Raffles Science Symposium 2020

By Rachael Koh (20S07C)

Raffles Science Symposium (RSS) is an annual event organised by the Raffles Science Institute (RSI) in conjunction with Raffles Guidance Centre (RGC) and the Peer Helpers Programme (PHP) that features research projects and sharings on science and mental health. This year, RSS took place on 29 January at the ISH and Innovation Centre. 

The symposium is divided into two strands: Science and Mental Health, which happen concurrently. 

The Science Strand of RSS is a platform for students to share the research projects they have done with judges, whether through the Science Research Programme (SRP), the JC Science Award or the MOE Local Student Attachment Programme (LSAP). After the judging is complete, students will attend a sharing. This year, Dr Toh Tai Chong (PhD, Life Sciences), Professor at NUS, shared about how the Arts and Sciences are not exclusive.

 

Science Strand:

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The teams presenting their projects to the judges

In the ISH, the research teams stand around their boards, buzzing with chatter. After pouring their hearts and brains into their projects, these boards are the hard earned fruits of their labour.  Each team buzzing with anticipation, they anxiously await the judges to evaluate their project. With a maximum of 5 judges per project, their feedback is extremely useful as preparation for future competitions, like the Singapore Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF). Once the judging is over, students are free to walk around and look at other’s projects, and interact with the students from other schools who are also presenting their projects.

For many, the highlight of their journey was their lab experience, where they learnt how to use fancy lab equipment and lab techniques. Although you do have to approach your own mentors, this also means more freedom in your choice of research topic. 

“Our project was basically about polishing 3D printed materials. The most memorable thing is when you do the experiments and hands on part which lasted like all day every day. Overall it was quite interesting and we were both quite happy with the experience. I just wish we knew beforehand that it would be at NTU which is super far away,” said Jitesh Ruban (20S03I), whose project was titled ‘Novel approach to characterise stream finishing for material removal model development’.

One project that was particularly interesting was ‘Examining a murine model of Bronchopulmonary dysplasia’. Or in simpler terms, attempting to establish an effective mouse model for a lung disease (aka bronchopulmonary dysplasia) by Evangeline Chen (20S06P) and Yang Liting (RVHS). They learnt research techniques that were typically not found in normal labs, such as dying a minced mouse lung and learnt how to analyse this data.

According to Cheyenne Seah (20S03A), her mentor was extremely generous with her knowledge. Due to her team’s lack of in-depth knowledge about their research topic, their mentor lent them her textbooks and sent them relevant research articles to broaden their understanding of the topic, while interns in the lab would give suggestions on how to compile data to make it look good on their report. Although there were times when it got tough (such as trying to read literary reviews with science terms you can’t understand), all in all it was still an extremely enriching experience.

When asked about whether they would recommend taking up these projects to the juniors, most agreed: If you have a particular science topic that you’re interested in and have time to spare, why not join any of these programmes and do something productive during your holidays?

 

Mental Health Strand: 

In contrast to the project presentations in the Science Strand, the Mental Health Strand is more of a symposium that hopes to advocate for and increase awareness about mental health in RI. Featuring talks and sharings, the symposium is open to all who are interested, including those from other schools. This year’s focus is on treatment beyond medication for mental health and well-being.

 

Dr Lim Wei Shyan on Psychological Well-Being

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Dr Lim sharing about the different aspects of PWB

According to Dr Lim, Psychological Well-Being (PWB) comprises Subjective Well-Being (SWB), Hedonic Well-Being (HWB), and Eudaimonic Well-Being (EWB). Sound complicated? Well, it’s actually simpler than it seems. 

SWB is a self reported measure and essentially describes your quality of life, including emotional reactions and cognitive judgements. It can be measured through your personality traits, fulfilment of psychological needs like respect or social support, and external factors like whether you passed that math lecture test. 

HWB refers to the perception that increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to more happiness. This is usually achievable through positive thinking, which can result in increased physical activity and fitness, lower rates of illness, and better-maintained social relationships. However, the focus on relationships would mean less attention on achievements, and may even lead to more egocentric behaviour. Thus, it is still important that we do not pursue an idealized form of happiness, but rather appreciate little things around us. 

EWB refers to subjective experiences related to the desire to live life to the fullest. Whether it be through volunteering, which can be both a distraction from the exhaustion of school work and extremely fulfilling, or spending time with your friends, which satisfies your basic psychological needs and induces positive emotion, as long as you feel that you have completed something, that’s EWB. The best way to increase your EWB would be through exercising gratitude. 

Essentially, your PWB just depends on whether you feel that your life has purpose, and whether you appreciate the little things in life. Perhaps you could try to look at yourself in the mirror while you are brushing your teeth every morning and remind yourself to do something good or just appreciate the people around you more.

 

Professor Angie Chew on Engineering an Undefeated Mind

“Who needs enemies when we are so good at beating ourselves up?” 

