Alex Chee Yu Yeung
The overall theme of my PhD research is centered on how forest disturbance alters the ecosystem stability of headwater and riparian ecosystems, and the variations of its drivers across multiple spatial (reach, watershed and regional) and temporal scales. In view of the strong forest-aquatic connectivity in the source waters, I seek to develop a mechanistic understanding of how different forest harvesting practices affect multiple structural and functional indicators of stream health, including macroinvertebrate abundance and richness, organic matter decomposition and nutrient processing. Study findings will reveal streams in particular environments which tend to be less resistant and resilient under the effects of particular harvesting regimes. They will serve as the scientific basis of implementing protective and monitoring measures in a forestry context, in order to maintain the delivery of ecosystem services headwaters, both in Canada and beyond.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?
Getting involved in large-scale field studies, collaborative work and frequent discussions has been my vision as a graduate student. As I am part of a national strategic network – the Canadian Network for Aquatic Ecosystem Services – I have maintained communications with numerous graduate students, faculty members in other universities and government scientists with shared academic interests. Thus far, I have fortunately gained a lot of support, advice and experience of researching in diverse environments within this network setting.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
I found the resources and opportunities available for research and collaboration quite astounding, at least compared to Hong Kong where I did my Master’s. Thus enabling me to improve my scholarly breadth and thoughtfulness, rather than focusing solely on the execution of individual projects. This has been further facilitated by communicating with students and faculty members spanning a spectrum of interests and backgrounds, frequently attending seminars, workshops and discussion groups, etc.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
Opportunities for doing exciting, large-scale and collaborative research in Canada was inviting to me when I originally saw this position on offer. In addition, my advisor has had a productive group with diverse interests, from which I expected it to be an optimal environment that encourages the exchange of knowledge, ideas and skills. These factors had a strong bearing on my decision to choose UBC to pursue my study.
What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?
The research groups in my department have work that spans across terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. My intellectual exposure could be widened and holistic thinking developed given this academic setting, which would be essential for my research on cross-ecosystem linkages. Furthermore, the UBC-managed Malcolm Knapp Research Forest has provided a fertile ground for experimental research now accumulated with long-term data, and would allow me to field-test ideas which would otherwise be inconvenient or infeasible elsewhere.
What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?
Upon graduation I will reach the junction of either pursuing my academic career further or taking up natural resources/conservation jobs in the (non-)government sector. One big challenge actually lies in choosing my desired career path, as I wish to be able to contribute to environmental conservation (in the developing world) by engaging myself actively in and moving forward future policy implementation and reforms.
How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?
My faculty has offered workshops on the science-policy interface which contextualize how science is fed into policy-making. They helped ‘visualize’ how people outside academia but with some expertise participate in this process currently, which would be worth considering when presented with non-academic career options in the future.
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
Prior to my study in UBC, I grew up and received education till reaching the masters level in Hong Kong, a place renowned of its mixture of ethnicities and cultures. I think a blend of international exposure, flexibility, and open-mindedness has helped with my adapting to a new living and study environment, as well as interacting with new people as an incoming student.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
Outside of my primarily field-based work, I still enjoy immersing myself in the woods with my hiking boots and cameras for wildlife (mostly avian) photography. On the less active side of life, I enjoy reading, watching detective/crime TV series, and always hope to be able to play double bass better.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Although one has to earn himself/herself a graduate degree, it is not to be accomplished without support. Be proactive to seek advice and establish networks within and beyond your own research group. They could provide suggestions useful for your research, and convey employment opportunities through word of mouth. Graduate school is never short of challenges and setbacks, which train you to be a more mature person, so stay focused and determined in order to overcome them.