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Botanical University Challenge: a precedent from Thailand!

Quite recently Dr M was fascinated to discover that the UK Botanical University Challenge, originally devised by Dr M and John Warren back in 2016, has a very esteemed tropical precedent.

Dr M was chatting to new PhD student Mr. Nattanon Meeprom working with Alastair Culham in the School of Biological Sciences at University of Reading.  Very soon Dr M was amazed to learn that as long ago as 2006 the Botanical Contest of Botany Student Club in  Kasetsart University, Bangkok was launched.  This botanical contest has much in common with the UK Botanical University Challenge, clearly great botanical minds think alike both in the southern and northern hemispheres!

Now Dr M is delighted to invite Mr Meeprom to tell us more about this botanical contest!

“My name is Mr. Nattanon Meeprom. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Kasetsart University, Bangkok, Thailand. Our bachelors degree is a four-year programme focusing on general biology in the first year and plant biology in the following years. The curriculum covers a wide range of subjects from plant taxonomy, plant anatomy, plant physiology to plant ecology. Students here can choose any subjects they want to learn. I myself focused on plant taxonomy.

Apart from the intensive academic courses, our Botany Student Club also engaged in a number of extracurricular activities, such as botanical outreach activities in schools in rural areas of Thailand (organized by the 2nd year students), intramural sports (3rd year students) and the botanical contests (4th year students).

The Botanical Contests of the Department of Botany, Kasetsart University are like a version of your UK Botanical University Challenge though with some differences.  These Botanical Contests have been held annually since 2006 (so for 13 years and pre-dating the UK Botanical University Challenge by a decade!). Two contestants from high school students all over Thailand can form a team to compete. There are normally around 800 students (400 teams) participating in the contest. This year we had an exceptional number of 538 teams (1076 students! [jealous! – ed]) competing in January 2019. The undergraduate students run the entire contest, from fundraising, advertising, organizing the venue to writing the questions.

The purpose of these botanical contests are rather similar to those of the UK Botanical University Challenge, firstly to promote interest in botany among high school students and secondly to increase the awareness of natural resources and environmental issues through botanical knowledge. Not only do the contestants gain benefits from the contest, the students who organize the contest also learn to crystalize their botanical knowledge in order to write challenging questions and to co-ordinate various partners inside and outside the university to make this event successful.

The questions range from general high school biology to undergraduate botanical courses, including topics, such as photosynthesis, plant and water relations, plant hormones, plant classification and taxonomy, plant anatomy, as well as forest ecology.

The contest is divided into 2 parts, this is where it differs from the classic UK University Challenge approach. The first part of the Thailand botanical contests is a multiple choice test with around 100 questions. Then, the 10-15 highest scoring teams will advance to the second round.

The second round is a time-limited live quiz bowl, in which the questions are shown on the screen and the contestants have around 1–2 minutes per question to complete the answer. After this they hand in the answers to the committee and the correct answers are revealed. The contestants are given an opportunity to ask for explanations of each question and answers from professors who also participate in this session, and to defend their answers.

Finally, all participants are given certificates and the top 5 teams are awarded cash prizes totalling around £1,000 [sorry UK BUC no such luck! But you might get a special T-shirt – editor]. The first placed winner is also awarded a royal plaque conferred by Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand.”

Dr M says:  A time of going to press we are not aware of any Royal Princess scheduled to attend the UK Botanical University Challenge, but there will be a special trophy designed by our very own Dr Alastair Culham, those attending on Wednesday 20th February will be the first to see it!


Mr Nattanon Meeprom is a PhD student at the University of Reading where he is researching revision of the genus Diospyros (Ebenaceae) in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam under the supervision of Dr Alastair Culham.

Acknowledgements: Grateful thanks to Dr. Ekaphan Krichak for proof-checking this post.


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