Exploring the Secrets of Forestry: An Interview with Walter Yan

Walter Yan

Are you curious about the world we live in? Looking for inspiration and a fresh perspective on the world of forestry? Meet Walter Yan, a MSc student at UBC Forestry, who is using his love of asking questions to explore the secrets of the forest ecosystem. In this interview, Walter shares his educational background, current research, and favorite experiences at UBC Forestry. He also offers valuable advice to students interested in pursuing a career in forestry. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from Walter’s insights and experiences. Read on for the full interview below!

Introduce yourself!

“My name is Walter Yan and I am an MSc student working with professor Gregory Paradis and professor Qingshi Tu in the FRESH lab and SBR group in the Faculty of Forestry. I love asking different kinds of questions about this magical, lovely and charming world, and I really enjoy finding answers to them. I am also passionate about learning interesting and new topics to challenge and improve myself! These are two of the main reasons I am drawn to research, and I plan to continue working hard in academia as a result. So, currently I am also pursuing a Ph.D. position in the world’s top research labs or groups as well. Outside my research, I enjoy sports, such as powerlifting, bodybuilding and basketball. I also have a lifelong passion for reading and writing poems and prose in Chinese, with the hope that I can publish some of them and be a part-time writer one day.”

Can you tell us about your educational background and how you first became interested in Forestry?

“Last year, I got my first Bachelor of Science in Forestry here at UBC, and my second Bachelor of Science in Ecology Degree from the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. During my study over the past four years, I learned a lot about forest ecology and forest resources management. These programs helped me to better understand the forest, the biggest terrestrial ecosystem in the world, and how we can co-exist with it. This fascinating and complex ecosystem is what drove me to pursue an MSc program – to delve deeper into its secrets. Until now, this program has helped me gain a deep understanding of the global climate change emergency and how important the role forest sector plays in climate change mitigation as a critical nature-based solution.

I still remember my spring field trip to the Malcom Knapp Research Forest. I was walking in the forest after the heavy rain. The air was so fresh, the birds just started singing, and the cool breeze was hugging me softly. I saw the sunshine fall from the sky and down to the moist ground covered with ferns and moss. The light was surrounded by trees – those ancient giants who have been standing quietly there for hundreds of years. This was the first time I fell in love with forestry.”

Walter Yan Presenting

Can you give us an overview of the research that you are currently working on? Where do you hope to see this work in the next few years? What are some of your favorite things you’ve learned from your research so far?

“My research topic is using mathematical programming to build an innovative computational modeling framework to simulate and optimize the climate change mitigation potential of the B.C. forest sector. I am confident that we are going to publish two papers (hopefully three) based on this project in the next two years. I am also working on other projects about timber supply and forest carbon modeling, and aim to publish more papers in this area as well. Personally, I am very passionate about remote sensing, machine learning and deep learning, as well as their applications in the forest sector, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity research. I believe these research areas have a bright future. Thus, I spend most of my spare time studying this field now.

My favorite thing I have learned from my research is definitely mathematical programming. Python is my favorite programming language, and I used a lot of R during my undergrad as well. Learning other languages such as SQL, Java, and C++ is also interesting, especially when comparing them and finding their pros and cons! I also love learning how to use and combine different software for my modeling work, such as Patchworks, CBM-CFS3, ArcGIS Pro, ENVI, openLCA, and Brightway2.”

What have been some of your favorite experiences during your time so far at UBC Forestry?

“My favorite experience so far is being the graduate teaching assistant for FRST 422 (Mathematical Modelling in Forest Resource Analysis) and FRST 423 (Forest Management Planning). I really like imparting knowledge and skills I have to my students, as well as helping them figure out various puzzles. Teaching the class can also help me better understand the knowledge I have, shape my skills, learn a lot of new information and finally improve myself. I will definitely continue doing that in different classes in the future! My second favorite experience is standing on the stage and speaking to the public about my research. It excites me a lot when I present the research I have done in front of people from a variety of fields. I try to control the stage rather than let it control me. Giving a successful public presentation really makes me feel proud of myself. I also enjoy the deep talks about my project’s details with many different people who reach out to me after my presentation.”

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in forestry?

“Go to the forest and study in it! Stay humble and patient to learn from it since it is the best teacher on Earth ever!

Forestry is a very “practical” industry and really needs field work and gets your boots dirty!

Remember to buy the best rain gear you can since it is a worthwhile investment! I used to survive a rainstorm in the forest and I deeply know how terrible it is under bad weather.

Doing research or finding a job? Try both of them to explore your potential and what really interests you. It’s never late to start finding your future career path!

Always be prepared for the opportunities coming and never be afraid when you see or “smell” it!”

Walter Yan in front of skyline

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