Interview and Article written by George Lee Zhi Xiang (Yr 5)
Late night cramming, listening to lectures while being in awe at how many times the lesson notes can display the same diagram, looking through the microscope confused at what you are supposed to see. These are just some things that may come to mind when you think about studying Biology. On the other hand, Sankar Ananthanarayanan, an alumnus from the Class of 2012, has quite a different take on the subject.
Sankar loves Biology. He’s a full-time teaching assistant at NUS and he founded the Herpetological Society for Singapore (HSS). He is also an avid volunteer environmental activist. Despite his current achievements, he was not a top performer in Biology in NUSH. He barely passed the subject a few times and did not make it into the Biology Honours track. However, his interest in Biology really burgeoned during the Christmas Island field trip, where he got the chance to study the local flora and fauna for a whole week. At this point, he completely fell in love with Ecology and took it upon himself to develop his interest outside of the classroom.
Hoping to learn more about Biology, Sankar joined the Biology Interest Group (BIG), and later became its president. He was actively involved in organising and participating in various activities, such as hosting the open house booth. He loved being able to share about the specimens at the booth, teaching primary school students about Biology and captivating their attention. This was also one of his first exposures to teaching as he had to simplify the information for a primary school audience.
To supplement his interest in Biology, he took up volunteering with various organisations, often dealing with science communication. Throughout his study at NUSH, he went to the Singapore Zoo every weekend as a conservation ambassador, and guided guests and shared interesting facts about the animals. Sankar shares that he thinks he broke the record for hours spent on Community Involvement Programs (CIP) at that time in NUS High, solely based on amount of time he dedicated to this programme. On top of that, he also helped to conduct mangrove tours, learning about our unique local flora and fauna in the process. During one of these tours, he observed a mud snake and found it extremely intriguing. He thought that he could be one of the only people in Singapore studying reptiles, and hence found his love for Herpetology here. This interest would carry on, even until this very day.
During his undergraduate study, he volunteered at the Lee Kong Chian Museum, organising public outreach events and co-ordinating the volunteers. He also strives to spread his love for Herpetology through volunteering. He spent most of his time working in the HSS, organising various events to share his love for Herpetology. This included herp walks, involving guiding participants around parks and reserves in Singapore to find various reptiles, and outreach events to educate children in schools about various reptiles and the importance of preserving the environment. Till this day, he is the president of the HSS and activities have resumed, as soon as the COVID-19 safe management measures allowed for these activities. He found that volunteering was the best avenue to develop his passion being able to advocate for his cause and educate other people as well.
As a result of his volunteering, not only did he learn more about biology as a subject, but he learnt important speaking skills too. He is grateful for his English language teachers in NUSH for teaching him essential speaking competencies and nurturing his love for public speaking, as well as his Biology subject teachers, namely Ms Fong Kit Ching, for sparking his interest in the subject.
A final piece of advice Sankar left for his juniors is “true literacy is about changing your behaviours and values”. To have truly learned about a topic, you must understand it, reflect upon what you know, and change your own behaviours and values.