It’s a marathon, not a sprint

“Experiences, perspectives, and knowledge; the more you learn from others, the more you learn who you are.”

UBC CHBE student Jessica Yamamoto smiles at the camera while leaning on a ledge. She is centred with buildings behind her.

Jessica Yamamoto

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2022
  • Program: Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Campus: Vancouver

Growing up in Vancouver, you hear about UBC a lot. However, nothing really prepares you for the scale of the campus, or the community within. In my first year, the amount of opportunities was so endless it almost made me anxious – how do you even know where to start? And when I got into second year and still hadn’t joined one club, I made a vow to get outside my comfort zone and do new things; I haven’t regretted that decision once.

Since then, I’ve done so much that it’s crazy to think about who I was in first year. Whether it was UBC ESW (VP External 19-20 & 21-22), CHBE Council (2nd Year Rep 18-19, President 21-22), the EUS (PD Director 19-21), or anything else that came my way, I wanted to be involved because I learned more about myself and used that to help those around me. Opportunities will always knock and though I don’t recommend taking on so much it becomes a burden, I will always recommend at least opening the door. Now at graduation, I know myself better and where I want to go, and what more can you ask for out of a degree?

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC? 

I had always loved science, specifically chemistry and biology, and I still do. Growing up, I shuffled through so many career paths: marine biologist, genetic counselor, biochemist, etc. all in search of something that would challenge and fulfill me. It wasn’t until I came across Chemical Engineering that I realized I found something that I was excited about and when I found the Chemical and Biological Engineering degree at UBC, two of my favorite fields of science, I was hooked.

I’ve never been very good at making life-changing decisions, either, and reading about all the possible career paths I could have and all the potential industries I could work in, well, it meant I could use my degree to explore what truly interested and inspired me. Throughout my degree, I’ve been able to do just that. Everyone I know in CHBE is doing something different and that they love; it really is true here that no two degrees are the same. I didn’t know it when I joined, but CHBE is limitless and the courses in your fourth year give you so much freedom to hone in on your interests and work with friends you’ll have for life.

What has made your time at UBC memorable? 

You don’t remember as much about the courses, but you always remember the people you got through them with. Late nights on Discord completing assignments and reports, teaching each other difficult concepts, recovering together after a difficult exam; those are the memories I wouldn’t give up for anything (including impromptu karaoke in the lab). The community in CHBE, and in engineering overall, has been absolutely amazing the whole time I’ve been here. Not just the friends I’ve made but the professors as well; so many of them go above and beyond to support us, help us find our career paths, mentor our design teams and show up at every social event to chat and have a great time together (faculty vs student hockey tournament? You got it!).

My time here brought me so many new experiences though; going to CSE in Waterloo, canoeing for Day of the Longboat, Christmas Carolling around campus, and everything else, there’s so much that I can’t even remember it all! I will always remember my time with my capstone group, though, with the long days in our room poring over papers and redesigning our process dozens of times – we’ve come so far these past years.

Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable? 

The power of friendship, of course! Yes but, in all seriousness, just how much you can learn from other people and how much you need diversity in your group to design something well. As an engineer, you design things for society, whether it be a building, a car, a power plant, or anything else. And society is full of diversity across the many types of people, communities, infrastructure, and environments that make up the world we live in. In order to design in a way that meets the plethora of needs for these groups, you need a plethora of people at the table doing that work.

Having diversity in any field is of the utmost importance and something that should always be strived for – having people who are BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, disabled, and more – but for engineering, this means that those groups will be represented in the final design and ultimately have their needs met. Being at university with people from all over the world with different lived experiences has given me new perspectives that I will take with me throughout my life, and continually learn from. Diversity in engineering leads to better innovation, something we need now more than ever.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program? 

Doing something is better than nothing. This holds true for a lot of things. If you’re struggling with an assignment and can only do one of the questions, submitting that one question is better than submitting none of them. If you don’t have the energy to make a full dinner, having a piece of toast will do the job. Give yourself permission to not do everything perfectly because doing anything at all is sometimes all you need. An engineering degree is a marathon, not a sprint, and understanding yourself and your needs in such an environment is so important. Like I said before, opportunity will always knock, and you don’t need to give 100% of yourself all the time; taking a break is something you should factor in, too. It took me a couple of years to understand this, and now, I can see that having time to be able to relax is such an important opportunity, too. Take the time to listen to yourself and do as much, or as little, as you want and need because, at the end of the day, there’s always tomorrow.

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CHBE merch with CHBE friends at a CHBE BBQ, of course

Where do you find your inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world? 

Everywhere, I think. I’ve worked at multiple types of places, including a youth non-profit, and have seen the priorities and tremendous amount of effort that goes into these endeavors. So much of the research and projects that members of my faculty do contributes directly to helping society and future students. And, of course, my peers around me. All the projects and accomplishments I have wouldn’t be possible without my friends and so many people in my community with drive and skills in their fields far exceeding mine. Speaking with younger students – members of my CHBE Council, mentees in BEST, first years at events – it’s easy to see there is so much potential in the graduates that will come after me. My mentors give me the strength to go on and the ability to trust in myself, while my mentees motivate me to make changes so that they can accomplish far more than I could at the time. Looking through the other APSC Rising Stars this year, I’m sure you’ll see that there’s so much to look up to, and so much that you’ll be able to do, too.

Do you believe your education or accomplishments at UBC will have an impact on the future of work?

I hope I’ve been able to pave the way for even more to be accomplished, at least. A lot of work I’ve done so far has been about increasing diversity and inclusion in the engineering community and simultaneously creating more opportunities for these groups. However, doing work like this never ends because there’s always more that can be done to support equitable opportunities and increase representation across the board so future students can see themselves in our current community and in our graduates. Being able to resonate with those that came before you is so important in order to feel confident pursuing your own goal and dreams. I have so much confidence in the people that will come after me and I hope I’ve been able to do enough so far that they feel confident enough in themselves to continue to do the amazing things I know they’re capable of.

Many students have said that having role models related to their identity is important. 

As an already successful role model for other students in your program, do you identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, IBPOC (Indigenous / Black / People of Colour), Non-Binary Persons, Gender-Diverse Persons, Persons with Disabilities or another underrepresented population? If so, how has this identity informed your academic and professional experiences within your field at UBC and beyond? 

As a mixed woman of color, I’ve always been able to recognize when the people at the table don’t fully represent the people that can’t even get in the room. Fighting for diversity is one thing, but it needs to be combined with improving the community that we need to diversify so that it’s accessible to everyone. Now more than ever, I know the power of diversity and inclusion in university as this will hopefully lead to increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace which further supports creativity and innovation for these groups. I have the privilege of being able to go to university, which not many in my family have done, and this perspective has made me work hard to make this a safer and more equitable community for everyone so that we can all succeed.

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My capstone group and I getting our Iron Rings!

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