What’s an EPQ?
For those who don’t know, an EPQ stands for Extended Project Qualification and is offered to many students around sixth form time. It is a research based project which gives students the freedom to independently design and manage everything from their topic choice to how they present their ideas, with the help of a supervisor.
I completed my EPQ from around half way through year 12 to half way through year 13, so consequently overlapped with the busiest period of my life so far. Despite this, the EPQ undoubtedly improved my prospects in medicine, opened up doors that otherwise wouldn’t have even presented themselves, and drastically improved my personal and academic skills.
I will be doing a series of blog posts on the EPQ; I hope by sharing my little nuggets of wisdom from my experience will help those looking to complete the project qualification! This blog post is more specific for those thinking of a medicine-related topic, but regardless of the type of EPQ, this should be of value to you.
Starting Off: Choosing a Topic:
This was the hardest part of my entire EPQ journey and I think coming to a project title I was happy with took longer than was considered normal. But upon reflection after completing the EPQ (with success), I think this was the most crucial step to designing a project that will:
- sit at the correct level for you to complete considering time and knowledge constraints (i.e. not too specific and niche that your current knowledge does not accommodate, or too broad that it will be too big a project to complete alongside other commitments)
- have enough to research about to easily fit the 5000 word count
- benefit you in some way personally or for your future career
- most importantly, be INTERESTING for you, so that it does not become a bore
I have recently been asked to get into contact with a year eleven student who is embarking on her EPQ journey and is an aspiring medic. She sent me her initial ideas for her EPQ topic, and despite being unique and impressive, they were very varied and so I assume it was difficult for her to narrow down to her favourites.
When I replied, I gave some advice which I know really helped me finally decided on my topic and which allowed me to produce a successful EPQ. After writing my email, I thought that my advice would be helpful for many others struggling with this step of the process, so I have written up this email in greater depth in this blog post.
I hope this helps you if you’re struggling to whittle it down to your perfect title. But please know that it is okay for this to be taking a while and you will get there in the end. You will be thankful you thought about it for so long!
Questions to Ask Yourself
When starting to think of potential ideas, I think it would be beneficial for you to answer the following questions:
- What are your interests right now in your science A levels? Note that you do not need to expand your EPQ topic from something you’re enjoying in A levels as the point of the EPQ is to research beyond the scope of A level curricula (and should not be covered in your subject specifications), but seeing what fascinates you in your current studies can definitely be a great place to start.
- Do you have any particular interest in a medical field in which you think you’d like to specialise in the future?
- Have you experienced anything personally which makes you interested in anything in particular (e.g. a family member having a disease)?
- If you have completed work experience and/or volunteering in a medical environment, did anything stand out for you? Did a particular condition/treatment or a specific patient fascinate you? Did you have an interesting conversation with a doctor or healthcare professional about something?
- What are your personal interests (outside of medicine!) which you could potentially link to a medical topic to create something unique to you? (e.g. if you’re interested in computer science, you could research the role of computers/technology in medicine, or if you’re interested in humanities e.g. philosophy – medical ethics/philosophy behind human connection within medicine, or geography – global/humanitarian medicine, or interested in the environment – is medical equipment ruining the environment). If your third or fourth A level is atypical for a medicine applicant (i.e. not a science or maths), then this could link nicely too.
- What have you learnt in your extra-curricular reading/watching/listening – if you’ve read a book or watched a documentary to do with medicine, did anything grab your attention? If your EPQ topic sparks from something you’ve read on your own, this looks great on your personal statement as you’ve linked your experiences.
- What would you naturally go to search for if you need to research something medical related? What do you find truly enjoyable to research? – an important question
These questions really helped me to finally decide on a topic for my EPQ; I believe the reason why I didn’t find the EPQ (too!) stressful, or too difficult a task to complete, or the word count too long to reach, or too scary to present was because (see corresponding bullet points above):
- It expanded upon my current interest of the cardiovascular system that I studied in biology. (This actually didn’t form a great deal of my decision, but looking back I did enjoy this module prior to starting the EPQ, and as a bonus it improved my knowledge of this A level topic too!).
- I was particularly interested in the field of gastroenterology after my work experience and extra-curricular research, and I see myself working in this field when I will specialise (although of course this might change!) See point 4 and 6.
- My dad had cardiovascular disease, and I helped him reduce his medications drastically and improve his quality of life after switching to a plant-based diet. Therefore this topic meant something to me.
- I had work experience with a gastroenterologist and had interesting conversations on the link between gut health and cardiac health.
- My personal interests included veganism and nutrition.
- I listened to a podcast about the gut microbiome which fascinated me.
- Because of all of these things, I truly ENJOY reading about this topic.
This led to my title:
A whole-food plant-based diet, the human gut microbiome and cardiovascular disease: a review of the scientific literature
My Most Important Piece of Advice
Trust me when I say that your topic should make you very excited and you should be passionate about it. Having links to your personal interests or experiences really helps with this. Having passion for your topic is crucial because this is going to motivate you to complete it to a high level meanwhile balancing the EPQ with your other commitments.
Some of my friends chose medical topics that they were ‘kind of’ interested in, and yes they were interesting, but after 2000 words they became bored and the EPQ became a chore. In my case, I found it hard to stop researching and eventually wrote 7000 words (the recommended word limit in 5000), so although I took a LONG time deciding on a title, I completed the essay more smoothly than if I chose a topic I was ‘kind of’ interested in quickly. Furthermore, I almost viewed the EPQ as a nice break from A level work as a result of genuinely enjoying reading around my topic.
It is totally okay to think you love an idea until you start to research it and realise you would not be able to finish 5000 words on this and actually enjoy it, you can change your idea if you find this happening. You don’t really know how much research is out there until you starting researching, so ensure you investigate the scope of content before heading off on writing your full essay.
I hope this has been helpful to at least one person reading this, please let me know if it has.
Feel free to contact me via the comments below, my Instagram, or email if you are struggling with your EPQ – I am more than happy to help.
Have a good day!
The Conscious Medic