Asian Heritage Month: Dheva Setiaputra

May 06, 2024

Dheva Setiaputra is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

From an early age I was always enamored with learning about the world and how it works. This crystallized in high school when one of my teachers introduced a strange contraption consisting of beakers, metal bars, liquids, and an odd reddish-brown substance and asked the students to figure out what it is. After a fair amount of time in the library, I was independently able to surmise that it was, of course, a voltaic cell. From that point on, I was hooked.

What do you love most about your work?

There are two things I love most about my work. First is to be at the forefront of discovery, to devise experiments and discover truths about the natural world that nobody before me knew. Second is the opportunity to meet the world’s smartest people, and to constantly work with a rotating cast of young students that keeps the research environment dynamic and exciting.

What kinds of barriers have you had to overcome in your work or study?

Being an experimental research academic comes with a whole set of barriers, not the least of it being the extended length of training for low compensation. Importantly, these are sacrifices that also involve my wife and young children. There are sacrifices we all had to make: the long hours in the lab away from family, the poor separation between work and personal life, and perhaps most prominently the uncertainty that there is a faculty position available at the end of that long and arduous tunnel. I was lucky, but a lot of my peers—brilliant scientists—are still struggling to get an appointment to lead their own research group.

Are the barriers higher for Asian scientists?

For better or worse, scientists of East Asian heritage are over-represented relative to the population due to complex reasons. However, the difficulty of finding a faculty position means that most have to move far away from home and family for the opportunity to start a research group. East Asian culture emphasizes extended family ties, which is another sacrifice that Asian scientists have to make. Again, I was lucky as my family live in BC, but most are not. I will especially mention as a father of two that my female colleagues with young children face enormously higher barriers to balance raising children and a nascent research group simultaneously.

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

I believe the Faculty of Science has made concrete steps in recognition of EDI barriers to try and mitigate them as best as it can. I think as long as the Faculty remains cognizant of these barriers and to maintain an open dialogue with underrepresented minorities that things will continue to improve. It will be a long and difficult road towards equity, but I believe that the Faculty of Science is on the correct trajectory.