The EE was perhaps the most rigorous academic exercise I’ve overcome, and it’s taught me a great deal about the way I work and learn. I went into the EE not knowing much, and if I could go back, I’d change a few things or two. Still, I look back on this experience with pride and thankfulness. As you await the day you submit your final draft, I encourage you not just to long for the burden being lifted, but to treasure the year and half of research before you as an invaluable learning opportunity.
Embarking on an Economics EE was a straightforward decision for me, simply because it aligned with my aspirations of taking up an economics-related degree. I might not have had enough time (6 months into Year 5) to fully appreciate Economics as a subject, but I now believe that Economics, specifically in the context of an EE subject, has its benefits.
Most importantly, the research process helped me to engage deeply with the subject matter. Though primary research may seem daunting, my experiences conducting interviews were what genuinely piqued my interest in my topic – the market failure (basically, lack of provision) of preschool education in Singapore. My topic seemed highly theoretical and dry at first, but only after interviewing preschool teachers and government officials in person did I appreciate the magnitude of some of the real issues facing Singapore’s preschool industry today – stagnant wages, poor teacher retention and the like. Soon after, I began to notice how the frequent “improving productivity in Singapore” or “lifelong learning” in the newspaper headlines applied to what I was doing. In any EE you choose, remaining keenly aware of the purpose of it (not just to score but to produce a truthful, authentic, personal report) will help tremendously in pushing you through the research process.
Furthermore, compared to other EEs (especially the sciences, where some of my friends had to select a completely new research topic after failing to obtain accurate lab data), the scope of an Economics EE can still be tweaked without having to disregard most of your prior research (albeit a broad generalisation). In fact, modifications to the scope of an EE are almost inevitable in Economics (or History as well), and will help you process your data with greater clarity.
Choosing an EE topic
The majority of students choose to research on a topic in Microeconomics (i.e. Unit 1.4 Market Failure and 1.5 Market Structures), as these topics are covered early in Year 5, and have a relatively straightforward structure. A very simplified 1.4 Market Failure topic may sound like, “How effective have government policies been in curbing the consumption of alcohol in Singapore/correcting the market failure of healthcare”, while an example of a very simplified 1.5 Market Structure topic could be, “How closely does the clothing industry in Queensway shopping centre resemble a perfect competition/oligopoly/monopolistic competition”. I would highly recommend browsing through the 1.4/1.5 EEs in the library.
Nevertheless, topics on Macroeconomics (inflation, economic growth, unemployment, inequality), or Economics Development are still common. I would suggest either reading ahead or contacting a senior who could provide a brief introduction to the topic.
Securing primary data can be a challenge! Do expect 5-10 rejections before securing a successful interview slot (that’s if you/your parents don’t know the interviewee personally), and give around 2 months allowance for the interviewee’s schedule to free up. In the meantime, do plan your interview/survey timings strategically – I didn’t conduct a sizeable amount of secondary research prior to my interview, and there were many moments in Year 6 where I wished I’d asked an extra question or two. Interview information is extremely valuable; even though the interviewees will likely give you a firm introduction/understanding of the industry/economy concerned, it is better to obtain this understanding before the interview and make use of your precious interview time to ask the deeper, probing questions.
Crafting the essay itself (transitioning from point form into prose form) was much harder than I thought it would be. Bear in mind that most of us are barely a year into formal Economics lessons, and the use of economic terminology and language can be tricky. It’s a delicate balance between being overly technical versus being too layman, and your writing style is something that you’ll discover only after significant amount of curriculum time. Nevertheless, do try your best to write the essay early on! This was a big mistake I made – making the conversion from point form into prose form only early in Year 6. For me, this transition also revealed more errors/gaps for filling in my arguments.
Similar to the point above, scoping the essay is difficult initially. There are a slew of policies (especially for Singapore, given its comprehensive government databases and long list of different policy announcements) available for analysis, but considering all of them will spread your analysis too thin. I recommend narrowing the scope down to three policies. In my EE, I considered 3 groups of policies, i.e. aimed at strengthening the pool of teachers in the preschool industry, such as increasing the number of teaching scholarships, implementing career progression ladders, etc.
- Trust your supervisor. For the most part of my EE, my ideas came into conflict with my supervisor’s ideas – and that’s okay, because constructive debate is always better than over-reliance – but only you’d know best if you’re on the more stubborn side or more dependent side, and use this EE opportunity to take a step toward the centre. Good ideas/feedback aside, my supervisor really channeled my attitude/energy in the right directions, encouraging me to crystallise my arguments into prose, trust my research, trust myself, press on when things weren’t looking good, the list goes on. Do foster a good relationship with your supervisor by taking conscious efforts to keep him/her updated with your schedule, adhering to deadlines, and voicing out any concerns in advance if you can’t meet them.
- Take things step by step! If given another chance, during the planning stages, I would have prioritised consistent progress instead of always trying chasing a definite “big picture”. I constantly tried to think of new ideas, or new concepts to explore in my EE (for example, the lack of affordability of a merit good). However, these concepts were not translated into actual progress because I neglected the importance of rigorous research and detail. Therefore, I wasted precious time trying to conceptualise a “big picture” for my EE, while not knowing that this “big picture” (scope) would change frequently as I collected more and more evidence, and got more and more frustrated with it. Be flexible but dig deep.
- Trust your research. This was another invaluable piece of advice my supervisor gave me. Even toward Year 6 Term 2, I was still eager to embark on more interviews and a survey (with my actual written draft still being in shambles). Being able to consolidate your evidence, look deep into every word and extract pointers and inferences from there is extremely important, especially toward the later parts of the research process. As already mentioned, interviews are rich in information just waiting to be discovered.
- The holidays are a wonderful time to unwind, and good breaks in IB are a must. Nevertheless, the December holidays can really be used for some quality EE work. It would be good to head into Year 6 with a prose draft plus at least an interview, so set aside some days to concentrate fully on the EE, and the rest to unwind fully.
As much as the EE is a chance to learn more about the economy, do take this opportunity to learn a few new things about yourself too. All the very best!
Kevin Ong (6.09) is from the graduating batch of 2016.