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Lessons on Recovery from a Future Science Leader

Yumai Bishop, a participant in Science World’s Future Science Leaders program, remembers the moment the great earthquake of 2011 struck Japan.

“Everything that normally doesn’t move started moving," she says.

She and her little brother scrambled under the kitchen table. All their belongings fell off the shelves around them. From their fifth floor apartment, they could see the other buildings on their block swaying. This lasted a full six minutes.

"I thought I was going to die," she tells me. "I remember being overwhelmed by a helpless feeling that I hadn't really done anything meaningful in my life yet."

She was 10 years old.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded Yumai of the earthquake.

"We had the tsunami, and then the nuclear plant accident," she explains. “A lot of uncertainty. With this virus, we do not have a cure, and we don’t know how many people will be affected."

And it's during uncertain times like these, she says, that we need to stick together.

A Boat for the Ages

Yumai is homeschooled, so protocols to “stay at home” have not disrupted her grade 12 curriculum. The day before Science World closed, Yumai had her last Future Science Leaders (FSL) session under our dome.

Her ambitious project, an experiment in using boat dimensions from an ancient text to build vessels that could feasibly transport 70,000 animals, went swimmingly.

As the pandemic hit BC, all her arks were buoyant, and her peers were helping her find solutions to leaks.

Now, she’s completing her FSL work in the form of a scientific paper. She can’t meet her instructors and peers in person, but she continues to get their support and input online.

The best part of the program, she says, is the ongoing connection with other people who are as passionate about science as she is. That connection is especially important during a crisis.

In the fall, Yumai will start university, taking classes in her two favourite subjects: philosophy and neuroscience. Both her chosen fields of study grapple with big questions of disaster and recovery.

Her faith and her scientific approach are what keep her focused.

“My belief system is my drive, my momentum,” she explains. “It’s what propels me to learn and engage so deeply with the world. It's what gives me a reason to be present, no matter what."

Yumai believes a clear-eyed presence is crucial at times like this. "The most important thing you can do during a crisis is remain calm. If you’re panicking, you won’t be able to see everything that’s happening around you. You won't be able to make a good choice.”

Brain Child

School closures notwithstanding, now is the time to assess and learn as much as we can, Yumai says.

“Being homeschooled, I never had a traditional classroom. I was raised to know that being in the world is learning. Taking a walk is learning. Lying in bed and listening to someone speak is learning.”

Lately, she has been learning about neuroscience. Her interest began with Dr. Ben Carson, a Black neurosurgeon who, in 1987, performed the first successful operation separating conjoined twins.

Everything Yumai has learned about the brain since gives her faith that neuroscience can save humanity.

“No matter how old you are, or what trauma you’ve incurred, your brain can change itself,” she tells me.

"And if our brains can transform throughout our entire lives, that means the world can transform throughout our entire lives."

And that's what gives her hope.

Science World is Closed, but We are Still Hard at Work.

Until May 1, Future Science Leaders is accepting applications for September 2020-April 2021. Donate to Science World today to ensure that Science World can re-open for the next generation of scientists.