As students, especially in Year 6, we are concerned about our grades. As someone who has seen Ultraman and Superman on her result slip one too many times, I found Professor Chew’s talk as comforting as going home after getting my results to lie on my bed for 5 hours. 

Her point was that our grades don’t matter as much as we think they do. Exams are created to test the knowledge we have learnt in tutorials, not the other way around. Rather than seeing it as a chore, learn with curiosity, and truly enjoy what you are learning. Don’t focus on your flaws, be more forgiving to yourself when you make a mistake, and focus on the learnings from this negative experience instead of the negative experience itself.

She then went on to share short stories about her experience raising children. Although there were ups (getting prestigious scholarships), there were also downs (losing said scholarship in the same year). I know. Losing a scholarship? Wasn’t she mad? 

As a matter of fact, she didn’t. Rather than treating it as the be-all and end-all, they focused on what they could learn from this experience, and her son went on to be a top scorer in his exams. If they had focused on negative thoughts rather than on moving on, they would have wasted their time over something that has already happened. Instead, they tried to fix the problem – something that we rarely do.

Negative thoughts not only have an effect on our emotions, but also the physical construct of our brain. The more negative thoughts we have, the more enhanced the right side of our brain. Similarly, the more positive thoughts we have, the more enhanced the left side of our brain. SInce the functions of both the left and right brain are complementary, this may throw off their balance, causing our mind to be unable to absorb information as well as if both sides were equally developed. 

So, the next time you think, just take note of what kind of thoughts usually occupy your mind – do they empower you or do they make you feel defeated? If you notice that you’re thinking negatively, STOP! 

S – Stop for a moment

T – Take a breath

O – Observe your experience and why you are thinking negatively

P- Proceed

This will help you prevent negative thinking, and enable you to be happier. 

Balancing content and engagement may be tough, but with her wit and humour, Professor Chew managed to keep the room absorbed in her speech. 

 

Ms Ma Jialin on the Mindfulness in Schools Project – the .b curriculum

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Ms Ma on mindfulness in RI

Similar to Professor Chew, Ms Ma also addressed the fear of failure and not being good enough in students. Oftentimes, students feel so afraid of failure that they either a) drown themselves in textbooks and notes, believing that taking breaks is a waste of time, or b) procrastinate, doing nothing but taking breaks.

If you’re part of the former, then there’s a special type of break that you can take. 

Mindfulness. 

Research has shown that mindfulness practice can reduce stress and drive academic influence. But what is mindfulness exactly?

Mindfulness is the purposeful paying of attention to the things around us in the present moment with curiosity and kindness. Usually, you would begin by sitting up straight, and closing your eyes. It’s a good way to increase our HWB and enable us to think more positively, which is especially important for students during exam season. 

Some challenges faced in implementing mindfulness in schools is the opinion that mindfulness is a religious practice. It’s actually fully secular. 

While mindfulness may not be for everyone, there’s no harm in giving it a try. Whether it actually works and you end up feeling more calm and focused, or you end up falling asleep and taking a quick power nap, either way its effects are beneficial to the common student.

Why don’t start small, and see whether you notice any benefits from taking 5 minutes of your day to practice mindfulness?

 

Dr Imelda Caleon on Current Trends in Positive Psychology and Positive Education

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Dr Caleon interacting with the students

Positive psychology is the study of science and society, focused on EWB whilst emphasizing traits, mindsets, and behaviours that may affect the quality of life of an individual. 

It mainly focuses on 5 aspects: 


P – Positive emotions

E – Engagement

R – Relationships

M – Meaning

A – Accomplishment

Positive Psychology used to be criticised for encouraging people to look only at the positives in life. Studies have shown that people who are overly optimistic and ignore the negatives in life are often the very ones that end up in danger, with high mortality rates. They engage in riskier behaviour as they ignore the dangers in certain situations, which pessimism can help identify.

Positive Psychology 2.0 has hence evolved to look at the different aspects of life that shape our experiences, both positive and negative, and encourages having a good blend of both. If you remember the movie Inside Out, it’s essentially the plot of the movie but in two words.

This is implemented in schools through positive education, which teaches skills of achievement and well-being that enhances learning in students. 

 

Ms Chua Kah Hwee, Ms Woo Mei Hui on Peer Helpers Programme (PHP)

The symposium ended with a sharing by Ms Chua Kah Hwee and Ms Woo Mei Hui, the school counsellors. PHP equips students with skills like active listening and peer support, as well as teaches them about the causes and symptoms of some mental illnesses. Each batch of Peer Helpers comprises around 40 students. They participate in events such as the Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) and run My Rest Space (MRS). 

If you too would like to learn basic counselling skills and understand more about mental illness and mental health, why not consider joining PHP?

 

 

RSS Mental Health Strand was definitely an interesting experience for many, teaching its participants the importance of our psychological health and little ways to improve it. All in all, the Raffles Science Symposium was definitely a success, enriching everyone who attended. 

 

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