Please tell us about yourself
I graduated from Duke with a double-major in psychology and philosophy. I hadn’t studied either subject before college. I’d been a well-rounded student with more interest in natural sciences. After considering chemistry or biology and taking some classes in those departments, I chose psychology and philosophy because I believed these disciplines were the most relevant to me. All the material had direct implications on me and my world—except for abnormal-psychology class (though, even that course helped me understand some people I know or would come to know). I was inspired by these fields; I didn’t have this same connection with other disciplines.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I didn’t want to select my academic pursuits based on others’ expectations of me or only choose what was familiar. I wanted to set my own goals and standards for my future. Would you let someone else choose your friends for three or four years? I thought students should choose a major, or create one of their own, that meets their needs, and that they shouldn’t rush that decision. I wasn’t overwhelmed by practical concerns when choosing majors; I was optimistic and wanted a personal connection with what I was studying. I knew that if I had good internships and if I was committed and did well in my courses, then I’d have good opportunities after college. I believed there may be a price to pay for choosing my own path, but that path would be better than one that’s uninspiring.
I was happy with the fields I selected and so was my family, because we knew that a liberal-arts education doesn’t train students for a specific job. There is plenty of time to develop vocational skills at graduate school or on the job. The time at Duke is one of the few periods in life we can be captivated with content that interests us. Aristotle said: “Philosophy begins in wonder.” So we shouldn’t rush through this phase.
Tell us about your career path
Although I’m from Hong Kong and not a U.S. citizen, I wanted to start my career in the U.S., New York in particular. While at Duke, I pursued financial-services and management-consulting positions—fields that grew in popularity after the dot-com bubble burst. While I had completed two summer internships at financial-services firms before graduation, neither led to a full-time offer. This forced me to make my own path and consider opportunities other than those presented to me. My real career interests were borne from my involvement with student organizations at and prior to Duke. After completing several psychology courses, I’d become interested in the applications of psychology to groups, teams, and leadership. I wanted a career in applied psychology, but wasn’t interested in clinical applications. The psychology department offered a number of courses in the social and personality psychology area—the focus I ultimately chose.
To work in any field of psychology, a graduate degree is recommended; for some areas one is required. After graduating, I pursued a master’s in social-organizational psychology at Columbia University, where I learned to apply psychological principles to the workplace. About half the organizational psychology graduates work in human capital consulting–a subset of management consulting. The other half usually go to corporate human-resources departments, where they are involved with HR strategy or attached to one or more HR functions (recruiting, compensation, benefits, or training and development).
What do you do?
I have been in my current position since completing my master’s degree. I manage executive training and development globally for WPP, the world’s largest communications services group. WPP comprises leading companies in advertising, media investment, consumer insight, public relations and public affairs, branding and identity, direct marketing, health-care communications, and specialist communications. WPP has offices in 107 countries and approximately 153,000 employees. I help create, plan, facilitate, measure, and improve learning and development programs and initiatives for the companies within WPP. I focus on developing senior leaders and potential leaders. Developing talent is vital in professional-service industries because people are our capital. I am based in New York and I have worked in over sixteen countries. In my free time, I coach Taekwondo at Columbia University—a martial art I began practicing at Duke.