HUS High School for Gifted Students Physics major won silver medal at International Biology Olympiad

Đồng Ngọc Hà, a physics major at HUS High School for Gifted Students, won a Silver Medal at International Biology Olympiad. He took an interest in Biology after an encounter with the famed Hippocratic Oath.

It was the last Sunday of August that year, Hà was preparing his online lecture for gifted Biology students across Vietnam in front of his computer, which was surrounded by tables, charts, and a thick book titled Campbell Biology. The silver medal he earned a week ago gave him the confidence needed for the project, even though it was his first teaching session.   

“The International Biology Olympiad silver medal still gives me an inexplicable feeling. It feels like a statement that fortifies my belief in the path I chose" - Hà chuckled, his eyes full of confidence. Even he found the journey from being a Physics major to his silver medal incredulous, due to his former lack of education and training on Biology.

HUS High School for Gifted Students Physics major won silver medal at International Biology Olympiad
Đồng Ngọc Hà and his Campbell Biology book at his residence in Hanoi. (Photo by Dương Tâm)

From his high school years until the moment of his triumph, his most asked question was about his transition to being a Biology major without leaving his Physics major. To him, it was a rather emotional coincidence.

His childhood curiosity on how everything worked gave him the passion for Physics major. The second place award he earned in his ninth grade further solidified his interest in this field.

He had to make a choice for his future after his Physics major admission at HUS High School for Gifted Students. At that time, Hà stumbled upon the Hippocratic Oath version rewritten by Louis Lasagna in 1964, which is still used by many medical schools today. Out of the eight lines, he was most impressed with: “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug".

"This line is a beautiful ideal that I need to pursue. To transform everything, I must first start with the most fundamentals, such as health. I discovered something really artistic about Biology. I am able to study about life, human nature, and what can affect human health. I must pursue Biology major, I need to learn more, research more to find something that I can contribute for medical science” - Hà said.
The following afternoon, he looked for Ms. Đỗ Thị Thanh Huyền, Head of Biology department, who was in charge of the school’s Biology major. He pleaded with her to be enrolled into Biology class, and was given the chance to test his ability in spite of his lack of prior Biology education. He succeeded despite the teacher’s initial skepticism.

According to Ms. Huyền, the entrance exam for gifted student in Biology for the 2017-2018 term consisted of tenth grade students, who had several years of preparation during their secondary school years. Đồng Ngọc Hà only had two weeks to revise everything on his own, without any assistance from his teachers, ranked 13/75 in the test. Ms. Huyền later expressed positive impression of Hà, cited his passion, talent, and his learning method to be his three quintessential aspects to be a high achiever in national and international competitions.

HUS High School for Gifted Students Physics major won silver medal at International Biology Olympiad
Ms. Huyền revealed that Hà was the first Physics major of the school to earn an international medal for Biology

Despite his innate talent, Hà was met with difficulties during his early days studying Biology, trying to catch up with his peers. He recalled that he always fell behind, so much that he did not want to talk about his time in Biology class with anyone in his Physics class. He had his mother asking him for a day of sick leave every week. He only talked this to his homeroom teacher and had his endorsement after Ms. Huyền assessed that Hà was able to enter the national  Biology competition.

He had counseling and orientation from those who had earned International Biology Olympiad medals before. He learned English to browse for foreign text, and he came across Campbell Biology - which is now inseparable from him. He slowly caught up with everyone in his class.

In his eleventh grade, he only earned third place in the national competition, disqualifying him from entering the international competition. He was disappointed. He said that he always had high expectations, and this made him choose between resuming his Biology passion and studying for a university exam. He even lagged behind his peers in his Physics class, but with the encouragement from his teachers, Hà steeled his resolve, giving himself another chance.

One year later, he achieved first place in the national competition, became one of the four Vietnamese participants of the International Biology Olympiad. Despite having to resort to online competition from Vietnam due to COVID-19, Hà was delighted. He considered the test given by Japan, the host country at that time, to be the best test he had ever encountered.

During the practice section of the competition, instead of performing surgery, he had to observe experiments, analyze the templates, and then outline what he had seen. The theory section had a mathematical test that forbade participants from using calculators. This made Hà realize his reliance on technology made him incapable of outlining, observing, and calculating, which were essential for a scientist. He was determined to remedy these weaknesses.

Although he failed to get the gold medal in a competition with 200 participants from 60 countries, Hà was still content. This achievement was a morale boost for him to continue his focus on Biology in the future.

Hà shares his tips on learning Biology. Video by Dương Tâm

Hà then returned to his daily routine of a Facebook moderator managing an online Biology group, with over 12000 members, and a small fan page that shared Biology knowledge, where he shared his past exam and international competition experience, what he learned, while learning more from his fellows and Biologists across the country.

Currently, Hà and former participants of International Biology Olympiad take part in educational projects for students in other provinces such as Lào Cai, Hải Phòng. He also participates in designing Physics and Biology courses with teachers from VNU University of Science (VNU – HUS), while honing his English further to be able to read more foreign Biology text. Hà retains his learning approach - constant reading and studying only when he has the mood for it.

The 18-year-old student also has the habit of strolling. He spends an hour every day to observe the city life. Hà believes that outside strolling prevents him from getting detached from reality. 

Hà is currently planning to enroll the Biology major of VNU - HUS with an aim of possibly getting an opportunity to study abroad. Despite his decision to transit to Biology major, Hà does not regret the time spent studying Physics. “Physics major helped me with my thinking and solving math problems in Biology. I will always remain a Physics major” - Hà exclaimed, expressing his luck of being a Physics major while being able to pursue Biology.  

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