Dominic Egger is a former IChO participant, PhD student in chemistry at ETH Zurich and member of the Scientific Committee for IChO 2023. He tells us how he carried home the Olympic Spirit, what solutions he has to find as a committee member and how he manages to juggle the many tasks he is involved in.
My personal Chemistry Olympiad journey started in 2016. As one of four representatives from Switzerland I got the chance to participate in the International Chemistry Olympiad in 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia. A very fruitful experience where I got to meet young people from all across the globe with a keen interest in the very same topic as me – chemistry.
Back in Switzerland it didn’t take too long for me to join the Swiss Chemistry Olympiads (SwissChO), the volunteer-run association which is responsible for organizing our national selection for IChO. Over the years, I was involved in many things in the association, such as exam writing & reviewing, event organisation, but I am also part of more strategical decisions as a member of the SwissChO board since a few years.
In fact, I still remember wel our general assembly in April 2017, where our association unanimously voted to pursue the idea of hosting an International Chemistry Olympiad, for the very first time, in Switzerland. We all anticipated back then that this would come with a tremendous amount of work and many of us didn’t know where life would eventually take them in the many years leading up to the event. But through many Swiss participants at IChO over the years, the Olympic spirit has clearly been carried back home, and it continues to grow!
Let’s fast forward a few years, it is the year 2023 and IChO is truly happening here in Switzerland for the very first time!
As a member of the scientific committee, I have been heavily involved in the curation of the scientific content, such as the preparatory and exam problems. Preparing examinations of this extent for an international audience comes with unique challenges.
First of all, the exam will have to be translated into a variety of different languages, and in a very short amount of time. Making sure that this is possible is one of our many tasks. I tend to think that my experience at the Swiss national level comes in handy at times, since we also translate our exams into four languages (German, French, Italian and English), but I also think we can potentially improve at the national level based on this IChO experience.
Secondly, once the exams have taken place, they will also have to be graded – again in a very limited amount of time. Grading has to be fair and equal for every student and also differences in language should not play a role either. Also, here we aim to help the authors of the problems, to shape their questions in a fashion, where this can be ensured.
Furthermore, the IChO exams generally underly particular regulations that define very clearly the extent and scope of topics which are allowed to be brought up, making them distinct of every SwissChO or university exam I have had the chance of contributing to.
These and many more questions are what we constantly strive to find solutions for in the remaining time up to IChO 2023. Just like the organising committee, we aim to ensure that everything runs smoothly like a Swiss clockwork, also for the scientific part of the event.
The Struggle to Juggle
Due to my involvement with the national Swiss Chemistry Olympiad my transition to become a member of the scientific committee for IChO 2023 was a long- and carefully orchestrated step. We wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, but still ensure that we had enough helpers and volunteers to make both, our national selection and the international event possible.
Like many members of the scientific committee, I continue to pursue my studies as a PhD student in parallel to my voluntary work on the committee. I see it as a great way of “giving something back” to the international Olympiad community, from which I benefited a lot in my personal career and development.
Juggling all these Olympic commitments with my day-to-day job as a researcher at ETH Zurich can indeed be challenging at times. But I am convinced, that in the end, the efforts of so many people since 2017 will ultimately be worth it. And I am much looking forward to the Olympiad this summer!