Diana Elizabeth Waturangi, PhD, is the head of the Department of Biotechnology at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta. The pioneering biotechnology program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and Diana, a 39-year-old mother of two daughters, has played a major role in its success. Halfway through her four-year term as head of the department, she has contributed to many breakthroughs and still has many other ideas she wants to explore.
Three of her students have been involved with My Jakarta. Aspiring researcher Wibowo Arindrarto was featured last Saturday, while the writer of this piece has become a faithful contributor to the column. And finally there is the student who strayed and has been the editor of this column for the last eight months.
Being a dean at a relatively young age, how do you deal with colleagues and senior researchers who are older than you and have spent decades in the biotech field?
At first, it was pretty difficult. Many people couldn’t believe that I was the dean because of my age and gender. All I did was do my work well and eventually I earned their trust.
Many of my colleagues in the department are older and far more experienced. Several of them were even my own teachers. I always use a different personal approach for each of my colleagues. Good communication is the key.
Do you prefer dealing with college students or university management?
Both have different challenges. Even though I hold the position of dean, I still teach as many classes and do research just like before.
As dean, I have additional administrative duties, including daily board meetings, designing curriculum and academic policies, recruiting faculty staff, budget supervision, monitoring alumni and so on.
As a dean I have more opportunity to meet people from around the world, which allows me to arrange international partnerships for faculty improvements. We will be targeting Europe soon, following the success of partnerships from several Asian countries and Australia.
Where did you get your degree?
I studied microbiology at Bogor Agricultural University [IPB] and obtained my PhD in 2002 after finishing my research dissertation in Germany.
Indonesia didn’t have any biotechnology departments until 2002 when Atma Jaya became the first to establish one. And now we just opened our master’s program earlier this year along with celebrating our 10th anniversary. The good news is there have been several biotechnology programs established throughout Indonesia.
So, what do students actually learn in biotechnology and how does it differ from regular biology studies?
Although biology has the biggest proportion and is the basic level of biotechnology, this field also integrates chemistry and physics.
Modern biotechnology relies on the application of advanced biology, such as DNA technology, to produce useful products and applications in medicine, food, agro-industry, energy and environmental sustainability.
I understand there is very limited publicity about biotechnology in Indonesia and we are also working on it by implementing several education programs, either for high school students or for the public in general.
What’s the view of this field in Indonesia?
Just in Asean, Indonesia is still way behind in this field. If we don’t start now, we will face a bigger challenge in the future since every aspect of life is now related to biotechnology applications, be it food, medicine, energy and more. Thankfully the Indonesian government now offers many research funding and grant programs to support the growth of biotechnology in Indonesia. Many research grants and scholarships are also available around the world.
Obtaining a PhD before the age of 30 is pretty rare in Indonesia, but you did it. What kind of student were you?
I was a very focused student. Basically, I loved what I studied so I enjoyed the learning process. I am also grateful to have very supportive parents. My father always wanted to see me become a professor someday [smiles].
Was teaching part of your childhood dream?
I didn’t really have specific dream job when I was a kid. As time went by, I just realized I love to teach and share knowledge to many people.
There is this intangible sense of satisfaction when you see your students perform well and achieve things greater than you did.
What is your proudest work as a scientist so far?
For years, I have focused my studies on pathogenic bacteria from street food, vegetables and water sources, mainly Vibrio cholerae. It is a bacteria that causes cholera, including severe diarrhea symptoms .
I once studied the presence of V cholerae bacteria in ice used by street vendors in Jakarta, and screened marine actinomycetes for their antibiofilm activity against V cholerae funded by national and international research grant.
I have published articles in international journals. I am still working to find better diagnostic and treatment methods for the disease, and maybe obtain patents in the future.
Dr. Diana was talking to her student, Isabella Apriyana.