Asian Heritage Month; a profile of Hogan Yu

May 18, 2021

Hua-Zhong (Hogan) Yu is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry with joint affiliations with 4D Labs and the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry


Briefly explain your research area

I'm a chemist by training. I went to Shandong university at an age of 16 for an undergraduate degree in chemistry and did a Ph.D. in material science from Peking University in China. I also completed two years of postdoctoral research in the States. I came to Canada in 1999 and briefly worked for the National Research Council in Ottawa.

What inspired you to be a scientist?

My childhood dream was to be a journalist. My elder brother was a medical doctor, one of the early generations of Chinese students who had the opportunity to go to university after the policy of reformation. At the time, my family felt that studying science was more stable and less risky career-wise. Indeed, I was very good at chemistry and biology during my high school, and my brother suggested that I study science.

What do you love most about your work?

I have undergrad, graduate students and research fellows that I love to interact with, seeing how I can help them get on a better career path and obtain good results in their research is a pleasure. We had an email yesterday from CBC about one of our inventions to make waterproof coatings, for example. So there are two things: one is accomplishing discoveries with the help of students, and the other is to educate students. I’m quite proud of all of my graduate students.

What kinds of barriers in your work or studies have you faced?

Funding, of course. We also have challenges recruiting the best students at SFU. I have a lot of good students, but compared to other major universities, it’s much more challenging for us.

Are the barriers higher for Asian scientists?

In 2015, at one of the international scholar awards, I met David Chen from UBC. He is a senior scientist — one of the early generations of Asian professors. He said, “If you want to get an award and if you’re just better, slightly better, the answer is ‘no’, you wouldn't get it. You have to be at least 150% or 200% better.” But interestingly, the next year, both of us won the award. People might say, “So, that wasn't really true.”  But it’s not about individuals. The barriers still exist.

What suggestions do you have on how to make academia a diverse and inclusive space?

One of the solutions has to be based on what is happening here in BC. For example, in Vancouver, people don't think Asians would be looked at differently, but still, they are. Asians comprise 25% of the population, but that doesn’t mean there are no differences. We have to look at the local problems — what we have, and what we face.

By September, students will return here, and many of them have an Asian background. In this pandemic, people are not in their best mood, and many of them point fingers at Asians. Universities have to have resources in place if something happens — like the incident in UBC with a Korean girl who was threatened and verbally abused. If this kind of problem happens, do we have plans, anything in place to deal with such situations? How many non-Caucasian professors do we have to hire? That's an important question for sure, but there are a lot of immediate problems that we need to look into.