Shannon Brown looks at the extended essay component of the International Baccalaureate. Featured photo by Romain Garrigue.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is a programme that prepares high school students for university by creating independent, creative, and thorough students. The International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) has 70 Grade 12 students enrolled in its IBDP this year.

The extended essay has been a mandatory component of this programme since 1974. The extended essay, or EE, is a 4,000-word research paper which gives students the opportunity to conduct independent research on a topic that interests them. The topic must be in one of the student’s six core subject areas. The extended essay provides practical preparation for undergraduate research and helps students develop an argument and communicate their ideas.


ISHCMC recently hosted an end-of-year event to celebrate the completion of all the students’ EEs. The evening opened with presentations by six of the students. The presenters were nominated by their extended essay supervisors, and chosen to showcase the diversity of topics and research questions. “We wanted to ensure our EE celebration evening captured a snapshot of the variety of topics tackled by our Grade 12 cohort,” said Jane Barrowcliff, the school’s EE coordinator.

Female Film Directors

Margot Piorkowski, from France, wrote her essay on women film directors and the barriers they face. She started her research believing it belonged in the arts category, but quickly decided her question was more about business management. Eventually, she concluded that women face more sociological barriers than business ones. In her speech, she encouraged the upcoming senior class to pick a topic which is current and shows originality. Piorkowski says she plans on becoming a film director and has a better understanding of the film business now. She also shows hope for a brighter future. “By the time I’ll hopefully get in the industry, there will already be fewer barriers for me due to movements created and led by influencers like Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey. I know exactly who I want to become and I will do anything to get to it.”

Mathematical Model

Myeong Hun Song, from South Korea, used his 4,000 words to write about a mathematical model he created that can predict population growth. Song wanted to investigate the future of our world, so he chose to research the natural phenomenon of population change using a fictional country: a United Korea. He began by studying two dominant population models – the exponential growth model and the logistics model – and declared both to be limited and unable to predict population decline. As South Korea is experiencing a rapidly decreasing birth rate, and an increasing death rate, Song set out to make a model that would predict a declining population. His model is called the Population Teach Model, and when he compared his results to United Nations population estimates, he was proud to discover that they were in line. Song says that although many students avoid writing their essays in mathematics, he is glad that he chose his topic. “I learned how to deal with challenges during this research,” he said.


Rizana Tran Tatlock, from the United States, submitted an essay in the subject of history, focused on the fall of Constantinople. She relied heavily on primary sources (diaries and memoirs) as well as secondary sources in historical texts. She discovered that many historians disagreed on the actual details of events, but shared that this taught her how to evaluate different perspectives and synthesise information to come up with rational conclusions. She urged the students in 11th grade not to be overwhelmed by contradicting sources and to take it as an opportunity to show critical thinking skills.

Spanish Colonisalism

Alexia Guglielmi, from Italy, wrote her essay in a second language, and admitted that it wasn’t a strong subject for her when she started. She asked the question, “To what extent was Latin American culture impacted by Spanish colonialism?” Her research focused on culture – religions, traditions, and celebrations – and she conducted all of her reading and writing in Spanish. Her advice to the next class? “Choose a topic that interests you and intimidates you. Don’t just settle,” she said.

Coffee Marketing

Ethan Wei, from the Philippines, completed an essay on the artisanal versus industrial approach to marketing within the US coffee industry. Wei divulged that his essay took about 20 drafts to get right, because he just kept learning things he felt he had to include. He said the turning point in his research was when he decided to focus on the US industry specifically. Wei also spoke about the emerging millennial demographic, which spends more money on novel experiences than actual goods, and how they have changed the coffee culture around the world. “This research showed me how business is essentially a response to the needs of society – without a market need, there would be no business,” he said. “I hope to be one of the people racing to find new gaps in the market before everyone else realizes they are there.”

Trieu Vy Luan, from Vietnam, spent months collecting data on his chemistry research essay on plastics and polymers. Growing up, his parents owned a plastic company, and he learned about the negative environmental impact of petroleum-based plastics firsthand. Scientists are now searching for more biodegradable and ecological strands of alternative plastics, which prompted Luan to create his own thermoplastic starch. Through trial and error, he produced a successful sample and then tested 16 different samples to measure how much weight they could hold. Luan said, “I let my love for chemistry drive me,” he said. “What I couldn’t learn from any textbook or research paper was the process of conducting a lab from scratch. It was an extremely useful taster to the material science degree I hope to study.”


After the speeches were finished, Jane Barrowcliff gathered a beautiful round of applause for all the students. “I think it’s fair to say that I speak for every single student stood on this stage in saying that the journey towards success in the extended essay didn’t necessarily always run smoothly, as planned, and to a certain view, on time,” she said. “However, the class of 2018 persevered, showed resilience, and can now successfully stand on this stage having completed a 4,000 word research paper. To mark just how impressive that is, bear in mind that when you go to university, a first year undergraduate usually doesn’t write a paper of more than 3,000 words. It’s definitely something to be celebrated.”

The ISHCMC graduating class of 2018 should be extremely proud of themselves for accomplishing this monumental task and the presenters can now rest easy knowing their essays and speeches are finally over. Now it’s onto graduation and goodbyes as these students prepare to take their advanced knowledge to new heights and new campuses.