It’s been described as the pinnacle of academic research.
The Extended Essay is a core requirement of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. A 4,000-word research paper, it is certainly a large task for students, but it is also an exceptional opportunity for them to choose which topics to investigate based on their own interests.
“Within deadlines, we were given total flexibility and freedom to investigate what we wanted,” said Grade 12 WAB student Iris Liu, who has been at WAB since 2008. “As an aspiring biologist or physician in the medical field, I of course was very keen to focus on COVID-19, because it was such a big thing for everyone and because we were in online learning because of it.”
Iris’ classmate, Grade 12 student Jack Duhon, also explored a topic to which he felt a personal connection. Since the pandemic, Jack became more aware of income inequality in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina. He decided to explore guaranteed annual income as a way to bring relief to the people of his community.
“One of the places I’m applying to for college is Duke, which is in Durham,” Jack said. “One of my reasons for going there is that I would like to in the future pursue something that would help me figure out how I could help fix this inequality. At Duke, I would be able look at that and have a perfect place to apply it in Durham.”
While the Extended Essay is a requirement for graduation in the Diploma Programme, the process of completing the project is also extremely valuable for each student’s future. WAB’s High School Teacher Librarian Jeri Hurd, who has served as the Extended Essay Coordinator for nine years, helps students through the months-long process.
“Students are the driving force behind this,” Jeri said. “When they go to college, they’re more confident that they know what to do. They’re more confident in their ability to break a task down and understand the process involved.”
Throughout the essay process, students are also partnered with an individual teacher who serves as a subject-specific supervisor.
Jack, who was working with a geography teacher, said the supervisor’s role is not what one thinks of as a traditional teacher-student relationship.
“It was like working with a peer. My supervisor wasn’t able to tell me what I needed to write, but he was able to tell me when I wrote things that made no sense in the context of geography.”
Iris agreed. “It was like having a teammate. When I found breakthroughs, I could share that joy with her, and she could share that same joy with me.
While the Extended Essay is an essential part of the Diploma Programme and a rigorous academic challenge, Iris said her experience going though the IB Programmes at WAB prepared her for the process throughout.
“It seems like a daunting task, but the PYP and MYP help students prepare for the process a lot. All these things actually helped me prepare for this process, and I felt like it wasn’t as daunting as it could have been without that preparation.”
Beyond the knowledge and conclusions students gain throughout the research process, both Jack and Iris said they learned valuable lessons throughout the experience that they know will be valuable in the future.
“The lessons I learned were multi-faceted. Of course, there was the research aspect, but what I’ve been focused on in Grade 11 and 12 on is finding out what I’m really interested in,” Jack said. “The EE is the best opportunity to do that within the DP, because it allows you to find something that isn’t necessarily in the syllabuses of any of the courses of the IB, and allows you to find something you wanted to look into in college or in a career. And that was really interesting to me because of the personal connection I have to Durham and how I want to apply what I’ve researched into real life.”
For Iris, one of her biggest takeaways was learning about her subject as a whole.
“It helped me understand the essence of science,” she said. “My biology subject Extended Essay also became chemistry, physics, bioinformatics. I even looked into the humanities side of things. Research isn’t really inside one subject. We’re trying to categorize these subjects by our own understanding, but research is such an open-ended process that nothing really limits our knowledge.”
On Wednesday, WAB hosted its annual Extended Essay Celebration to recognize and honor the students for their accomplishments. We'll post a video of it right here very soon. In the mean time, visit The WAB Podcast page for more inspiring and innovative stories like this one!