Ahead of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2022 which is kicking off online from 12 January, we caught up with Isobel and Ava Hynes from Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk in Cork to get the inside scoop.

Isobel and Ava were 2021 Group Runner Up and winner of the RTÉ award for Best Social & Behavioural project so they definitely know their way around BTYSTE.

What was the experience like taking part in BTYSTE?

Overall it was a fantastic experience and we both feel like we really benefited from it. This was Isobel's fourth time entering and Ava’s third time so BTYSTE has been a big part of our year for the last few years.

How much time goes into a BTYSTE project?

Lots! We started developing ideas in summer 2020, looking at different research projects around the world. As the pandemic is hopefully not going to be a regular occurrence, we viewed this as a unique opportunity to do research on the topic, especially from a young person’s point of view. We put lots of time into developing a questionnaire that would be accessible, not too long and relevant.

Our chosen topic of research was about the impact of an individual’s knowledge and attitude towards the virus and how this affected their response to restrictions and vaccine uptake. Once we gathered the data, there was many hours spent analysing it and writing up the project book. Another busy Christmas!

What was your biggest learning from the whole experience?

Apart from the actual project results which were all very relevant and informative regarding young people’s attitudes towards Covid -19, we feel that our biggest learning experience was in researching and developing the project, from doing online tutorials on statistical analysis to structuring the project so that it was understandable to the judges. Many of the methods we used, we will be able to use again in the future in school and in college.

Isobel and Ava’s 2021 project was entitled: Use of the Health Belief Model to investigate elements informing young people’s attitudes towards Covid-19 and subsequent impact on response to restrictions and vaccine uptake.

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A year on, do you think your findings could help with Covid-19 communications to the younger demographics in the country? If so, how?

One of the most interesting aspects that we discovered was the importance of being able to access data quickly to boost vaccine uptake. While the uptake in Ireland was very good at nearly 94% of the population, there were certain groups where the uptake was not as good. In our project we used the 5C vaccine scale to gather data on young people’s attitude towards vaccines. This scale could be used on other age groups and cohorts if it was determined that vaccine uptake was weak in a certain group.

For example, some Eastern Europe countries have very low vaccine uptake at and the EU’s highest death rates from Covid-19. There are many reasons for this from distrust in government to poor vaccine distribution and choice. Consequently, many Eastern Europeans living in Ireland, influenced by news reports from their native countries, have not taken the vaccine. This fact was recognised by the Department of Health, but only when disproportionally higher numbers of Eastern Europeans began presenting in hospital and ICU’s.

Our methods would hopefully pick up such examples of low vaccine uptake at an earlier stage and thus prevent hospital admissions.

What was your favourite part of the BTYSTE experience?

While the virtual portal is very impressive, there’s nothing can beat wandering around a busy RDS looking at different projects and for winning projects, being presented at the back wall and getting questioned by the public on the Saturday and Sunday. Similarly, for the awards ceremony, nothing will compare with getting your name read out as a prize-winner in an arena packed with fellow students. Hopefully for 2023 that will all be back!

What’s your top tip/ advice for anyone thinking of entering a project into BTYSTE next year?

Pick a project you are interested in, otherwise it would be very difficult to spend the many hours required to research and develop the project properly. It may not be interesting or relevant for everyone but it makes it a lot easier to research if you have a personal interest in the topic of research.

The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2022 takes place online 12-14 January.
For more see btyoungscientist.com
#BTYSTE2022 is proudly supported by RTÉ.