In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Life of Dr. Gilbert Yu

By Charlene Tiausas

Professor Yu speaks in analogies. This is one of the more frequent observations discussed among his students. For the past few months, his lectures often included examples like noodles, door knobs, clays, among other things, to complement a complex concept. He immediately jumps to examples rather than dwell on generic definition. He emphasizes—more than anything—the need for the students to recognize the step-by-step story behind a certain phenomenon and not simply “settle” for the robotic motions of a plug-in-and-play formula. These certain quirks make even the simplest lectures effective. In an interview, Professor Yu implicitly reveals that this style of teaching has been a product of the many experiences he had with teaching, and also by being a student for the majority of his life.

Gilbert Yu

Born in 1978, Yu spent the majority of his pre-college years studying in Uno High School, a famous Filipino-Chinese school based in Manila.

Part of the pioneering batch, he took up BS Management of Applied Chemistry in Ateneo de Manila University. He particularly notes that the rest of his time not spent studying was dedicated to tutoring students as a part-time job. He remembers tutoring students in Chemistry and in Mathematics. While that took most of his time, he grew grateful for these experiences as these very much helped him gain the skills that would later on persuade him to teach after college.

Upon reaching the end of his undergraduate studies in 2000, Yu, while having taken up Management, decided to focus more on studying the sciences. His want of knowledge later on paved way for more years spent on education.

Needing more units to qualify in taking the board examinations, Yu had to take up a Master’s degree in Chemistry. Yu took his Master’s degree in Ateneo while taking a part-time job teaching Chemistry undergraduate students. This led him to graduate later than expected as he tried to juggle his teaching job, laboratory and thesis revision work. He conducted a research involving a more industrial take on Chemistry about a pigment additive in paints. He received his Master’s degree from Ateneo in 2005.

Deeming his Master’s degree still not enough yet to satiate his “raw” attitude towards chemistry, he travelled to Ontario, Canada and took another graduate study in McMaster University. This time, he studied chemistry in a more medically-focused context. His research focused on a possibility of making cross-linked silicone gels using a click chemistry reaction. He finished his Master’s degree in 2008, then eventually returned to the Philippines for a short time to teach in Ateneo once again.

By this time, Yu decided that “there was no going back.” Having practiced Chemistry for so long, he finally felt ready to take his PhD. With the help of people who believed in his capability to pursue a Doctorate degree and his determined mindset, Yu went off to Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan in 2009. There, he explored in his research the role of Intermolecular Forces or Physical bonds in reactions of chemical compounds.

Yu finished his studies within the span of three years. He decided to stay in Japan to continue his laboratory work and accomplish some post-doctorate studies. On March 2014, Yu returned to the Philippines, arriving just in time to teach Chemistry undergraduate students for summer classes.

With most of his life dedicated to studying Chemistry, Yu expects that he would most likely stay in the Philippines for quite some time after experiencing “travel fatigue.” He tells that he had studied so much that he thought that it was time to focus on other parts of life. While he is still foreseeing possible research collaborations in the future, Yu is currently enjoying teaching and spending time re-acquainting himself with hobbies he lost track of during his studies. He plans on putting his Management degree skills to use once again and dreams of starting up a business. While plans of the future are at hand, he says that he has found solace in teaching as it seemed almost innate in him after taking part in it for so long. He liked getting ideas across to his students as much as they give him possible ideas for research and new takes on Chemistry concepts.

It is true, he imparts, that science encounters failure 99% of the time as many factors come into play. He cites his experiences in Chemistry as a continuous strife for that 1% chance of success, which can only be achieved if one learns from their own failures. His persistence over gaining appreciation of Chemistry gave him insights about life that can never be unlearned. In teaching students, he hopes to spark a similar reaction—one that will encourage further recognition and interest in Chemistry in the younger generations.