Postgraduate Student Life @ CUHK
Yvan Ysmael Tobias YONAHA
from the Philippines
PhD Student in Sociology
(HKPFS Awardee)

Flying On the Wings of a Stellar Education

From a young age, Yvan Ysmael Tobias YONAHA from the Philippines had a dream. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic country, he had always wanted to become a priest. Aside from religion, he had a burning desire to contribute to positive social impacts. So his father advised him why not give university a shot before going to the priesthood. Then, a friend recommended studying in the sociology programme at the University of the Philippines.

Little did he know, that would change the course of his life.

“Once I got into sociology, I realised straight away that this was the thing that I wanted to study, but I didn’t even know it existed,” Yvan beamed. “I had always been interested in solving social developmental problems since high school, so I really wanted to identify what social problems there are and do my part to mitigate the negative effects and improve the outcomes of people’s well-being.”

This passion is what eventually brought Yvan all the way to Hong Kong to study his PhD in Sociology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

“I was recommended by a visiting professor and my mentor when I was doing my thesis to look into CUHK for my future career development,” Yvan recalls.

With a clear vision and goal, Yvan was driven by a profound desire to effect meaningful change in society. So he decided to take a look and what he found took him by surprise.

“I learnt that the faculty at CUHK was not only very good, but I also found someone in my department that fitted into what I wanted to do,” he said.

Distinguished Faculty to Inspire Researchers

Enticed by a distinguished faculty, a comprehensive curriculum and Hong Kong being in such proximity to his home country, he decided to apply for his PhD at CUHK as well as the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS). He then got on a plane to Hong Kong at the height of COVID and has never looked back. Today, Yvan is researching and exploring labour movements and inequality in the Philippines. And he is ever so grateful for CUHK’s incredible peer and faculty support which has had a transformative impact on his personal and professional development as a researcher.

Looking back he says it’s not really any one thing that has made the CUHK move worthwhile, but a combination of the small stuff.

“It’s the little things that improve your experiences as a researcher, expand your imagination as an academic, it’s those little things and details that CUHK puts into the researcher’s experience, like the library’s efforts to organise workshops on how to write a good introduction for your dissertation. Those small things pile up and help improve you as an academic researcher,” he said.

Fostering excellence in research and methodology

Indeed, Yvan gives testament to the fact that the University has been instrumental in helping him improve his theory and methods. The comprehensive training in both quantitative and qualitative research, as well as theory has helped shape students like him into becoming holistic practitioners and researchers.

“When I first came here, I was primarily a qualitative researcher, but now I can do both and that goes a long way to build my identity as a researcher,” he said.

Broadening horizons through an international environment

Another advantage of doing a PhD in Sociology at CUHK is the opportunity to be immersed in a vibrant academic community that expands a student’s research horizons. For Yvan that meant looking at issues beyond the Philippines and connecting with scholars from around the world. And this newfound global perspective has nurtured a sense of belonging and connection to the wider sociology community which has broadened his worldview, further fuelling his passion in his chosen field.

“I get to hear their research ideas and their research questions, from Canada, the UK and all over the world,” Yvan said. “And so now when I speak about my country, the Philippines, I can also speak with the rest of the globe because I see how my empirical and practical concerns for the Philippines’ development can also speak to larger theoretical problems in Sociology,” he said.

With some final food for thought, Yvan has several recommendations for international students who are exploring CUHK as a place to further their studies. To this, he offers three valuable pieces of advice to aspiring students: 1) find a supportive supervisor who excels in your field; 2) maintain motivation throughout your postgraduate studies by setting milestones; and 3) cultivate a good support system while embracing the growth opportunities that Hong Kong offers.

Reflecting on his own experience, he contends that his success rests on this combination of academic support, excellent resources provided by CUHK and the HKPFS that has created an enabling environment for his learning and research. Moreover, CUHK has also allowed him to forge valuable connections with other scholars all over the world that has opened doors to rewarding career prospects and collaborations.