Dr. Chewie reflects on what it felt like to experience a major science competition at SSEF 2016
While many J2s fretted over their CT1s and J1s endured the last week of term 1, the gents and ladies sporting maroon blazers did VJC proud as we clinched 3 silvers, 1 bronze and a merit at the Singapore Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) 2016. SSEF 2016 was held from the 9th to the 10th of March at the Science Centre. It is the largest research competition held in Singapore every single year, and likewise, this year was no less grand; over 600 projects partake this competition annually. VJC had registered 25 teams for SSEF in December last year, and 15 made it through to the second round.
The day before judging on the 9th, many of us trooped off to the Science Centre, dazed and disillusioned from that morning’s chemistry paper. Laden with posters, prototypes, relevant documents and blazers, we rushed over to the Annexe where our booths awaited decoration. It was a flurry of activity as we frantically ensured that the necessities were in place, as officials stalked about, telling people off for minor offences and checking the documents present off a checklist. As the afternoon began to wane, the Annexe came alive, and the chatter climaxed, with the plethora of colored posters embellishing the large hall. We eventually departed, a sense of purpose guiding our every step as we readied ourselves for the event the next day.
We arose bleary eyed but enthusiastic the following day, as many of us embarked on the long journey from one end of Singapore to the other on that fateful morning. Crowds of people gathered in the carpark outside the Science Centre as everyone squinted through their polarizing filters to glimpse the solar eclipse happening that very morning.
The momentous event was the perfect way to kickstart SSEF 2016. We were allowed entrance into the hall at 8.30am half an hour later, judges began filing out of the judges’ room to the various booths which they were assigned to. As every project had been assigned 6 judges, we were forced to wait anxiously, afraid and yet maddeningly curious to check on the progress of our friends scattered all across the hall at various locations for fear that the judges might arrive just as we took our leave of absence.
The day passed by in a blur, with only 4 judges visiting our booth (2 judges did not turn up). The nerve-wrecking wait for each subsequent judge to appear drained us far more than the actual presentations, and by 5pm, we were all incredibly fatigued. Morbidly stowing away our possessions into our bags, I could not help but feel a tinge of disappointment and foreboding that we had not done our best. The inkling at the back of my mind was reduced over dinner, but never completely.
The 10th of March swiftly approached as the day of judgement arrived. Donning our blazers for the last time, we made our way to the Annexe for the public viewing session and the release of results later that day. We walked amongst the booths, taking this unique opportunity to speak with students of other institutions regarding their projects. It was refreshing and enlightening to engage with so many other like-minded enthusiasts of science. There were also talks given by A-star and NUS doctorates who shared their experiences and shed light on their field of work to encourage us to pursue a career in research in future. Many also spent some time visiting the science centre exhibits as we were allowed free admission; revisiting the many exhibits that I had not viewed since childhood invoked nostalgic memories of my journey through science since young.
But eventually, all good things had to come to an end. The prize ceremony passed, ironically, unceremoniously. The abrupt conclusion to the entire event along with the fact that my project left with a COP (certificate of participation), despite all the hard work left a hollow emotion ringing through my body. The fact that we still had make-up CTs during the March holidays did not help to lift the gloom. But reflecting over the last few months spent on the project – the things we had learnt and experienced, as well as the friendships forged – made it all worthwhile. Simply put, I would not have exchanged my research experience for a thousand gold medals at the SSEF. This setback will only serve to prepare me better for upcoming competitions and conferences. Meanwhile, the ladies and gents in maroon blazers go marching on.