BTYSTE 2020 winners reveal key steps to success in competition

4 Jan 2021

Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan after their BTYSTE 2020 win. Image: Connor McKenna/

At Future Human, BT Young Scientist 2020 winners Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan discussed what they did to prepare for the judges.

It has been almost a year since Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, fifth-year students at Coláiste Choilm in Co Cork, walked away with the grand prize at the 2020 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), but a lot has changed since then.

This year’s event, taking place later this week, is going virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first time ever, the exhibition and the judging process will be moved online, presenting a different experience for students in the competition.

Last year, Harris and O’Sullivan shared a €7,500 prize for their project entitled, ‘A statistical investigation into the prevalence of gender stereotyping in five to seven-year-olds and the development of an initiative to combat gender bias’.

Speaking during an ask-me-anything session at Future Human with the head of the BTYSTE, Mari Cahalane, the most recent winners talked about putting their project together and gave some words of advice for those preparing to pitch their ideas to the judges this year.

A clear plan

“Have a clear plan of what you want to get done, set deadlines that say you want to get this bit of research done by a certain date, so then you can do a bit of analysis,” O’Sullivan said.

“And practise the days in the week before the event, practice pitching. For me and Cormac, I knew Cormac would be going first and then I’d be adding on to the next part of the project, and we’d have a rhythm and it’d look a lot more professional. That’s a very key point for the pitching is to have a rhythm to go through and know who’s speaking when.”

Harris added: “It will be a long, hard few months, but when you choose a project that you’re passionate about, the work comes easy.

“Over Christmas, over weekends, after school; [you need] to put the work in because it is all worth it at the end. It is one of the greatest experiences that both of us have been in.”

Commenting on what it is like to put together such a hands-on event in the virtual world this year, Cahalane said: “We tried to make the experience, to a point, exactly the same. So, the only experience that would be different for the students is that they won’t physically be in a venue and they won’t have the general public coming through. They will be judged the same way.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic