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Balancing the arts and science

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Yeo Xin Hao

Year 4, NUS Science

Chemistry was once a subject that Yeo Xin Hao “hated” – until a teacher in junior college opened his eyes to the possibilities it held.

“My teacher showed me that chemistry could be fun, and how it was such an application-based subject. There were always exceptions to the rules in chemistry that constantly surprised me, so much so that it just captured my imagination.”

Almost a decade later, Xin Hao is now in his final year of studying Chemistry at the National University of Singapore (NUS), drawn to the science field for its ability to solve real-life problems. The voracious learner has also taken up a Minor in Forensic Science, after his interest was piqued through an introductory module in Year 2.

He recalls, “The lectures were always interesting and filled with stories about crimes in Singapore, and landmark or unusual cases. I even found myself sharing these stories with my friends who didn’t take this module. We had great lecturers who were also very caring.”

Much like the exceptions he enjoyed so much about his pet subject, Xin Hao is also quite the rule-breaker himself, albeit in a good way.

For as much as he loves unravelling the intrigues of science, he was never content to have his undergraduate experience only within the classroom.

As a talented flautist, he has also found opportunities at NUS to pursue his other great love - music.

At the NUS Wind Symphony, he found a like-minded community that he fondly describes as “a family for people who are looking for a safe haven to make good music”. Bonding over their common interest, he became fast friends with the other members, and even had the honour of being elected president in his second year.

In his second year, Xin Hao was tasked with leading the NUS Wind Symphony as its president.

While leading the NUS Wind Symphony, he also discovered growth beyond his own musicianship.

“I was a young, hopeful president who had just taken over from a Year 4 Law student. I found it nerve-wracking being unable to speak as well as him, and there were times when I doubted my ability to lead the group. However, they never gave up on me and trusted me, which was immense for my confidence.”

His time as president of the NUS Wind Symphony would go on to provide some of the best memories of his NUS days. It began with his very first project, when the group participated in the prestigious World Music Contest Kerkrade in 2017.

Although their road to the competition got off to a rocky start, with the group’s progress feeling sluggish, they eventually won a gold medal.

It was a tough road to the stage at the World Music Contest Kerkrade in 2017, but the NUS Wind Symphony eventually came away with a gold medal.

Xin Hao says of that memorable occasion, “It was like everyone suddenly switched on their A-game, and we had such a great run that evening. We believed we could do well, and sure enough, we did!”

Apart from his musical exploits, Xin Hao was also an active resident at Raffles Hall, where he dabbled in a musical production, learnt photography, and even picked up the bass.

He considers these experiences as a valuable counterweight to being a science student, saying, “I’ve actually taken modules on topics like the science of music and applied my scientific training to virtual instrument sound design. I think being able to experiment with both the arts and science is a fun thing to do while in university.

“If anything, the arts has taught me how to view scientific problems in different perspectives so as to find suitable solutions. Having that balance helps me to express myself in both scientific and creative terms when needed, which is a plus!”

As an active hall resident, Xin Hao learnt to play bass for the Raffles Hall band Rhockerfellas.

Now, not only is he doing well in his undergraduate studies, he’s also started thinking of taking it one step further - by sharing his love for chemistry with the next generation.

“My dream job is to teach!” he reveals. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can about chemistry before eventually applying to teach… Hopefully, I can go on to be like my past chemistry teacher who inspired students who hated chemistry to start loving it, and mould some strong characters and inquisitive minds through my lessons.”

To those looking to join NUS, the multi-talented student advises, “A lot of people take up modules because they hear it’s easy to score, or if recommended by friends, but I would say: Do what you enjoy the most. When you enjoy something, you naturally want to put effort into it, and that is where you would be duly rewarded.

“It may also sound quite cliché, but your university education is going to be tough. And the times spent with people around you will make everything worth it.”

It is advice from the heart from a person who, despite his many accomplishments at NUS, cites the everyday experiences on campus as what he will miss the most upon graduation.

“My most memorable NUS moments are the ones spent with my friends - when we were lost together in our first few lab sessions, when we headed out for supper with our friends in Hall, and when we came together to share our passion in our CCAs. These are definitely the unforgettable memories that I’ll hold dear.”