Aaron Goh Qi Yang and Klaus Tan completed the Diploma Programme (DP) at the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) three years apart. They might be what you call best friends, with a relationship that started at a formative moment in their lives and has stood the test of time. They met thanks to their school community’s culture of mentorship and service, and they supported each other through the challenges of both academia and life. They offer advice on managing stress, the importance of interdisciplinary learning and building strong allies.
This interview was recorded in advance of the COVID-19 crisis, but Aaron and Klaus have recorded an update to share their efforts on a global project related the pandemic. We hope you enjoy this story and podcast.
“I do believe, that regardless of which IB school you go to, you are going to be in the presence of incredible people nonetheless … but really, there’s something I’ve learned: It’s about collaboration, not competition”
Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast
Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Aaron: I’m a fourth-year medical student at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and I’m currently the founding president of the ophthalmology society. I’ve got some other medical research and teaching duties, but I try to do my best in whatever spare time I have to come back and mentor pre-meds and also IB students from our alma matter.
At first, I started out med school thinking that I really wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. But as time went on, other specialties caught my fancy. Seeing the wide range of what medicine can offer and what it can do for people, I think at this point in time I would say I’m still more or less undifferentiated and ophthalmology is perhaps one of the ones I’m closer to at this point of time.
Klaus: We both came from the Anglo-Chinese School independent in Singapore. It’s an IB World School. I started off as a photographer in the school. I was in the boy’s brigade with Aaron, it’s a military uniform organization. So, we were spending Saturdays together and he was a senior taking me under his wing. That was the past. Right now, I am taking a gap year before I enter university for national service. That’s compulsory in Singapore. I’m also a professional photographer under the label CHUTTERSNAP.
“I’m the first person in my family to take the IB programme and before that my parents only knew that IB existed, they just knew it was, “IB”, but knew nothing more than that”
During the DP, which courses did you choose?
Aaron: We were from different batches, so we were never quite in the same class. We did take some common subjects, and I like to think that Klaus’ decision to take a subject like business and management was in some part due to my terrible influence! I ended up taking physics, chemistry and mathematics at higher level (HL). My standard level (SL) subjects were business and management, language and literature and Chinese.
We know that many students often find themselves under a lot of academic and social pressure, particularly in medicine. What kind of advice do you have for students to help manage stress?
Aaron: Right, so to address the elephant in the room—yes, there definitely is pressure that is present, and it is very real. I think it depends on the person and how they manage it. You can think about it in two ways: there are the external pressures that other people place on you and the internal pressure that you place upon yourself. It’s the combination of these two, that ultimate results in you feeling stressed in the end.
Looking back to my own time in the IB—a younger and more immature version of myself—I placed so much pressure on myself to do well, I feel like I ended up missing out on so much that could have made IB a more fulfilling time. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would three things:
Firstly, it’s that you really don’t have to prove anything to anybody. You really just need to become the best version of yourself that you can be.
Second thing I would say, I would tell my younger self to prioritize progress over perfection. Often in our culture—I’m not being stereotypical here, but sometimes the pressure does come from unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves. And I’ve been there too. I really do wish I had focused less on striving and achieving and instead focusing on who I was becoming instead.
Third piece of advice: I would say, five years from now, how important your results will be to you, will be very different from how important your results are to you right now. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know results are important because they are your entry ticket to higher education—but really don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, it’s really just going to be another slip of paper in the grand scheme of things.
You wrote a story for our blog about the intersection of art and science. How did you come up with that idea as a topic and why is it important to you?
Aaron: In our school we’ve got this interesting bit of the curriculum, it’s a subject that we do in year one and year two and it’s called medical humanities. So, I went for the first lesson in medical humanities, and I was quite blown away. I realized that everything I had done in DP had prepared me for that course: to be able to appreciate some of the ideas and the things we were discussing. Typically, we discussed poetry, and we really get down to the emotions of what people were feeling. The whole point of that course was to help us remember and realize that medicine, beyond being a science, is very much an art and you don’t just engage your left brain, you have to engage your right brain as well, creativity and emotion. So, that was what formed the inspiration for that piece. And I was looking back on my own journey through my short stint in medical school thus far and asking myself how I see the humanities as being infused with the curriculum that I am presently studying.
