A day in the life of: A Biologist

This article is part of the CCA Previews for 2016.

by Elson Neo (16S03I), Vice Chairperson

 

We’ll be the first to admit that dedicating after-school hours to biology scarcely seems like an exciting prospect. Having spent the morning in a lecture theatre feverishly copying notes and returning home to a devilishly thick genetics tutorial is certainly enough to turn off most the subject. Understandably, many of us may thus see biology as a tedious, soulless pursuit. However, biology is not, as circumstances would have us believe, the mere dry memorization and regurgitation of facts. From the delectable taste of a meal to the burning sensations during exercise, biology underlies many aspects of daily life. Biology is a magic box of wonders too, seen from the multitude of life forms among us. We at the Raffles Society of Biological Sciences (just call us BioSoc) aim to explore the more fun, relatable and fascinating aspects of biology.

At BioSoc, we see biology not as a chore to be completed late in the night before school the next day, but rather as a means of understanding and appreciating the life around us. Sessions are tailored to the preferences of CCA members, consisting of nature walks, presentations and of course, dissections. We see hands-on activities as a prime way to explore biology; as they say, experience is the best teacher. After all, what better way to learn about amphibian form and function than to try a frog dissection for yourself?

Fig 1

Heart-to-heart interaction with the specimen! (Note: The heart was artifically stimulated, the specimen was long dead when the picture was taken)

In line with the emphasis on exploring biology via experience, we also conduct nature walks to observe biology at work outside the classroom. Although nature may prima facie seem incompatible with Singapore’s urban landscape, our country has no shortage of hotspots teeming with life. MacRitchie Reservoir is an example close to home, housing a plethora of animal species including water monitors, box turtles and grass snakes. If animals aren’t really your thing, plants such as the Singapore rhododendron and figs are equally widespread and play integral roles in maintaining the ecosystem as well. It is seeing biology in the flesh that matters, that incites the sense of wonder and curiosity that textbooks and key words cannot give.

Fig 2

A Malayan water monitor seen at MacRitchie idly contemplates the meaning of life.

Fig 3

Fig tree (:

Here at BioSoc, we believe that biology is a subject where all aspects can be appreciated by everyone. Whether your interest is a niche one like palaeontology, embryology or something more common like medical biology, we’ve got you covered! You don’t have to read university textbooks or attain 6 PhDs to join us, all you need is interest and ability in biology and the enthusiasm to share your knowledge. We welcome members to share what they know with others, be it via conducting presentations during sessions or serving as guides during nature walks.

One’s experience in BioSoc does not end with CCA sessions either. The writer speaks from experience in asserting that the penchant for biological exploration present in the CCA lends itself to other aspects of life. The sight of a common myna perched on a fruiting papaya plant will no longer occur to you as just a pretty bird perched on a less pretty tree, but rather an interaction between life forms involving signals and cues with the same complexity and nuance as our own social interactions. You’ll notice various quirks of nature that you may not have perceived before, and your observations and questions will be met with greater understanding. (Some randomness you might notice are the fact that snails usually emerge from the ground only after heavy rain, and that cutting the top of plants causes them to branch more. You’ll need to find out why by yourself, though!) Even in school, the ability to catch fleeting glimpses of nature can sometimes be rewarding. Did you know that the butterflies in school are not monarchs but plain tigers? Or that red-breasted parakeets flock above the carpark in the mornings? My point exactly. Of course, other more….peculiar habits include a newfound tendency to dissect your food and unnerving familiarity with a scalpel. Just kidding, of course!

Fig 4

A plain tiger spotted in school-Never settle for anything less than butterflies!

That being said, if you have a fondness for biology and would like to explore it beyond the school curriculum, BioSoc might just be the place for you. Perhaps you can join us in discovering the secrets of the natural world; finding, as Darwin quipped, that there is grandeur in this view of life.

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