Yu He

April 05, 2015

I have the pleasure to befriend with this amazing woman for the past 7 years. She's one of the most humble, down-to-earth, kind, knowledgeable people I ever know. For the first interviewee for the new series on this blog, Voices, I couldn't think of a better person than her.

Besides being an artistic and poetic person, she is a geologist. She loves fossils and rocks. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about her fieldwork in the jungle, mother nature and living things. I do not know anybody else who share the same interest as extraordinary as this.  

Every time we converse, not only I can listen to so many of her interesting stories, I am always inspired and awed by her passion and determination. We had a little conversation about her journey. Read on!

Yu He, Geologist

How did you begin as a geologist?
I came from a village and I dislike the cities. I enjoy nature. So naturally when it comes to choosing a university course, a career that will provide the opportunity to be close to the nature, and not just sitting in the office and facing the computer, would be a dream job.
My cousin was taking Geography course in University of Malaya. She generously shared with me what she thought about another course called Geology. It caught my attention, that course is quite similar to what I want!
And then I went online and knew more about Geology. Geologists seemed so cool. They can do expedition inside the forest. They extend their love and passion for the environment into their daily job! I was inspired and decided that I, too, want to be a geologist.

Fossils? How did the love begin?
Fossil wasn't a subject favoured by my coursemates. (Laugh) For my final year project, I was introduced to a new Japanese lecturer who studies fossils. I liked it and I joined his team. That's how it all began.

You do know this is not an ordinary path right...? How did your parents and family respond to it?
My parents are okay with any decision I make as long as the job can support my life financially. My family is supportive.

Fieldwork in the jungle... what do you do?
I worked as an office lady for a few years and I miss my days doing fieldwork. My Japanese lecturer was forming a research team to study fossils in Malaysia. I joined and we went into the forest and studied rocks and sedimentation. We were lucky enough to discover some valuable fossils... and of course the dinosaur fossil!

What's so special about fossils...? And rocks...? (I am a skeptical layman) 
It's amazing. For rocks, they might look common and plain but in fact, each rock has a story that leads to what they look like today. They might went through a lot of incidence throughout the history of time to have this structure and texture. It might be related to the water current and other factors. We are talking about 100 million years of stories. That's pretty amazing.
I feel magical when I discover and observe fossils. They tell tales about life on earth millions of years ago. 
Some of the living things trapped inside a rock went extinct already. When I study about them, I can see how earth and living things evolve. I can understand more about ecology.

How long is 100 million years? Gasp!!

Let's talk about the dinosaur fossil last year. Your team was the first to discover dinosaur remains in Malaysia.
Of course I was happy!!! The discoveries open up to an independent research which I am currently working on.

This job is so unusual, do you feel lonely?
Yeah. It's the nature of the job. As a geologist, I might need to go on fieldwork alone. Occasionally I'll visit places where no human being is in sight. There's no signal on phone. We'd seen footprints of tiger and babi hutan. Maybe they had a fight.


What's the biggest challenge?
Psychologically. I switched my project after the discovery of the dinosaur fossil. I have to adapt to the new project. Learn new things... but I know this project will contribute to human's knowledge. No worries for the future.

What does your fiance think about your unique job?
He's been supportive. He understands what I do.

What do you do besides scientific research?
Reading. I love literature. It's amazing how my mind and thinking mode can switch between literature and science. Very interesting to see the transition.

How do you stay inspired? By whom?
Hmmm. It's not a single person or event. I'm more inspired by mother nature. A beautiful photo of the nature can really catch my eyes to explore more about it.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
I won't give up on my passion. I hope I'll still be a geologist going on fieldwork. Now I feel unreal. I don't think I've achieved my dreams yet. I'll keep going.

"I feel magical when I discover and observe fossils. They tell tales about life on earth millions of years ago. "

I like all the photos. Her eyes were sparkling. That's how people look like when they talk about something they are passionate about.

Photos by Grace Phua. Million thanks to Yiing Yee and Dai Lou too. It was an amazing afternoon. Hope you enjoy the talk as much as I did. Thanks for reading! 
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