Asian Heritage Month: Amy Lee

May 09, 2023

My family and I moved from Taipei, Taiwan to Canada when I was 12. It was a huge transition moving from a subtropical country to a colder climate. I joined SFU’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in 2020.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

When I was 5, my dad showed me different insects including butterflies and spiders under the microscope. The beautiful wonder I saw opened my eyes to the microscopic world. My science teachers throughout secondary school continued to encourage my curiosity and interest in the natural world. As a university student, I heard a mesmerizing lecture by Dr. Brett Finlay that described the intricate ways that bacteria can cause diseases in humans. This sparked my interest in research and started my scientific career.

What do you love the most about your work? What are you proud of?

My current research uses systems biology and genomics to understand how bacterial pathogens cause infectious diseases in humans. One important question that I and my team are trying to understand is why the first month of life is the most vulnerable period for an infant, with around 5 newborns dying from suspected life-threatening infections each minute. This burden is unjustly borne especially in the low- and middle-income countries, and further compounded by the hidden pandemic of antimicrobial resistance. Our research works to develop better diagnostics in the hope that we can identify those newborns most at risk to reduce the newborn death rate. At the same time, we are using computational approaches to find alternative strategies to treat bacterial infections while minimizing antimicrobial resistance development.

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

There are several well-documented gaps and barriers that women scientists face, including women underrepresented in STEM especially at the faculty level. Women are also usually credited less in science than men according to recent research. With more awareness of these biases, there are more structural changes in place that will hopefully reduce these barriers over time in scientific fields.

Are the barriers higher for Asian scientists?

Like all scientists, we all face the continuous funding struggle. But interestingly, a recent paper published in eLife showed that at least in the United States, Asian scientists seem to face a higher rate of funding rejection.

What suggestions do you have for making the Faculty of Science a more inclusive space?

Over the last few years, SFU has increased its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), especially with establishing the first EDI Advisory Council in 2020. By continuing to commit to EDI at different levels, this on-going effort will really help increase representation, especially at leadership levels.