Viet Nam News
Trần Thị Minh Anh from the Trần Phú High School for Gifted Students in Hải Phòng was among the three Vietnamese gold medalists at the 29th International Biology Olympiad held in Iran in July. Minh Anh ranked 9th out of 261 candidates in theoretical and experimental exams. She talks with Hồng Vân about her current studies, life and perspective on science.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about your life and studies after the International Biology Olympiad (IBO)?
After winning gold, I was accepted by the Hà Nội Medical University. I am getting used to college life and enjoy it a lot. At this moment, I don’t have plans to study abroad.
Inner Sanctum: When did you start becoming interested in biology?
When I reached grade 8, I started to invest more time and became engaged in it.
Inner Sanctum: Before the IBO, had you competed in any other international competition?
This was the first time I had participated in an international competition and the first time I had travelled abroad.
Inner Sanctum: What about competitions in Việt Nam? What do you remember the most about them?
I participated in national competitions in 2017 and 2018, and won a second and first prize. What I remember most about that time is preparing for the examinations. At that time we had to study very hard. It was very intense but fun too. It was not only about learning, we ate out together and watched movies. I also miss our fun chats.
I’ve been quite lucky to achieve what I have done and it has been way past my expectations. I’ve also had some memorable failures. The first time I took part in a regional competition I was in grade 10, and only won bronze, which was really disappointing. If it hadn’t been for the support from my family and teachers, I wouldn’t have taken part in national competitions and been selected for the national team at the IBO.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of Vietnamese contestants at these competitions?
For the Vietnamese team, I can see that we are strong in theory and calculation. However, we don’t have much access to updated scientific and technical knowledge, partly due to limited foreign language competency. In addition, experimentation is also a weakness for us sometimes.
Inner Sanctum: Biology doesn’t get the same attention as maths, literature or English, and many parents and students don’t think it’s worth pursuing. What do you think?
I think it is partly due to the way the subject is taught. It may be not interesting enough to attract and engage students.
Inner Sanctum: Most schools in Việt Nam focus mostly on theory due to limited resources for experimental activities. How have you overcome this difficulty to improve your experimental skills?
After being selected for the national team, we got the chance to experiment more. Our teachers also put more emphasis on experiments, investing more time on it and trying to take us on visits to universities to experiment in their labs as possible.
Trần Thị Minh Anh from the Trần Phú High School for Gifted Students ranked 9th out of 261 candidates in total points earned in the theoretical and experimental exams at the 29th International Biology Olympiad. Photos courtesy of Minh Anh
Inner Sanctum: Thanks to your achievements at the IBO, the Hải Phòng People’s Committee awarded you VNĐ500 million. Could you tell us how you used the money?
It was quite a large amount of money so I let my parents manage it. I actually don’t have any plans for it.
Inner Sanctum: Has you experience at the IBO helped you in college?
It has helped me a lot in terms of biology and physiology knowledge as well as experimental skills acquired during the preparation time for the IBO.
However, my chemistry is not very strong because at high school, I prioritised biology and invested more time in that than other subjects.
Inner Sanctum: What are your impressions of Iran and the international contestants at the IBO?
Before I went to Iran, I thought the country might still be at war so I was nervous about going there. However, when I got there, I realised that it was actually very peaceful, and the locals were very friendly and loved Vietnamese people.
For the contestants this year, I found them very diverse. Some were really good at both theory and experiments like those from China, who ranked very high in the competition. However, there were also some who were not very well prepared. Many of the contestants were competing at the IBO for the first time.
It was interesting to notice that the contestants were not only good at science but also very talented. They could play musical instruments, sing and play sports very well. It was really impressive.
Inner Sanctum: One of the four tests at the IBO required contestants to experiment on leeches to identify their organs and answer questions. Were you intimidated?
When I trained with the national team, I had the chance to do experiment on different animals including several types of worms, so I was not intimidated. I was just a bit surprised.
Inner Sanctum: Besides the efforts of the students themselves, the teachers also play a role in their success. Can you tell us about your biology teacher at high school?
What I like the most about my teacher, Ms Hường, is her sense of intimacy. She was the first teacher I ever felt close to.
Like other teachers, she devoted lots of time for us. She called and messaged me a lot to support me while I was at the training session to prepare for the IBO.
Inner Sanctum: Many people still think that science is for men, not women. What do you think about this perception?
I think this is an old way of thinking. I must admit that there are more successful men in natural sciences than women. However, there are women who outperform men. I think successful scientists are those who are persistent, creative and have a great sense of curiosity and exploration in their jobs. And I think those characteristics are not gender or age specific. VNS