The Courage to Ask Radical Questions

By Hien Le

This summer (2021), I was lucky to be selected as a participant in the University of Tokyo Summer Research Internsip (UTSIP). Under the supervision of Professor Motoharu Onuki, I had the opportunity to work in his lab as part of the Graduate Program in Sustainability Science – Global Leadership Initiative (GPSS – GLI). Although the program was cut short from its original format due to the universal COVID-19 situation, I was able to cherish every single moment of the program.

As prompted by my exploratory qualitative project, I crossed paths with many brilliant minds. From contemplating the mechanisms of the non-material contribution of nature to humans’ wellbeing to exploring the wonderful initiatives on adapting coastal cities to flooding-induced sea level rise, I was able to see a world bigger than my familiar confines of academic interests. The students in GPSS – GLI, who graciously accepted my invitations of interview, have inspired me endlessly about what is possible, and also consolidated my faith in the power of knowledge.

Professor Onuki, my main supervisor, was nothing but purely supportive and patient in guiding me through the process of taking ownership of my research. For the first time ever, I designed a research project from scratch, and I have learnt an invaluable lesson of asking questions. With a Vietnamese educational background, I was initially very intimidated to put forward my thoughts, especially those that are beyond the norm – encouragement from teachers to contribute to class discussions was a rare commodity in my public-school setting. I used to hold a similar impression of other East Asian education systems, in which creativity at times may be stifled. However, during my many conversations with Professor Onuki, never did he turn down my inquiries. He insisted that I was able to express my ideas and stand my ground. And so did my advisors, Annie Cao and Sadaf Taimur, whose unparalleled open- mindedness and wisdom were testimonies to the power of asking questions in scientific research. I feel so hopeful about a better and brighter future of education in this part of the world, where I have long set my heart on serving along my professional path.

Our Final Presentation

This entry is also a dedication to my peers with whom I was blessed to befriend. Their diverse interests and backgrounds helped me grow, and spark hope about a better world.

Although my biggest regret is a missed chance of discovering Japan and conducting in-person research at Kashiwa campus (hence no pictures of study scenes to keep as mementoes), I have learnt and grown so much over the program.

Lastly, I would like to thank UTSIP and Prof. Motoharu Onuki again for this precious opportunity, thank Annie and Sadaf for

their dedicated guidance, thank FUTI for your generous support, and finally thank all the friends and the people I met for such a sense of empowerment, and a lively idea of my future-self as a researcher and scholar.