East & West – Dr Sze-Yen Tan

This blog features Dr Sze-Yen Tan a researcher and senior lecturer from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition and School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

Yen teaches into the undergraduate and postgraduate nutrition degrees at Deakin University, his research focuses on the effects of nuts and taste on body weight and metabolic health.

Yen was asked to share his story.



I waved off the idea when I was approached to write a blog about my career journey. In my mind, I do not have a fancy journey to justify a blog; plus, I thought my overseas background would make my journey irrelevant to most readers. I politely asked for some preparation time, hoping that the invitation would dissipate with time. However, my colleagues’ perseverance changed my mind. Perhaps there is a story that I can tell and a blog that I could write.


I was born in the Pearl of Orient, Malaysia, a beautiful island that attracted great authors such as Rudyard Kipling and W. Somerset Maugham. I went through high school, completed A level, and attended the National University of Malaysia.

Unlike the inspiring stories you hear about how people make a career choice in life, I must confess that I did not choose nutrition and dietetics. Instead, it chose me. Like my peers, I was too transfixed with getting into a medicine or pharmacy program back then. But it was not meant to be. I graduated as a dietitian three years later.

Nevertheless, my passion for nutrition and dietetics flourished during the final year of my undergraduate degree. Looking back, I learned two lessons from my undergraduate training: first, what you desire may be of others’ expectations and not your true passion, and second, passion can certainly grow on you when you least expected it, just like dandelions grow in concrete cracks.

I am forever indebted to my family for the opportunity to further my study in Australia which I commenced soon after completing my undergraduate degree. My passion for research sprouted in the Australian soil, and I completed my PhD thesis that examined how various dietary components can enhance human energy expenditure and promote weight loss. In lay man’s terms, what foods can help people lose weight by burning more energy and fat.

A PhD degree opened several doors for me, and I have lived and worked in a number of countries since my PhD graduation in 2010 (Wollongong, Australia). I was a post-doctoral research associate in the US, a lecturer in Adelaide (Australia), a senior research fellow in Singapore, and now I am, back in Australia and a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne.

These work experiences are invaluable as these positions allowed me to expand my research knowledge and capability. For example, my post-doctoral work incorporated sensory science and required an understanding of eating behaviours, while my research in Singapore inducted me into the world of food science. I was like an octopus guarding a PhD treasure chest (human metabolism), and at the same time, extending my tentacles to reach other treasure chests (eating behaviours, sensory science, food science) buried under the deep sea of nutrition research. My current research focuses on how foods in various physical forms and tastes may affect human metabolism, eating behaviour and health. My research is shaped and informed by the knowledge and skills I acquired from all these different experiences working in different countries.



As I reflect on my journey, I realised how lucky I was to have several great mentors who invested so much time in guiding me. I am also honoured to have worked alongside great scientists. Some became close mates and we still collaborate on research projects today, which helps to sustain my relatively young academic career.

In conclusion, the recipe of my career is as follow: A family of support, a bunch of mentors and colleagues, and a dash of travel (optional add to taste) and perseverance. Mix ingredients well and bake for a few years. Remember, do not open the oven door in between until career is set.

Category list: Staff Profiles

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