What we learned from our EPQ projects, and what were the biggest challenges - year 12 students

Year 12 student Gulled learned a lot about himself during his EPQ project - and a host of useful skills along the way 

Do East Africans have a natural advantage in distance running? Should we modify embryos that have an extra chromosome? Can dance reduce the negative health effects of Parkinson’s disease?

These are just some of the challenging and intriguing topics which Bolingbroke’s year 12 students have been studying in depth as part of their EPQ projects, in which they spend a year researching a subject of their choice, and then have to produce a 5000-word report and deliver a presentation.

Tanisha studied whether dance could help to alleviate some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease for her EPQ project

Tanisha who wants to study engineering at university is a keen dancer in her spare time, and was interested in finding out whether it could help to reduce some of the negative health impacts of Parkinson’s disease. “My grandpa had a stroke and his ability to move was impaired,” she says. “That is partly what made me wonder whether dance could help to alleviate some of worst symptoms of Parkinson’s” Tanisha found that through her research which involved going to Queen Margaret’s Hospital and observing dance classes for the elderly,  along with much reading, that dance did indeed help Parkinson’s sufferers improve their balance and walking ability. But she also discovered a lot about herself in the process. “I learned a lot of skills,” she says “I learned how to plan a long term project, how to synthesise the information I acquired and how to critically analsye the sources I was using."

Zayd said he initially thought that East African runners would have a genetic advantage when it comes to distance running, but concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support this view

Tanisha’s twin brother Zayd who used to be a keen runner, decided to investigate whether East Africans possess a natural advantage when it comes to distance running for his project.

“I used to watch East African distance runners at athletic championships and noticed how they dominated these events, so I wanted to find out the secret to their success,” he said. Firstly, Zayd identified the factors that he believed contributed to the success of the runners, and then compared them to Caucasian runners. Natural factors he considered included genetics, physiology and biomechanics such as leg length, while environmental factors which Zayd studied included diet, altitude, economic motivation and whether the athletes ran to school from an early age. At the outset of his project Zayd believed that East African runners probably did possess a natural advantage, but after studying the subject, which included interviewing a semi-elite Somalian athlete, came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support this hypothesis. “I think that in the future if more research was carried out it might find a genetic advantage, but there is currently not enough evidence to support this. I concluded that the more significant factors to their success are the social and environmental factors, in particular the altitude was the most striking factor.”

As to what he got out of his EPQ project, Zayd says it has been really good preparation for university where he hopes to study biology. “Learning how to manage my time, planning, referencing and presenting have all been really useful skills to learn, “ he says.

Gulled is another year 12 student who gained much from his EPQ project, and who hopes to go on to study medicine at university. He chose to tackle the question, how has the digitalization of medical care made consultations more accessible for his project. Gulled said it didn't take him too long to choose his preferred subject,  but ultimately decided on a topic which was relevant to his future career as a doctor. "Initially I was looking at medical technology, but in the end decided to go down the IT/artificial intelligence route," he says, admitting he found it difficult to get into at first.  “I did a lot of research into the subject and interviewed a number of GPs, and concluded that technology has helped decrease waiting times but so far studies are small and not conclusive. Personally I feel that the area has potential to make medical care more accessible but various issues need to be addressed first." So what did Gulled learn in the EPQ project? “I thought I planned well, but discovered in actual fact I didn’t,” he laughs. “When you are fleshing out a 5000 word essay you realize it can’t all be waffle!”

Indra wants to study medicine at university and specialise in heart surgery, and chose her EPQ subject on genetic engineering to help with her career aspirations

Another student who harbours ambitions to join the medical profession is Indra Traore who examined whether we should modify genes that have an extra chromosome as her EPQ topic. However, she is the first to admit that she struggled for a while to decide what subject to study. “I was interested in doing something science based and I was particularly interested in genetic engineering. But because it’s such a broad subject I eventually decided to focus on a specific syndrome so I chose Down’s Syndrome. “

With little existing research addressing the direct question, Indra admits it was a challenging exercise. “At present we can’t experiment on human embryos so there is not a great deal of research around,” she says. Online articles and documentaries formed the basis of her research, and enabled her to get to grips with the subject. The most challenging aspect, she says, was the fact she had to come up with her own conclusion.

“I had scientists’ opinions and the views of families with children who have Downs syndrome, so I saw both sides of the arguments. I can’t confidently say we shouldn’t modify genes, but that is the direction I am leaning towards.

From a personal perspective Indra says she learned much about herself and acquired some useful skills along the way. “This was the first time I learned referencing and citing, which is really useful for university. I also learned how to stop procrastinating, and just get on with it!”