International Brain Bee 2012

Byung-Cheol’s diary – International Brain Bee Competition 2012 (22nd July)

Thursday the 19th of July
Having just arrived to Auckland from the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) in Argentina at half past four in the morning, I pinch myself awake from the jetlag to drop into the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences for some quick last-minute training organised by Professor Louise Nicholson. My flight is tomorrow morning at 7:00 am – the IMO and IBB have been conveniently spaced this year to allow me to attend both events, nevertheless at the expense of my physical health; my dad will accompany me to make sure I stay healthy and safe. With an early rise, we board the Air New Zealand flight to Sydney, where we transfer to Johannesburg (where we have dinner) then to Cape Town, both on South African Airways.

Friday the 20th of July
We arrive at Cape Town International Airport just before 8:00 pm and make our way to the taxi stand. The International Brain Bee Competition has been timed to take place alongside the International Congress of Psychology (ICP), so with great hospitality, we are herded into a van with several distinguished-looking professors headed to the Westin Cape Town, a hotel adjoined to the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where both the ICP and IBB will be held. We arrive at night, having missed the informal get-together of IBB competitors and chaperones, settle in and get a good night’s rest.

Saturday the 21st of July
Today is the only full day I get to attempt to adjust my suprachiasmatic nucleus. We wake, wash, have breakfast, and study a little before walking with my dad to the waterfront, where we look around and have lunch. We return in time for the first scheduled event of the IBB: another gathering of IBB competitors and their guardians. After a while of failing to register on our own for the ICP, we see a group assembling, and a familiar face from the National Final (Teresa Tang, the Australian representative); we join them. Dr Myslinski and Julianne McCall, who have organised this year’s IBB, introduce themselves, and we talk with each other – people from literally all over the world – discussing and sharing our journeys, expectations and nervousness. Dr Myslinski videos us introducing ourselves, hands out embarrassingly conspicuous Brain Bee lab coats with the instruction that we must wear them at every moment that we are representing the Brain Bee, and we are left to talk amongst ourselves and disappear in our own time for dinner. As the competition begins the next morning, we sleep as early and soundly as we can.

Sunday the 22nd of July
Competition day. Familiar faces gather at the designated rendezvous, some with nervous expressions, others without, and after many group photos, we get started with the first question and
answer section followed by the neuroanatomy section – the latter is surprisingly difficult, with many plastic flags pinned vaguely in miscellaneous lumps on the underside of plastinated brains.
Then comes lunch, ordered in small plastic boxes so that we could eat together and socialise on the floor; we laugh and jokingly compare accents and the relative number of sheep to humans in our relative countries, and realise that we are just like each other, and in our own way passionate about what we have studied.

Before long, it is announced that the actors for the patient diagnosis (who turn out to be psychology students from the University of Cape Town) have arrived, and we get started, rotating around the various stations. Most of us easily attain full marks from the textbook cases presented to us, with few complicating difficulties. Finally, the second question and answer section, which is based on clinical neurology, stumps everyone but Australia, Singapore and Romania, who barge on, leaving everyone else in a confused state of despair.

As final results are announced, it becomes clear that Teresa has taken first place, and Flavius (from Romania) takes second place. Initially it is announced that USA has taken third place, but the judges soon realise that they have forgotten to add twenty points for my patient diagnosis, taking me up from fifth place to reluctantly take third place from the US competitor.
After this confusion, exhausted from the day of intense brainwork, we attend the opening ceremony for the ICP, where we listen to speeches by distinguished guests (including Archbishop Desmond Tutu) and watch an exciting cultural performance. We retire to our respective hotels, for dinner then relaxation before bed.

Monday the 23rd of July
Though the IBB is over, we are still required to wear our lab coats (which, by the way, have a big colourful bee on the back) as we listen to various seminars by distinguished speakers, including talks on psychological well-being, the role of psychologists in humanitarian emergencies and health care, and group dynamics in disaster relief. At this point, despite yesterday’s tough competition, we are good acquaintances – we smile, and excitedly and friendlily wave to each other.

About half of the group then disappears for lunch on their own or leaves for home, while the other half follows Julianne to have lunch together and talk some more. We get to know each other rather well, and become good friends, staying in contact even after we returned home. Somehow, we then meet up with the group which dispersed, for a guided tour of scientific posters and special exhibits. We entertain ourselves considerably with the various interactive demos that were made available and receive a number of memorabilia (such as pens, with and without lasers) from the exhibits we visit, and sadly, the official programme for the 2012 IBB comes to an end.

Julianne, however, has other plans – seeing how close we have gotten, she invites us for a walk to the waterfront for dinner until the sun has set and we must get back. As we each go our separate ways, we have a final group photo and reluctantly say goodbye.
Tuesday the 24th of July

As it would be a shame to leave a country with such a diverse, rich country without seeing the sights for ourselves, my dad has arranged a private half-day tour around the peninsula. It is beautiful, spectacular: the sight of Table Mountain towering over and sheltering the human settlement, the ridges and coves facing the vast flat ocean… though there was not enough time to experience the culture and the history, the spectacular sights were, to say the least, unforgettable.

That afternoon, we are dropped off at the airport, and take several more flights back to Auckland.
The experience overall has been incredible – meeting people who may be the future faces of science and neuroscience, and the combination of the desire for understanding of the world around and within us with the competition and friendliness makes, I believe, the Brain Bee Competition the very unique competition and experience it is. I encourage all students to embark on the same journey that I did – you won’t regret it.


British Brain Bee

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