“It really brings meaning into existence, rather than just having completed the IB programme and leaving it, instead we can use this knowledge to help other people”.
You are both in roles as mentors right now, did mentorship play an important part of your life as a student and does it still play an important part of your life?
Klaus: Yes, it’s been from the start. Having been through this world of IB almost on my own—I’m the first person in my family to take the IB programme and before that my parents only knew that IB existed, they just knew it was “IB,” but knew nothing more than that—it’s very helpful to have someone who has been through the programme and knows the rigorousness of the programme, to take you through this whole journey personally. I’ve been able to successfully complete the program thanks to Aaron.
He had some tips on how to tackle the internal assessment (IA), theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay—all of these were very niche things that are specific to the DP that no one else that I knew could have helped with. He was a very good guide in this and I recommend that people who are beginning the DP try to connect with someone who is two or three years older than them, so they are able to take this journey together.
I’m currently overseeing about four people, taking them through the DP and passing down this senior to junior mentorship and it’s been very fulfilling. It really brings meaning into existence, rather than just having completed the IB programme and leaving it, instead we can use this knowledge to help other people.
Aaron: if I can be honest, I think our mentorship programme is generally quite informal. Klaus, would you agree with that?
Klaus: Yes, it’s something built into the school culture. You look out for someone that is within your school. It doesn’t matter whether they’re older or younger, you don’t mind really helping them in anything.
“We really need to take steps to be able to try and connect with other people and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us”.
Aaron: I’m starting to see this even as I start work. I have juniors and senior who are all alumni from our school. It’s always nice when we see each other on the [hospital] wards as well. We had seen each other a few times back at our alma matter, but now they recognized me and often they say, “Oh, hey, I just saw this interesting medical case. Would you like me to take you through it?” The culture really exists beyond the walls of our IB school and that’s something I’m really thankful for.
Klaus: I think if we could link that to the earlier question you had about pressure for students to be high achievers; to a certain extent, yes, there is a pressure because, in this institution, you are going to be comparing against your friends and when your friends do better, it’s always a hard day. On a more practical aspect, the one that really impacts us, it doesn’t demoralize us because, very much like the Olympics, it’s a clustering of the brightest minded individuals together. And we spur each other on to break records that none of us would have thought possible just doing it on our own.
For example, you see your friend surpassing you and getting this achievement and then you think to yourself, if that’s possible for him, why not me? Take it one step further and try to surpass them. This helped us have a synergy, people who are genuinely excited about the possibilities of life and go all out to achieve them. So, we help each other in that aspect.
Is it possible for that sense of competition to have both a positive and negative impact?
Aaron: Yes, completely agree with that. It does take some time to get used to. I do believe, that regardless of which IB school you go to, you are going to be in the presence of incredible people nonetheless. The fact that they are doing the IB programme would imply that they’re all generally at a high level already. But really, there’s something I’ve learned: It’s about collaboration, not competition. And you know, oftentimes we feel that today, although we are more connected than ever, we’re also more isolated than ever. We really need to take steps to be able to try and connect with other people and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.
Aaron Goh Qi Yang graduated from the IB DP at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Singapore, in 2015. He reads Medicine at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Singapore. An accomplished medical student, his team emerged world champions at the inaugural Elsevier ClinicalKey Global Challenge in 2019, and his research has been presented in conferences both locally and overseas. You can connect with him here and @aarongohqy.
Klaus Tan is a graduate of the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) institution in Singapore. He’s not your typical perfect scorer who’s only about academics—he’s also an established photographer, having worked with hospitality brands including Marriott and Hyatt while studying and holds a billion views on the photographs he takes. Passionate about leadership, he’ll choose to interact with people of all backgrounds anytime.
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