Chemistry is one of the most popular EE subjects, with more than 70 students choosing it every year. If you are doing Chemistry EE, congratulations on passing the selection! You are in for a very interesting and challenging experience.
Why did you choose Chemistry as your EE?
I was aiming for Medicine in university, so I decided to do something as close to medicine as possible within my PCM subject combi. Plus the preceding IB cohort had spectacular Chem EE results, with more than 90% of them getting As, so I thought I would be in safe hands there (by the way, the percentage of grade As in Chem EE fluctuates wildly from year to year. Choosing Chem EE, unfortunately, does not guarantee an A, as I later found out).
Another reason was that I liked mixing chemicals up. Having one month of free reign in the chem labs with access to every single chemical is totally cool. Awesome stuff happens when you squeeze 70 teenagers together and put every chemical at their disposal. I’ve witnessed people setting entire beakers of alcohol on fire, people drinking tea made on bunsen burners, and people poisoning the entire lab with sulphur dioxide. When you spend enough time in the chem labs you see a lot of interesting things happening.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your EE?
Read the sample EEs in the library before doing ANYTHING. I’m sure you want to be original and make some groundbreaking discoveries in the lab, but since it is a school lab after all you will be confronted with various limitations with equipment. You’ll likely end up relying on either the UV-Vis spectrometer or the burette (but if you can find another way to measure stuff, that’s great).
Read the sample EEs to understand how the equipment can be used, what limitations they have and how you can possibly overcome them. Start crafting your research topic and methodology only after knowing what tools you have at your disposal. Or you might end up with an awesome topic but no way to gather quantitative data, which is really sad ):
Also, collecting data is only half the battle. How you write your EE is also of supreme importance. I learnt after my first draft that every EE must have a strong flow of logic. Instead of describing blandly what you did, you need to delve deep into the “why”s and “so what”s. Why is that particular topic important to you? Why did you choose to carry out your experiment in this specific way? Now that you have your findings, so what? How can your findings be used for the betterment of humanity?
You have to meld these answers into your EE to make it more significant. In a sense it’s like writing a really good story. The reader should be drawn in by the questions you pose, the challenges you overcome, and walk away feeling educated and hopeful for a better future. Remember that your markers are humans too, and they like a good story.
What was the commitment like?
That depends on your topic and how successful you are in your experiments! I know some people who finished the final draft of their EE before Year 6 even started. And there are people like me who continued experiments all the way to Term 2 of Year 6.
Since I met many roadblocks, I ended up spending more than 150 hours in the lab (every day in November plus every free afternoon in first half of Year 6). Chances are you won’t be in dire straits as me, but be mentally prepared to make a substantial commitment.
Even if you can’t finish your experiments in the November holidays, it’s not the end of the world!
Around 15 students in my cohort carried on the experiments in Year 6, and everyone survived. But if you ever find yourself in this situation time management becomes absolutely crucial since the first half of Year 6 is very heavy with IAs.
What are some common pitfalls of students who have chosen to take Chemistry?
There is a difference between being original and being overly ambitious. Being ambitious is choosing a topic that requires overly advanced equipment, or one that cannot be investigated thoroughly within the brief research period in November. Being original is taking the simple tools that you have in the school laboratory and using them to thoroughly investigate something unique.
For example, a guy I knew wanted to investigate atomic lattices, which required cutting-edge X-ray measuring equipment. It was an immediate no-go because it could not possibly be done in a school laboratory.
I investigated the effect of chemical catalysts on the electrolysis of copper solutions. Simple and easy to measure with the UV-Vis, and probably never done before in the history of this school. Another guy I knew did something with electrical circuits and raspberry juice, which is also pretty neat.
One cardinal sin too many students commit is not spending enough time finding a research topic. Even if you have godly lab skills and top-notch writing technique, you can’t run very far with a poor topic. Contrary to what some people believe, choosing a topic is probably the most time consuming and most difficult part of doing an EE. Please don’t treat topic selection lightly. A bad topic can make your life thoroughly miserable for half a year, while a good topic will help you truly enjoy writing your EE.
What skills would you specifically need for an EE in this subject?
Lots of resilience and dedication.
Don’t sweat the lab work. What you learn in chem practical lessons should be enough for most of what you’re doing, though you might want a lab tech to help you with the UV-Vis at first.
Forbearance is a must too. There are times when you itch terribly to strangle your lab partners for stealing your clean beakers/ removing your samples from the water bath/ using all the chemicals. When that happens, take a deep breath and kick them mentally, then give them a dazzling (or sinister) smile.
Do you have any regrets choosing this EE?
Heck I wished I took Physics EE a hundred times (those guys finish their experiments in like 3 days). But I think I came out of the ordeal a much stronger person. Despite the process being a spectacular trainwreck, I still received a satisfactory grade. All’s well that ends well.
Zhang Jing Yao is from the graduating batch of 2014.