer from it themselves or know of someone that does. The scope of the effects of the disease made it something I was interested in learning more about from both a practical and a personal level. Having the unique opportunity of being immersed in the working atmosphere of a laboratory and being able to participate in experiments rather than just observing was an invaluable experience, in terms of developing my interest in science and confirming in my mind that my future choice of career in medicine was right for me.
This experience led me to being nominated to the Finals of the National Science + Engineering Competition at The Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. The three days of the competition passed in a blur, as I had the opportunity to develop my communication skills by presenting my project to a varied audience. One of the skills I improved upon was being able to gauge the audience’s level of knowledge and adapting my presentation to engage their interest in my project. I had the opportunity to meet people who displayed a similar enthusiasm for science, as well as to meet the prestigious Celebrity Judging panel on the second day – both an intimidating and exciting experience! Having the chance to speak to the Celebrity Judging panel was a unique opportunity which would not have been afforded to me under any other circumstances than through this Competition, for which I am grateful.
Having had a brilliant time at the National Finals at The Big Bang Fair, I would definitely recommend any budding scientists to apply to the National Science + Engineering Competition. The Competition encompassed such a broad range of projects that covered a diverse range of interests of the applicants, so my advice would be to pursue an area you’re genuinely interested in – we all work harder when we’re doing something we enjoy! The National Science + Engineering Competition team were lovely, and I would like to thank them for making the Finals an enjoyable experience. I would also like to thank the University of Liverpool for giving me the opportunity of carrying out a Nuffield Bursary Placement there, which afforded me the opportunity to come to the Fair. The one thing the Competition taught me was the importance of getting involved rather than letting opportunities pass you by, and having had such a good time there myself, I would definitely recommend applying to anyone else!
Kirtana Vallabhaneni, March 2012